Can it fly?

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can it fly - .nyc with wingsJackson Hts., New York, April 1, 2015 – Is the .nyc endeavor a success? The answer depends on one’s measuring stick. To those who draw a parallel to vanity license plates, success is at hand. But if the measure is of the scale of Manhattan’s street grid, the answer is not yet clear. Here we look at .nyc from that broader perspective.

Nexus

The best decision the city’s made was the adoption of a strong nexus policy. Nexus determines who qualifies to own a .nyc domain name.

Our nexus policy says .nyc domain names are for New Yorkers, and limits ownership to those with a close tie to the city. This offers two advantages: It makes name owners stakeholders in the city’s future. And it keeps the domain names, and the websites they support, under the watchful eye of the city’s administrative system. Getting a vast bureaucracy to identify and assume its responsibilities will take time. But a solid foundation has been set. Our Nexus Policy wiki page has more on this.

Navigation

One of the key advantages of having our own TLD is that it enables mapping both our city’s traditional and electronic resources into a hybrid digital city. The goal here was that New Yorkers would come to trust their intuition and type in traditional names, then add a .nyc extension. As New Yorkers came to trust their intuition they’d receive quicker access to city resources as intermediaries were removed. For example: “Humm… I wonder what the domain name is for the Jackson Heights Library? Is it JacksonHeightsLibrary.nyc?” And if the result was a “Ta-dah!” we’d have a slightly more livable city.

Success here is uncertain. With 75,000 domain names sold, and little incentive for activating them or respecting their intuitive use, some policy directives and education programs will be needed before New Yorkers begin to feel comfortable typing .nyc domain names.

There are some immediate steps that can help here.

  • Reserved Names – The city has set aside 800 names to support public purposes, half of them neighborhood names. The thoughtful allocation, activation, and promotion of these names would herald the city’s long term commitment to .nyc and improve navigation.
  • Premium Names – 3,000 premium domain names (airports.nyc, hotels.nyc, pizza.nyc, etc.) are scheduled to be auctioned to the highest bidder. Attaching public interest commitments to some of these will enhance .nyc’s navigability. The city should mandate that common words which encompass broad ideas be inclusive in their operation. For example, should Hilton win the auction for hotels.nyc, it should be required to present all hotels, not just Hilton Hotels. We’ve a wiki page with a series of recommendations on this. From it one can link to the 3,000 proposed premium names and comment on their use.
  • Search – The search.nyc domain name should by thoughtfully developed for those non-intuitive moments. In addition to finding things, this will keep search dollars in the city and provide a small boost to the economy.

All this brings to mind a city planning effort from 200 years ago. When Manhattan’s street grid was laid out by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the need for parks was not generally recognized and space for Central Park wasn’t included. It wasn’t until 3 decades later that New York State allocated funds enabling the city to carve the park out of the grid.

With nexus and the city’s power of eminent domain in place, we’d expect the reclaiming of common public space and function names to begin within a far shorter time frame – if .nyc is to rise above the vanity level.

Community

While nexus and enhanced navigation provide a platform for .nyc’s success, our TLD will improve our quality of life only if it’s supported by a community. Success requires the average resident to recognize and accept .nyc as something that will have a positive impact on their lives, and worthy of their precious time. To date there’s little indication such support exists. Each day 75 or so new names are sold, but these appear to mostly be vanity purchases or speculative business investments. 70% remain parked (unused). Few are for existing businesses.

How do we build community support?

Over the past few decades the best work on making communities has been done by the Project for Public Spaces. They’ve identified 11 actions that can transform public spaces – parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks or a myriad of indoor spaces – into vibrant community places. How well the Project’s program would integrate both the digital and traditional requires exploration. But community building is an art worth pursuing.

Can it fly?

With the city controlling the foundation agreements that govern the use of .nyc domain names and a huge bureaucracy to enforce them, it has both the capacity and opportunity to bring the broad potential of a TLD to fruition. So the simple answer to the “Can it fly?” question is yes.

But broad success – creating a more prosperous and livable city – depends on the de Blasio Administration taking a hands on role.

