High-Bid Auctions Deflate the .nyc TLD

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stoptheauctionsJackson Hts., New York, October 27, 2016 – Our hope for an intuitive and trusted .nyc TLD took a hit today when 20 domain names were sold to 10 bidders in city’s first high-bid auction. While the city refers to these as “premium” names, we think of them as heritage names. With our city-TLD’s success predicated on its utility and predictability, this first of perhaps 25 auctions bodes poorly on its chances. More on that in a bit, but first some details on the auction.

The big winners (using their bidder names, the only ones available), were nameinvest and motionx with 4 properties each. Top dollar was spent by changejobs who purchased apartments.nyc, condos.nyc, and realestate.nyc laying out a total of $42,065. The bargain of the day went to hoofhearted who purchased roommates.nyc for $69. In total, more than $68,000 was bid. Here are the auction results:

  • Apartments.nyc
  • 58 bidders
  • winner: changejobs
  • $16,155
  • Construction.nyc
  • 28 bidders
  • winner: anasacebaruzzi
  • $500
  • Kitchen.nyc
  • 23 bidders
  • winner: motionx
  • $2,000
  • Renovation.nyc
  • 22 bidders
  • winner: nameinvest
  • $690
  • Brokers.nyc
  • 32 bidders
  • winner: nameinvest
  • $1,908
  • Furniture.nyc
  • 24 bidders
  • winner: motionx
  • $2,508
  • Lease.nyc
  • 24 bidders
  • winner; breadsticlk
  • $4,100
  • Roommates.nyc
  • 23 bidders
  • winner: hoofhearted
  • $69
  • Brownstones.nyc
  • 23 bidders
  • winner: luckbealady
  • $530
  • Garden.nyc
  • 22 bidders
  • winner:: motionx
  • $1,021
  • Living.nyc
  • 24 bidders
  • winner: greenappletree
  • $2,650
  • Rentals.nyc
  • 48 bidders
  • winner: guyg
  • $5,700
  • Condos.nyc
  • 41 bidders
  • winner: changejobs
  • $4,610
  • Homes.nyc
  • 37 bidders
  • winner: motionx
  • $3,200
  • Lofts.nyc
  • 29 bidders
  • winner: odash
  • $1,200
  • Studios.nyc
  • 27 bidders
  • winner: nameinvest
  • $1,008
  • CoOps.nyc
  • 23 bidders
  • winner: hoofhearted
  • $520
  • Interiors.nyc
  • 22 bidders
  • winner: nameinvest
  • $500
  • RealEstate.nyc
  • 60 bidders
  • winner: changejobs
  • $21,300
  • Sublet.nyc
  • 24 bidders
  • winner: guyg
  • $560

Using market metrics, the city can point to some positive results…

  • The auction winners now have the opportunity to develop these 20 domain names.
  • Someday soon some new websites might emerge and improve our lives. And if they are successful, add some jobs and taxes to our economy.
  • The city and several intermediaries will receive some revenue.

But the negative impacts are far more numerous and consequential…

Let’s explore this proposition by looking at this auction’s effects on a developer shopping for a domain name, and a typical New York internet user. From a developers perspective, with more than 1,000 TLDs to choose from, why choose one from the .nyc TLD? What makes it a better choice than a .com? Or selecting a descriptive TLD: a .lawyer for someone starting a law practice? And from a New Yorker’s perspective, what difference does it make if s/he receives predictable results from our city’s TLD?

The answer to all these questions is trust. While there are several factors that engender trust, to a large degree, it emerges organically from an intuitive TLD. Trust is engendered when one types a domain name and arrives at the expected resource. The simplest and quickest way for the .nyc TLD is to become trusted, is by setting standards that encourage an intuitive name space.

Let me detail the ways the high-bid auctions damage an intuitive and trusted TLD.

  • First, these are heritage names with a meaning that exists in the heads of New Yorkers. They should be providing the base for a more intuitive Internet both for New Yorkers and those seeking our resources. To the extent that they’re not part of an intuitive guidance system, they diminish the reliability of our city’s TLD.
  • Without public interest commitments guiding their use, city residents may utilize these names only at the whim and will of the auction winners.
  • Without public interest commitments, the winning bidders may use them for non-conforming use. The winner of Brownstones.nyc can use the name for a bar, a band, or whatever. If Brownstones.nyc doesn’t tell tourists about our brownstones, it reduces consistency and damages the TLD.
  • Without public interest commitments, selling development rights to our heritage names is like giving control of our street signs to an advertising agency.
  • Without public interest commitments, the winners may leave the names idle, or “parked” in industry parlance. More than 1/2 of .nyc names are currently parked or without content.

