Curious… how does the money flow on this?

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We saw this bus stop shelter advertisement at the entrance to the West 4th Street subway last Saturday. Is this a collaboration between digital.nyc and ownit.nyc? The wording is a bit confusing… The digital.nyc site says it’s “NYC’s Hub for Tech and Startups.” And Ownit.nyc advances the idea that .nyc names are good for just about anything, so perhaps the”Meet on .nyc” is its.

It would be nice if the city had a more targeted approach to its advertising program. Civic is our cup of tea. But an approach focusing on the development of  “markets” would also present the hope of being effective and impactful.

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Neighborhood Name License, part 3 – Secondary Level Names

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Third Level Domains

Jackson Hts., NYC, February 20, 2016 – This is our third post about concerns we have with the city’s draft Licensing Agreement for neighborhood domain names. In our first we bemoaned a “Without Cause” clause that allows the city to revoke a dotNeighborhood license without notice and without cause. We opined that this policy would preclude any serious investment in developing neighborhood domain names. In our second we spoke of the chilling effects of various content prohibitions and vague language in the License agreement.

Today’s post focuses on a requirement in the draft Licensing Agreement (see Exhibit B, Section 8) that dotNeighborhood operators receive prior written approval before issuing “secondary-level” domain names. Our goal here is to explain how this prior-approval policy reduces the potential of the dotNeighborhoods. But first a bit of background secondary-level domain names.

Background

Like many words and phrases in the draft License Agreement “secondary-level domain” is not defined. And since it can easily be confused with second level domain names, we need to take a close look at the terms.

Second level vs. Secondary-levels – By reserving the 385 neighborhood domain names and requiring detailed applications and license agreements from applicants, city hall established tight control over these 385 second level domain names. Our Pizza.Harlem.nyc graphic above shows the 2nd level (Harlem) and 3rd level (Pizza) domains. But there can be far more levels than that. While seldom used there can be a 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, all the way up to 127th level of domain names. In total these comprise what the city is calling “secondary-level” domain names. (An explanation on the domain name system (DNS) and the rules governing the use of these 127 levels can be found in Wikipedia.)

What the city apparently intends to do by requiring that the operator of a dotNeighborhood domain name receive written consent prior to issuing a “secondary-level domain” is to extend its control over the entire breadth of the neighborhood domains, not just the 385 2nd level neighborhood domain names, but all potential names within the 127 secondary-levels.

The Chrysalis

One of the promising opportunities neighborhood domain names offer arises through the development of these secondary-level domain names. Seldom used on the commercial Internet, we see the secondary-levels as a Chrysalis within the domain name system, with a Monarch awaiting emergence.

The secondary-level names add an intuitive layer to the naming system. They build upon what’s already in our heads. The graphic above shows the word “Pizza” being used in a 3rd level in the “Pizza.Harlem.nyc.” It doesn’t take an Einstein to imagine where “Optometrists.GreenwichVillage.nyc” or “Supermarkets.Astoria.nyc” will lead.

Thoughtfully allocated and introduced, these names offer advantages to dotNeighborhood operators, name purchasers, users, and the neighborhood as a whole.

  • For dotNeighborhood operators, they offer the potential of revenue. Will entrepreneurs pay $100 a year for the right to develop Pizza.Harlem.nyc, Restaurants.Harlem.nyc, or DrugStores.Harlem.nyc? Will a local retailer like Harlem’s Tonys Pizza pay $20 a year for the “dirt cheap” marketing channel “Tonys.Pizza.Harlem.nyc” represents? We think so.
  • Internet users benefit from what is in essence a digital transplant of New Yorkers mental map that the secondary-level names represent. And with community buy-in (wiki-like with moderated comments, reviews, and ratings) these secondary names will create a trusted resource for residents and visitors alike, and a way to traverse a sea of questionable Yelper services that plague today’s search results.

But innovation will be sapped if the city’s Licensing Agreement requires dotNeighborhood operators to get written permission for every secondary name sold. The licensing agreement’s main sections provide suitable structure to assure that operators run them in a responsible manner. There’s no need for this additional over-the-shoulder regulation. The Section 8 permission requirements for secondary-level names should be deleted.

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Souvenirs.nyc and Google’s Secret Sauce

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SEO Logos imagesJackson Hts., New York, June 8, 2015 – Imagine if Google gave preference in its search results to websites using .nyc domain names. So that whenever someone looked to buy bananas, batteries, beefsteak, bikes, boats, booze, bras, broaches, or whatever – if a website using a .nyc domain name was selling it, and other things being equal, the .nyc site would show higher on Google’s search results page. Cowabunga!