  • It needs to let residents be part of the oversight process – being part of setting standards for using our domain names and operating our TLD.
  • It must create reporting channels that enables the public to partner with the city on enforcing city standards. 311, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and other city agencies must develop systems that facilitate public participation in enforcing city standards.
  • It needs to educate the public on how to use these reporting channels.
  • It must enforce the nexus policy. Weekly audits are required under the city’s agreement with the contractor. These must be published, and the public invited and enabled to assure that .nyc names are being used by and for New Yorkers.
  • It needs to add equity to the premium name allocation process, through public interest commitments, subsidies, payment stretch outs, or otherwise. Excluding all but the well off is no way to build community support.
  • It needs to educate the public about the price of a disorganized digital infrastructure in a global economy; that with hundreds of cities expected to develop their TLDs in the coming years, we must be competitive.
  • Once the public and administration are solidly and actively behind .nyc, the administration must promote the .nyc TLD as a trusted places to do business.
  • Finally, the administration must tie .nyc into a comprehensive digital policy that combines .nyc with universal access and broad education efforts.

So yes, .nyc can fly. But we need to energize our mayor and garner broad community support if it’s to be our newest excelsior.

(Commons image Can It Fly? courtesy of Asas de borboleta vetor)

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Introducing the NYCommons

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Jackson Hts., New York, March 12, 2015 – Yesterday I received an invitation from Peter H. Kostmayer, CEO of Citizens Committee for New York City to a most interesting meeting taking place this evening. Here’s the invite:

I’m writing to invite you to a meeting and introduce NYCommons, a project of the Urban Justice Center, Common Cause New York, and the Fund for Public Advocacy.

NYCommons is in the planning stages, and they would like your input to help shape a citywide coalition to influence policy making around how the city deals with its public assets.

One of the goals of the project is to provide local stakeholders with tools needed to impact decisions around the future of their parks, libraries, community gardens, housing and other publicly held spaces.  By creating accessible information about who controls these public assets, how decisions about the properties are made, and how members of the public can influence these choices, NYCommons seeks to build a coalition to help communities raise their voices to ensure that local people will continue to enjoy the benefits of shared space for generations to come. Together we will develop a citywide framework to address the issues raised by decisions affecting future use of public places.

As a New Yorker I have a vital interest in knowing “who controls these public assets, how decisions about the properties are made, and how members of the public can influence these choices” and will be there tonight. And I’ll be stressing the need to add .nyc to the list of commons resources.

For some background see our Public Spaces page on our wiki.

The meeting’s tonight, March 12, from 6:30-8 at the Urban Justice Center, 123 William Street (16th Floor), Downtown Manhattan. For more on the event see here.

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Digital.nyc – A Status Report

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Jackson Hts., New York, February 24, 2015 – We’re a 1/2 candle into the life of our city’s TLD and an appropriate time for an evaluation. But with .nyc’s success metrics undefined, an assessment is challenging. Hoping that we might contribute to a long term analytical framework, we decided to undertake this first review.

Fundamentally, there are two competing perspectives on a TLD’s success, the standard and community. The metric used for assessing standard TLDs such as .com, .net, and .org is based on the number of names sold. We honor that tradition by presenting a statistical review.

For community TLDs, the “societal” approach we’ve advocated, success comprises a positive impact on the delivery of city services, economic enhancement, and an improved quality of life. We took a first stroke at identifying community metrics on our wiki some time ago. With community enhancements emerging from long term development efforts, an assessment at this early stage is challenging. What we do here is look at some early actions and how they might influence those long term goals.

Traditional Metrics

Let’s start with some stats on the number of .nyc domain names sold.

  • As of February 22, the city’s contractor reported 72,103 names sold with sales at a rate of about 90 registrations per day. (See more current stats here.)
  • Of those, 74.27% or 52,672 were “parked.” A parked domain is one purchased but without any meaningful content (see keys.nyc for an example). Names purchased for speculative purposes might be parked. And with .nyc being a new TLD, many are surely parked while under development.
  • That 74% of parked domains has been inching down over the months. For comparison .berlin has 73% parked, .london 36%, .paris 48%, and .tokyo 55%. (Might we induce a level of speculative purchases from these?)
  • Doing some subtraction (72,103 – 52,672) one might conclude that 19,431 .nyc domain names are providing some level of content. But…
  • A February 21 Google search using the “Site:.nyc” command revealed only 458 websites. (Google reported a total of 940 finds, a number consisting of both primary names and their duplicates.) We’re looking for an explanation for this discrepancy.
  • We linked into the first 100 of those 458 “Site:.nyc” citations and found 40% used the .nyc domain name to present content. The other 60% merely linked to a .com or .org site.