Having established public interest commitments for the neighborhood names, and benefited from its 200 year experience with street grids – predictability and ease of navigation – I find it disheartening that the city government has not chosen to follow the winning pattern.

If the auctions continue as is, they will discourage direct, intuitive (type-in) access, making New York’s resources less accessible – finding them will require a search engine. This will diminish our capacity to shape our city and shift it into the hands of Google-like entities.

Beyond its impact on the viability of our TLD, the de Blasio Administration is missing the opportunity to fulfill its commitment to foster opportunities for minorities and women. While the city has indicated a willingness to make some reserved names available for public interest uses, its resource commitment to advance the idea has been inadequate. Similarly, the promised 30 day notification for these heritage auctions doesn’t provide an adequate opportunity to organize hackathons and other networking events that might enable innovative ideas to emerge from our disparate communities.

#StopTheAuctions

This was the first of what might be 25 high-bid auctions for 500 heritage names. The city should stop the auctions and take steps to improve this phase of the name allocation process. Allocating 500 heritage names without associated Public Interest Commitments will cripple .nyc’s intuitive operation, diminish public trust, and reduce the utility and usage of our city’s TLD.

We’ve made several improvement recommendations in a previous post. Today we’re recommending that the city cancel the auctions, and negotiate a settlement with the contractor for its expected revenue. Auction #1 has provided a basis for estimating that settlement.

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Thomas Lowenhaupt is the founding director of Connecting.nyc Inc., a NYS nonprofit education organization advancing the operation of the .nyc TLD as a public interest resource. His 2001 Internet Empowerment Resolution sparked the city’s acquisition of the .nyc TLD. Two years ago the Internet Society of New York and Connecting.nyc sponsored a panel on the allocation of these “premium” domain names. See a report on that meeting here.

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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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Neighborhood Name License, part 2 – Content Restrictions and their Chilling Effects

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neighborhoods with prohibited symbolJackson Heights, New York, February 7, 2016 – The draft Licensing Agreement for the city’s neighborhood domain names has several significant limitations. In a previous post we wrote about a “Without Cause” clause that allows the city to withdraw the right to use a neighborhood domain name at its whim – without explanation and without cause. We opined about this limiting the ability of a developer to garner the resources necessary to create an effective dotNeighborhood.

Today we’re focusing on more substantive problems, content limitations presented in the draft Licensing Agreement. There, in Exhibit B, the Acceptable Use Policy, one finds “Prohibited Content,” which details a dozen restrictions on categories of information that can be presented. We have serious problems with five of them.

Prohibited Content #1: “campaign-related materials or partisan political materials;”

We’ve always imagined the dotNeighborhoods as significant new venues for presenting and considering the qualification of candidates for elective office. Who better knows the needs of the neighborhood and the qualification of candidates than the neighbors~voters?

The first problem with the campaign prohibitions is the lack of definitions. What is “campaign- related” and “partisan?” Is there an impartial watchdog to enforce it? Who appoints its members? How are violations enforced?

But perhaps we should take a different approach. If we’re trying to create a better democracy, keeping money from polluting the candidate selection process, which we do very well here in New York City, perhaps the Licensing Agreement should require that dotNeighborhoods maintain a “campaign zone” where election materials can be posted free, or for a nominal fee. The license might also require that when elections approach these zones provide a prominent space on the dotNeighborhood’s home page announcing “It’s Election Time” and provide links to candidate promotional materials. There might be some restriction on the nature of the materials – for example, length limitations on video materials – intended to level the playing field by reducing the necessity for significant investment.

Prohibited Content #2: “offensive sexual  material, as described in New York Penal Law § 245.11, as it may be amended from time to time and/or material that contains image(s) of a person, who appears to be a minor, in a sexually suggestive dress, pose, or context;”

We don’t have a problem following the prescriptions of the state penal law, but when the prohibition gets into the “and/or materials” that extend its reach, we get concerned. We wonder who is going to determine the type of dress, pose, or content that is suggestive. Who is it that selects these censors? What are their qualifications? What penalties may they impose? And who sets the rules they are to follow?