That would be a giant boon to the city’s businesses and economy. A mad rush to get .nyc domain names would follow, by speculators and by existing businesses looking to convert from their .com’s to the new hot TLD.

On Tuesday evening, June 9, 6:15 PM, the .NYC Domain Meetup (see details) is to examine “souvenirs.nyc” and the sterling placement it receives from Google search. Depending on the precise search, souvenirs.nyc shows up 3rd or 4th in Google’s listings; a remarkable result considering it was only activated several weeks ago. Art Mal, its owner and the organizer of the .NYC Domains, will explain how he achieved these results. We’re all hoping one factor is a change to Google’s search algorithm, that perhaps they’ve given preference for .nyc sites in response to our strict nexus and other policies.

With few souvenirs available for sale on the site, we suspect that Art’s a SEO wizard, but… we’ve long advised that one reason a city should consider operating a TLD is the boost a trusted TLD can have on a search engine’s ranking of its resources. If search engines consider your TLD “trusted”, like the .gov and .edu TLDs, the economic benefits would be huge. (We’ve a wiki page on the trusted city here.)

Trust of this sort arises from two factors: restricted entry and ongoing oversight. To buy a .nyc name one needs to prove city residence, so we’re +1 on the restricted access. Oversight is trickier. Both .gov and .edu have ongoing oversight: If you’ve a complaint about sites on either TLD, there’s a reasonable prospect of recourse. We’ve not heard of any city plans to provide such oversight, but the capacity exists and we’re hoping we missed a press release.

We’ll be looking for evidence of trust at the souvenirs.nyc meeting and will report our findings here.

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Character Beacons

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Jackson Hts., New York, April 9, 2015 – An innovative idea was brought to our attention last year by a civicly spirited domain investor, Kw Boswell. Kw’s suggestion was that the 26 single character .nyc domain names – a.nyc, b.nyc, c.nyc, all the way to z.nyc – be developed in a coordinated manner. The utility of the idea took a few months to sink in, but it did and we’d like to thank Kw and offer a first showing.

a-z beacon 1

Recently, with these 26 premium names heading to auction, via 26 independent auctions, we decided to add some flesh to the innovative idea and present it for comparison with the current plan. Reflecting our early analysis, we named the current plan Willy-Nilly and the new one, the Beacon Project.

Looking first at the likely results of Willy-Nilly auctions, we’d expect each name to be programmed to serve an entirely different goal. For example, the auction for “w.nyc” might lead to its serving as the home page for the W Hotel chain’s New York  properties or the radio station WNYC. While both are positive uses, the synergistic benefit to .nyc is slight, perhaps even negative.

The Beacon Project advocates that the names be auctioned or otherwise allocated as a block, and with a contractual requirement that they serve as predictable beacons, barometers, and indexes of the .nyc TLD. Let’s take a look what one of our 26 Beacons – a.nyc – might offer. Minimally, we imagine four helpful features:

  • An Alpha List – An enhanced index of all sites beginning with the character “a.”
  • The Gov Corner – A list of sites important to the the city’s health, education, and safety. For example, “a.nyc” would include ambulance.nyc.
  • # Trending – An up to the minute listing of the most accessed domain names beginning with “a”.
  • Peoples Choice – City residents will be able to vote for a favorite site within each of the 26 characters.

While we’ve identified 4 possible components, we’d suggest a community engagement and a hackathon to flesh out the idea. Keep in mind when evaluating Beacon that we’re talking about .nyc domain names only, a small bookshelf, not Google’s vastness.

So we see two choices:

We faced a decision with similar scope in the early 1800s when the time arrived to plan for the development of the northern sections of Manhattan. Through a Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, our ancestors plotted east-west streets and north-south avenues that guided New York’s orderly development, providing a grid system that facilitated transportation and property transfer. The Beacon Project follows in that spirit.

Let us know what you think. Perhaps you’d like to join us in sponsoring a hackathon or otherwise flesh out this idea.

And thanks again to Kw for her suggestion. With ideas like this she might more appropriately be named Mw.

(Commons graphic courtesy of pixabay.com.)

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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 .nyc’s ability to serve on the scale of a new infrastructure, 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. But 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.nyc – 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. See our Transparent Search wiki page for more on this.

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 rise to the level of infrastructure, serving everyone, 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 with a huge bureaucracy capable of enforcing them, New York City 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 recruit 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 enable 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 and recruit the public on using these reporting channels, establishing a collaborative “eyes on the web.”
  • 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 globally as a trusted places to do business.
  • Finally, the administration must adopt a comprehensive digital policy that combines .nyc with universal Internet 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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