In addition to these 72,103 sold names, 21,000 names have been created but not allocated. The unallocated fall into three categories.

  • 800 Reserved Names – Names set aside to serve the public’s benefit. Three fourths of these names are those of neighborhoods or Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), e.g., see 125thstreet.nyc. Included also are some generic and category names, e.g., taxi.nyc, tours.nyc, and digital.nyc, about which we have more to say below.
  • 3,092 Premium Names – These names were set aside for distribution through high-bid auctions, scheduled to begin in early 2015. We’ve advocated for attaching Public Interest Commitments (PICs) to many of these names, believing social and economic equity and a stronger TLD will result. A recent  panel report detailed these recommendations.
  • 17,000 Collision Names – The “Collision” names were excluded from allocation pending a review of their impact on the operation of existing networks. Mayor.nyc and our own connecting.nyc are two of the good names stuck in this batch. The vast majority of collision names are of little consequence, but all are expected to become available in mid 2015.

While we have some statistics to guide our Traditional Metrics evaluation, doing so for the Community-TLD perspective is a bit more challenging.

The Community View

Early in 2014 Mayor de Blasio announced that it had reserved nearly 400 neighborhood names for development by entities representing the public interest. And it created a path for their allocation – see neighborhoods.nyc. We tested the proposed allocation process recently by encouraging local civic entities to apply for the JacksonHeights.nyc name. We chose Jackson Heights because it represented the home team – we’re based there – and the neighborhood has a young entrepreneurial population engaged with tech.

The response was lukewarm at best. Only one organization indicated it might take on the site’s development. And that commitment was on an “as time allows” basis. Also, no existing organization matched the proposed governance standard.

We concluded that if a suitable application was to be filed for JacksonHeights.nyc, it would best be submitted by a new entity, one having the website as its primary mission. And we concluded that the neighborhood names might best be issued to contracted parties, committed to the principles set out on neighborhoods.nyc, with periodic reviews to establish compliance. A scenario of this sort would require an investment for start up and oversight.

The adoption of a resident-focused nexus policy was another positive action by de Blasio. Properly administered and enforced nexus can foster a range of benefits from civic pride to security and economic development. Our review of registrations revealed some questionable registrant addresses and we look forward to the initiation of planned random audits and for a public reporting of results.

A  key sign of community success will arrive when .nyc names are being used to create new civic and business connections. Over the last several months we’ve sought to understand who is registering the domain names. Are names being registered to make new connections and new markets? Are New Yorkers shifting their registrations to .nyc from .com, .net, .org and other foreign TLDs? While we await a sophisticated analysis, an associate has reviewed the daily log of new registrants. The dominant impression is that registrations are largely for generic names, as opposed to those of existing businesses. Looked at in concert with the high rate of parked names, this might indicate a multitude of speculative purchases. But one might see a positive side to this: the names of existing businesses are apparently not being squatted upon and remain available.

Community Opportunities

One of the key benefits we foresaw for New Yorkers and visitors alike was the arrival of an intuitive Internet where our everyday language would be our guide. Using the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 as inspiration, we advanced the model of viewing .nyc as a digital grid where ease-of-use and clarity would result from the thoughtful allocation of names – bikes.nyc, bakeries.nyc, drugstores.nyc, schools.nyc, etc. But the city opted for the speed and simplicity of a Land Rush distribution process (first-come first-served), which released thousands of intuitive names for unknown uses. The results are trickling in.

Today, New Yorkers typing hardwarestores.nyc will be presented with the services offered by a single locksmith, not an organized presentation of the desired stores. They’ll need to sift through Google’s global results to locate their local hardware store. The local hardware store will need to pay Google if it hopes to be found there. And a job will not be created for the local operator of hardwarestores.nyc. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation for New York.

But there’s still an opportunity to foster an intuitive .nyc, where the common language holds its traditional meaning. Within the 21,000 unallocated Reserved, Premium, and Collision names the city can identify widely understood names – words might be a better descriptive – and require Public Interest Commitments (see our recommendations) by the developers of these domain names.