Prohibited Content #3: “words that match, contain recognizable misspellings of or are otherwise recognizable variations of any of the seven words identified in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978);”

Here the city imagines that the 7 filthy words and their variations are going to be hidden from the tender eyes and ears of youth. Here again definitions are a problem – “recognizable variations?” And what’s the remedy and who enforces it? Must the operators of the dotNeighborhood keep a vigilant eye on every comment posted?

And beyond the spirit offered here, isn’t it a bit silly for New York City to proscribe the words its residents use? The “Filthy Words” pertain to a national broadcast TV standard, not what New Yorkers say on their neighborhood websites. Let the First Amendment rule here.

Prohibited Content #4: “promotes unlawful or illegal goods, services or activities;”

Obviously we don’t want the dotNeighborhoods promoting illegal activities. But does livestreaming a non-permited rally constitute promoting an unlawful activity? Must the operator of a dotNeighborhood keep watch over all posted content, checking for parade permits before allowing a link? Again, a problem with definitions and regulatory enforcement.

Prohibited Content #5: “image(s) or information that demean an individual or group of individuals, on account of actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, whether children are, may or would be residing with such victim, marital status, partnership status, disability, or alienage or citizenship status as such categories are defined in § 8-102 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York (as it may be amended from time to time) or, for those categories not there defined, as they are commonly understood;”

Again, this is well intended, but adding the concluding phrase “as they are commonly understood” leaves too much room for abuse by the regulatory apparatus.

Chilling Effect

If you add all these ambiguities of definition together with the city’s recourse to the “Without Cause” clause, you end up with a chilling effect that will crush speech, innovation, and experimentation in the neighborhoods: a Sword of Damocles capable of jerking the basic platform away without cause.

Next

Our next post on the draft Licensing Agreement will focus on the innovation eviscerating requirement that dotNeighborhood operators receive prior approval from the city before adding secondary level domain names (here).

 

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.London Premium Domain Name Auctions Start

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London Evening Standard LogoNew York, July 15, 2015 – While New York City officials consider ways to issue the city-shaping and valuable Premium Domain Names – hotels.nyc, sports.nyc, news.nyc – London has settled on a plan for allocating its Premium Names. According to a story in today’s London Evening Standard:

Fifty of the most prized “dot London” website domain names are being auctioned from today to raise tens of thousands of pounds for the Standard’s charitable Dispossessed Fund.

Generic names such as cars.london, cinema.london, coffee.london, food.london and shoes.london were open to bids at noon at the domainauctions.london online sales room.

It is the latest phase of the roll-out of the new dot London website addresses with 64,000 already registered since launch in April 2014.

Up to a quarter of the proceeds from the auction, which closes at midday on July 30, will go to charities supported by the Dispossessed Fund subject to a cap of £50,000.

How much might the auction raise overall? Take a look at the early results here. With two weeks to go before this first auction concludes, rooms.london has a bid of £5,100 (about $8,000), with west.london in second place with a £2,501. So it would seem the Standard’s Disposessed Fund will max out with a £50,000 contribution.

The article mentions nothing about public interest commitments so our guess is that there are none, and that the Disposessed Fund is a fig leaf for the public interest.

Here in New York we’ve recommended that important Premium Names have public interest commitments attached. (Note: The city has set aside 3,069 names for consideration as premium names, some of which have little baring on the civic good such as 777.nyc and zero.nyc. We support auctioning these names.)

Public Interest Commitments will vary, perhaps requiring that hotels.nyc fairly present all the city’s hotels and that news.nyc and sports.nyc be based on local content. The New York Internet Society and Connecting.nyc Inc. organized a panel last December that suggested a PIC Oversight Board to delve into the intricacies of the allocation process.

Premium Names are a cornerstone of a successful city-TLD design plan. London seems to have taken its lead from General Motors’ chief Charles Erwin Wilson, saying (excuse our paraphrase) “What’s good for domain name sales is good for our city”. We await Mayor de Blasio’s plan.

 

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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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