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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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.

—–
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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#StopTheAuctions

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stoptheauctionsJackson Hts., New York, October 5, 2016 –  There were highs and lows in city hall’s rollout of the .nyc TLD last month. Early on we were cheered when we received notification that our application for the JacksonHeights.nyc domain name had been approved. And with the de Blasio Administration committed to putting the city’s 350+ neighborhood domain names under the control of local residents, we began to imagine that our decade-old vision of an “intuitive” city Internet might materialize; where one would find informative presentations of our city’s art galleries at artgalleries.nyc, find banks at banks.nyc, and locate a church at churches.nyc. And with each such directory a bonus would arrive: the opportunity for a New Yorker to form a new small business.

But our confidence plummeted when the city’s contractor announced that a high-bid auction was to be held on October 24 for 20 domain names:

  • Apartments.nyc
  • Construction.nyc
  • Kitchen.nyc
  • Renovation.nyc
  • Brokers.nyc
  • Furniture.nyc
  • Lease.nyc
  • Roommates.nyc
  • Brownstones.nyc
  • Garden.nyc
  • Living.nyc
  • Rentals.nyc
  • Condos.nyc
  • Homes.nyc
  • Lofts.nyc
  • Studios.nyc
  • CoOps.nyc
  • Interiors.nyc
  • RealEstate.nyc
  • Sublet.nyc

These are the first of what might ultimately be 3,000 auctioned names, many of which are vital to the realization of that intuitive city and the utility of the TLD.

The basis of our disappointment is epitomized by the hotels.nyc domain name. It’s reasonable to assume that, in a high-bid auction, an entity such as the Hilton Corporation, with deep pockets and 30 hotels in or near the city, will win. When this occurs two associated outcomes can be predicted with reasonable certainty: a traveler looking to hotels.nyc for a city hotel would assuredly be provided with a highly skewed view of the city’s 250+ hotels (a Hilton perhaps?). And a comprehensive listing of hotels, perhaps creatively mixed to include an AirBnB-like listing, fashioned by a local entrepreneur will never materialize.

With our being awarded the license for JacksonHeights.nyc, we have a big stake in this development: If people come to believe that hotels.nyc and other such civic infrastructure names are in essence offering “biased directories,” what hope is there that they will come to trust that JacksonHeights.nyc presents the considered and collaborative intelligence of its neighborhood namesake?

To summarize, the city has established a workable model to guide the allocation of the neighborhood names, requiring detailed public interest commitments (PICs) from those interested in the rights to their development. Further, those awarded neighborhood name must return every three years to demonstrate they’ve met their PICs. In contrast, the plan for auctioning hundreds, perhaps thousands of these civicly important names does not require any PICs from the auction winners. And there’s no review process whatsoever, with the names issued virtually forever.

#StopTheAuctions

If the city sticks with the high-bid auction (a holdover from the Bloomberg Administration), several negatives will result.

  • Our opportunity to establish .nyc as a managed and trusted TLD, a safe port if you will, will be severely diminished.
  • We’ll loose the opportunity to provide access to these new resources to capital starved entities. The local flavor and creativity will suffer.
  • We’ll loose an opportunity to bolster our digital self reliance. We’ll remain dependent on distant search engines to filter and present our digital resources.

The city should stop the auctions and follow these steps to improve the name allocation process.

  • City Hall should establish a public policy that facilitates the identification and development of civicly valuable domain names.
  • Considering the economic and aggregation benefits that arise with a well managed and trusted digital resource, it should categorize the 3,000 names: those that can be auctioned immediately, names for negotiated allocation (like the neighborhood names), and names that have PICs and are destined for high-bid auction. (Here’s a start.)
  • The city’s Department of Small Business Services should do outreach to small and minority businesses and empower them to participate in these auctions by sponsoring hackathons, networking events, loans, credits…

The city should begin governing the .nyc TLD as a common that belongs to all New Yorkers. While Mayor de Blasio has taken some commendable steps, e.g., the neighborhood names and a nexus policy that restricts ownership to New Yorkers, success requires an investment. The city should immediately re-establish its .NYC Community Advisory Board and enable meaningful public engagement in the auctions, and deal with issues such as abandoned names, idle names, WHOIS, rates, and consumer protections.

Longer term, the city charter needs to be revised to reflect the Internet’s existence.

—–
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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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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