New Yorkers interested in improving the effectiveness and livability of the city’s neighborhoods gathered at the Neighborhood Preservation Center on March 22, 2016 to discuss the city’s licensing program for neighborhood domain names: Astoria.nyc, Bensonhurst.nyc, Corona.nyc, Ditmars.nyc, Egbertville.nyc, Flatbush.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc and 378 others.

The event was organized by Connecting.nyc Inc., the NYS nonprofit that has advocated for the development of the .nyc TLD as a public interest resource since 2006. The organization’s founding director, Thomas Lowenhaupt, began the evening with a presentation on the history and status of .nyc and the neighborhood domain names, or dotNeighborhoods. His presentation was followed by a Q&A and discussion. This report summarizes the presentation and the discussion.

The below event video was recorded by the New York Internet Society, the media sponsor. The first several minutes focus on the features of the host facility, sponsors, and introductions by participants. At 8 minutes the Enhanced Neighborhoods presentation begins, ending shortly before 30 minutes. It is followed by Q&A and discussion.

Key Points

  • The .nyc TLD’s acquisition process stretched over 13 years. The first official action was the passage of the Internet Empowerment Resolution by a local community planning board in April 2001, with City Council Member (now Manhattan Borough President) Gale Brewer’s 2009 Technology Committee hearing signaling the start of City Hall’s earnest engagement. The city signed a contract with ICANN granting it control of .nyc on January 23, 2014.
  • For neighborhoods, the key development was the de Blasio Administration’s March 2014 decision to reserve 385 neighborhood domain names as public interest resources. Later in 2014 the administration started developing a licensing program for the neighborhood domains to public interest organizations.
  • The licensing program requires that applicant organizations be located in the named neighborhood and submit indications of support from local businesses and residents. (Access the application via neighborhoods.nyc.)
  • Those seeking a license must be a public interest organization. (Section 5 c of the draft license agreement.)
  • The requirement that governance of a dotNeighborhood include a broad representation of stakeholders (both residents and business entities) makes startup quite challenging as the existence of such cross-sector entities is quite rare.
  • Some will claim that the operators of neighborhood names have an unfair advantage as the name’s intuitiveness makes them near-perfect domain names, i.e., they are short (most often), descriptive (always), and memorable (always). And if thoughtfully developed, and coherently marketed, this might be true.
  • But the licensees of neighborhood names do not have a monopoly on using neighborhood names as nothing stops someone from starting BetterHarlem.nyc or SouthWilliamsburg.nyc.
  • From a city planning perspective .nyc, the reservation of neighborhood names might be seen as comparable to drawing the city’s street grids.
  • Three objections to the license terms were reviewed:
    • Without Cause, referring to the city’s right to revoke the license without cause and the limitations this places on an operator’s capacity to garner support for the effort.
    • Chilling Effects, dealing with the insufficiently defined content restrictions detailed in the licensing agreement that, in combination with the “Without Cause” clause, would strongly influence operators editorial choices.
    • Operating Restrictions, requirements that dotNeighborhood operators receive prior approval from the city before issuing secondary domain names, for example, Restaurants.JacksonHeights.nyc, and PizzaBoy.Restaurants.JacksonHeights.nyc.
  • But things might not be as bad as they seem. In a recent conversations with the city administration, Mr. Lowenhaupt discerned a willingness to work with applicants on licensing agreement “pain points” that might inhibit participation in the initiative. As well, an attorney for the EFF indicated that, should the city act to limit editorial control, his organization would take up the cause. While this might moderate the Chilling Effect, the warming would be moderate at best.
  • (Post meeting note: See Nick Grossman’s thoughts on what he calls Regulation 2.0.)
  • Media resources in neighborhoods have historically been quite limited. A chart comparing media resources serving two similarly sized geographic areas highlighted the paucity of media in city neighborhoods.
          Terre Haute, Indiana
      Jackson Heights
    Population 105,000 100,000
    TV Stations 2 0
    Daily Newspapers 1 0
    Radio Stations 8 0
  • The boost in civic capacity that technology offers neighborhoods is deep and wide. One need only think of the community-building features one encounters on computers and cell phones – communication, collaboration, education, outreach, engagement, decision making – to imagine the possibilities of a digitally empowered neighborhood.
  • To provide some insight as to why technology has had minimal impact on local governance to date, Mr. Lowenhaupt drew an analogy to baseball’s dead ball era, covering the 1910-1918 seasons. Its start is marked by the time when the composition of the baseball was modified, enlivened with a cork center and the cord more tightly wrapped, and thus more capable of being easily whacked over the fence. The goal was to enliven the game. And batting averages did rise. But as no one imagined the full possibilities, as players continued to play “strategically” for 8 years, seeking base hits and stolen bases, not home runs. It took until 1919 for someone put 2 and 2 together, begin swinging for the fences, and change baseball forever – Babe Ruth.
  • The era of the “dead neighborhood” will end as Net technology is integrated into traditional civic processes, connecting and strengthening citizens, neighborhoods, and social organizations. And assuming this follows the standard development model, new capabilities will follow and the period of limited media capabilities will end with the vitalization of the dotNeighborhoods. Residents will be connected as never before and the local culture and economy will thrive.
  • While the Internet has already added resources for local communication, it has brought its own challenges. Search “Jackson Heights” on Google and one receives 4,100,000 results, an unfathomable and unmanageable galaxy of sites of possible interest. How does an active citizen responsibly participate in civic affairs in such a situation?
  • Thinking of the future Lowenhaupt opined that the road ahead for the dotNeighborhoods requires sharing between operators of dotNeighborhoods.
  • He described the organizational situation today as siloed, with no vibrant and organized mechanisms for communication between dotNeighborhood operators.
  • In conclusion he suggested that whats needed is a more collaborative environment, an organization serving to the dotNeighborhood operators, a dotNeighborhood Alliance, a 501(c)(3) performing the following:
    • guide prospective licensees about city requirements and technical options
    • share licensing experiences
    • develop principles and policy positions for dotNeighborhood operators
    • share best practices
    • seek funding (city / grants / dues / fees)
    • form technology collaboratives to develop ad sharing, calendars, discussion boards, a DNS manager for secondary names, and other modules
    • encourage public engagement
    • train operators and volunteers
    • channel outside (corporate, foundation) research and development efforts to the dotNeighborhoods
    • provide a voice before city and other regulatory entities

Other Presentations / Q & A / Discussion

Following Mr. Lowenhaupt’s presentation, Aileen Gemma Smith of Vizalytics.com, a contractor working on the neighborhoods.nyc initiative for the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, outlined the open data resources available from the city and three modules provided by her organization. Her presentation begins at the 30 minutes mark in the video.

Nancy Sheran of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association, an applicant for MurrayHill.nyc, showed the Association’s current site. She suggested a neighborhood calendar and local job postings as content she’d like to add to a neighborhood site. Nancy raised questions about moderation responsibilities. Jeremy Baron offered that Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act provided some protections, and Pete Dickman (a hosting services provider and applicant for Flushing.nyc) added that the host would be assisting with copyright related violations. And Joly MacFie mentioned a credibility mark as one way to “authenticate” posters. Aileen added volunteer moderators were a common method to foster quality.

Pete Dickman, spearheading an application for Flushing.nyc, showed his organization’s prototype which is available at Flushing.live.

During Q&A the Internet Society’s Joly MacFie asked about examples of good neighborhood sites. Lowenhaupt suggested that the DavisWiki.org site provided an excellent example of a community using wiki-based collaboration. Joly offered that school edit-a-thons and oral histories could provide quality local content.

Resources