If .nyc is to gain a reputation as a reliable and useful TLD – where people are confident that typing a domain name will deliver the desired result – names like pizza.nyc and hotels.nyc can’t simply market traditional brands. That is, pizza.nyc can’t lead to Pizza Hut and hotels.nyc can’t provide the choice of all the city’s Hilton Hotels. These are likely outcomes if a high bid auction determines development rights.

For .nyc is to serve as a mental grid these domain names need to aide residents and visitors alike in learning about the history, variety, and depth of our pizza and hospitality industries. This can only be achieved via contractual Public Interest Commitments.

Additionally, Mayor de Blasio should select a few of the unallocated names and provide incentives so those on the other side of the digital divide have the opportunity to apply their entrepreneurial talents to developing the .nyc TLD.

Concerns

Since 2009, when the city announced its intent to acquire .nyc, there have been few meaningful opportunities for public engagement in .nyc’s planning and oversight process. Access was virtually nonexistent during the Bloomberg years. Initially the de Blasio Administration was more receptive to public engagement, indeed, during 2014 a .NYC Community Advisory Board met on a monthly basis, with two from our organization appointed as members. However, when that Board ceased operating in December, public access to the oversight process ceased.

The importance of governance and access was brought to mind recently when we received an invitation to attend a Digital.nyc Five Borough Tour. Curious about the event and its genesis we visited the digital.nyc website where the sponsors were described:

Digital.NYC is the official online hub of the New York City startup and technology ecosystem, bringing together every company, startup, investor, event, job, class, blog, video, workspace, accelerator, incubator, resource and organization in the five boroughs. It is the result of a unique public/private partnership between the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, IBM, Gust, and over a dozen leading NYC-based technology and media companies.

Curious, we reviewed the Reserved Names and found digital.nyc listed. Not having been privy to this development while on the Advisory Board, we wondered about the process by which they had obtained the domain name. With this in mind we recalled a recent conversation with an official who predicting that fashion.nyc would be developed in a similar manner to digital.nyc. Some research revealed fashion.nyc to be on the Premium Names list and as having been registered to Neustar, the contractor overseeing .nyc’s marketing and operation, last week.

Without transparency and a governance process, people may begin to think the city’s TLD is being operated out of cigar box, or worse. And with public trust central to its becoming a grid for our digital resources, such perceptions can be highly detrimental.

City Hall needs to add transparency and accountability to the operation of the .nyc TLD. And it needs a representative and accessible governance process that informs the public about how allocation decisions are made, for what purpose, and by whom. And we need a process and timetable for evaluating these allocations of the public’s resources.

Soap Box: Our view is that a thoughtfully developed TLD provides the infrastructure for a secure local Internet. That upon that base one can build privacy, identity, and community. And that these will enable economic growth and speed the creation of a more prosperous and livable city.

A Hollywood Ending

This review turned out to be far longer than we anticipated. Those who’ve stuck with it to the end get a treat. Enjoy these sites we came across while researching this paper.

  • Archives.nyc – This site shows city information presented in an esthetically pleasing manner. Congratulations to the Municipal Archives.
  • MurdersIn.nyc – If we were giving awards this one would get the Bagel for creative use of a .nyc domain name.
  • Greenestreet.nyc – A wonderful presentation of the 400 year history of one small section of a city street. But we do have some qualms about ownership of this resource as detailed here.
  • Straphangers.nyc – We love this organization and as one might expect its an early occupant of the .nyc domain.
  • Visualizing.nyc – Be patient while this one loads. For map lovers.
  • Mammamia.nyc – Broadway’s first play to make it to the big time.
  • Prty.nyc – Dancing like you’ve never seen it before.

If you come across a worthy .nyc site, let us  know, and we’ll connect other New Yorkers.

(Commons image courtesy of Melissa.)

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2015 – The Year of the dotNeighborhoods

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neighborhoodJackson Hts., New York, January 18, 2015 – One of the unheralded achievements of the de Blasio administration’s first year was saving the neighborhood domain names – Astoria.nyc, Bensonhurst.nyc, Chelsea.nyc, etc. from the auction block. Under Bloomberg, these historic names were slotted to be sold off during the Landrush period to whoever had the biggest bank account. But under the guidance of Mayor de Blasio’s Sr. Adviser Jeff Merritt, the names were reserved:

The City of New York has reserved roughly 400 neighborhood names for use by community groups to develop new online hubs for civic engagement, online organizing and information-sharing. Neighborhood names will be available beginning in Fall 2014 and will be licensed to community groups through a competitive application process.

In order to be eligible for a .nyc neighborhood name, the lead organization must meet the following minimum qualifications: (a) registered as a not-for-profit, public benefit corporation or local development corporation, and (b) located within the neighborhood for which a .nyc domain name is sought.

Neighborhoods have been a long-time focus of ours. (See our dotNeighborhood wiki pages.) We’ve imagined vast unrealized social and civic potential, hamstrung by inadequate communication. Our most noticeable involvements with them was a collaboration with the New York Internet Society and Wikimedia-NY that explored the potential of neighborhood wikis. (See NYCwiki.org). So we were delighted by this development.

Over the next year a considerable part of our efforts will focus on making the most of these dotNeighborhoods. We hope to plan a pilot project with the following components:

  • Organizing – Write an on the ground plan for ways to engage local residents and organizations to support the venture. This will include ways to determine local training needs and integration with existing entities – digital and traditional.
  • Technology – Create a system with five components:
    • Centrally gathered neighborhood data: demographics, maps, economic info, government programs and grant information. Here we will look to collaborate with the city administration and entities such as Beta-NY.
    • A host system that includes a wiki component enabling everyone to record and publish a neighborhood’s memory. (For example, see Davis Wiki.)
    • Features that support discussion, decision making, and organizing.
    • An app for engagement while roaming the streets, with 311, service reviews, and peer connections.
    • A business model.
  • Best Practices – Establish a process for sharing ideas with other neighborhoods.

We invite the many who’ve indicated supported for our dotNeighborhoods initiative to limber up their minds and/or fingers and get ready for a most exciting year. Those who do not receive our dotNeighborhood notices should sign-up using the form at the lower left below.

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Report: Public Interest Commitments & Premium .nyc Domain Names

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Jackson Hts., New York, January 3, 2014 – The New York Internet Society and Connecting.nyc Inc. convened a panel on December 18 to explore the prospect and impact of requiring Public Interest Commitments (PICs) for some of the unallocated .nyc domain names – names such as news.nyc, sports.nyc, and hotels.nyc.

Internet thought leader Avri Doria kicked off the panel with a most informative and reflective history on the origin of ICANN’s new TLD program and the evolving role of PICs. She expressed a mixed viewpoint on the role of PICs, but was dubious about domain names being considered “magic words” – leaning toward the “there’s always a viable alternative” viewpoint.

Avri was followed by Thomas Lowenhaupt, founding director of Connecting.nyc Inc., who suggested that 21,000 unallocated .nyc domain names be mined for those that might be shaped to benefit the public interest; and that those names have PICs attached to their development rights. To achieve this goal he suggested city hall establish a PIC Oversight Board to facilitate the identification and development of names that might benefit the public interest.

  • The Board should create guidelines for identifying public interest names and administer a process for their selection. That process should maximize opportunities for public engagement.
  • The Board should identify PIC features that might aide the development of markets and quality of life: maps, searchable alpha and geographic listings, public rankings, comments, reviews, etc. Names should be assigned appropriate PICs.
  • The Board should devise policies that maximize opportunities for the creative development of public interest names. These policies should enable for a broad spectrum of society to avail themselves of the opportunities provides by this new resource (not just current market leaders). These might include innovation credits, subsidies, stretched payment schedules, and other incentives.
  • The Board should advise on suitable means of distributing PIC names: high-bid auction, request for proposals, or other processes.
  • On an ongoing basis the Board should monitor the efficacy of the PIC program.

Finally, Gabriel Levitt, commenting on the .pharmacy TLD, provided insight into the role domain names can play in shaping a market and the public’s interest. Timothy McGinnis provided additional commentary on that topic. A full report on the presentations, a Q&A, and links to panelist videos and slides can be found on the meeting report page.

[Subsequent to the panel, member Thomas Lowenhaupt realized that he’d neglected to mention an important policy consideration relating to premium names and PICs – equity. His concern is that with high-bid auctions the sole criteria determining premium name allocation, new New Yorkers with new visions will find it difficult to participate in the .nyc marketplace. He requested that equity be noted here for inclusion in the ongoing conversation.]

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