New York, April 19, 2010 - 9 years ago today Queens Community Board 3 passed the Internet Empowerment Resolution calling for the acquisition of the .nyc TLD and its development as a public interest resource. Back then, the world was aware of the value of domain names as marketing tools. Our Resolution initiated thinking about the potential of city-TLDs within the realms of community building, civic governance, and economic development.
Today, in the commercial realm, the value of good marketing names - those that are short, descriptive, and memorable - continues to rise. There’s no S.E.C. overseeing name sales, and many question the “truthiness” of some claimed prices, but the Top 10 List at right, from shoutmeloud.com, is representative of similar domain name sale lists. The lottery-like increase in name sale prices, from an original $10 to $100 paid in the mid-1990s to millions today, have speculators drooling over city-TLDs. And I’m often asked about the prices I expect to see for .nyc names: Will there be big winners like in .com?
When and how much?
Within the realm of city-TLDs we’re just on the cusp of learning their utility and value and will only know for sure when city-TLDs go live. The issuance process has moved at the speed of a pitch drop, but we’re getting close. My estimate is that ICANN finalizes the new TLD application process by year’s end, receives new TLD applications in 2011, with some city-TLDs going live in 2012.
So what will .nyc names be worth? There’s potentially bad news for the gambling types in that our Domain Name Allocation Plan points the way to a name distribution process that might avoid a .com-like speculative boom, and put most speculative wins into education and other digital inclusion projects. And there’s growing recognition amongst city leaders of its utility.
But there is reason to believe that some quite valuable domain names will arrive with the .nyc TLD. We stumbled upon the first of these through an odd turn of events that led us to participate in the Minds in the Gutter competition. To understand this, I need to provide some background.
The Clean Water Act of 1972
Every time it rains in New York City, our combined sewer system gobbles up stormwater running off hard surfaces - roadways, sidewalks, rooftops, and parking lots - and directs it into the same network of pipes that carry our raw (toilet) sewage. When it rains the processing plants quickly reach capacity and the stormwater and raw sewage flow untreated into local waterways on the order of 27 billion gallons per year. This limits how New Yorkers can safely access the waterfront, and impairs our estuary ecosystem. The Clean Water Act of 1972 solidified the nation’s commitment to clean its river, bay, and ocean waters and New York has sought to comply with the law and find solutions to its stormwater problem ever since.
But while we’ve made progress, we’ve not been able to meet the Act’s requirements and the city faces stiff fines and the prospect of building two huge stormwater holding tanks to meet the clean water standards. Minds in the Gutter was one of many efforts seeking civil engineering solutions to this problem. Its focus was on ways to stop stormwater from reaching the sewers via solutions like porous streets that would enable rain to become ground water.
In my years on Community Board 3 I’d participated on its Flushing Bay Committee which sought solutions to the stormwater and other bay problems. When I saw the Minds in the Gutter announcement the gray matter bubbled and I thought - Might the .nyc TLD play a role in solving this problem? Is there a software engineering solution that might match or better traditional civil engineering solutions?
So I tried to imagine a solution that would use the Net and civic spirit - the core of the advances we hope to achieve with a city-TLD. What we submitted was a proposal that uses crowdsourcing to connect residents, their toilets, and the weather to stop this pollution at its source. It was built around a mundane domain name that describes something universal in our city: toilets.nyc. For the proposal’s raw details see The Flushing Community wiki page. And to get a first look at the summary presentation of our software / social / community engineering plan, come to its unveiling at the Museum of the City of New York on Thursday, April 22, 6:30 PM.
About that $2.3 billion
If our Flushing Community proposal proves totally successful, that is, residents city-wide participate in the “Flushing Community,” and this succeeds cleansing our sewerage system enough to comply with Clean Water Act standards, constructing those two huge stormwater retention tanks would not be necessary. And thus, the toilets.nyc domain name would save the city the expense of building them - that’s a $2,300,000,000 saving. See the city’s Stormwater Management Plan here.
The challenge is creating a city-wide Flushing Community. How do we do that?
There are many instances where city residents have joined to make significant change. In the past few decades I’ve joined and/or cheered my fellow residents in picking up after our dogs, recycling garbage, and most recently, not smoking in bars and restaurants. In the instance of the Flushing Community, the rewards are money in our pockets (that $2.3 billion) and clean swimmable waters. And the cost are negligible. If it’s beneficial and relatively easy to do, precedent says we’ll do it.
The trick is creating awareness, simplicity of participation, and community. (And a down side is that in this instance we won’t have an effective force of law behind the effort, as we did in the developments cited above.) We can’t do it without creating a voluntary and broad community of Flushing New Yorkers who recognize and act in the common interest.
The beauty of toilets.nyc is that it would be part of Shift Day - that glorious day when we switch from the old .com Net to the new local .nyc Net. It will be a day when there’s universal awareness of the great change. On that day neighborhood names, small business names, subway station names, street names, government service names, and hundreds of other aspects of our existence will suddenly shift into digital accessibility via our more organized and intuitive .nyc Internet. Within that Shift, New Yorkers will be enlightened to the size and connectivity of our .nyc community (we’re only 1/10th of 1% of the world’s population and we need to work together to thrive). If the .nyc TLD is thoughtfully introduced, on Shift Day we’ll be able to generate civic pride, awareness, and a willingness to participate in a common sacrifice and common good, such as the Flushing Community.
[Alternately, we might just buy a name like toilets.com for a few hundred K and build the Flushing Community upon it. But the cost of building civic spirit around that single effort would be substantial, and drawn out. And it would eliminate one building block of Shift Day, which will happen for better or for worse. The more and firmer the blocks the better the foundation.]
If toilets.nyc is worth $2.3 billion, what’s the value of the .nyc TLD?
Within the realm of Internet of Things there are a few hundred possibilities for other valuable names. However, the value is only realized when woven into the city’s social or infrastructure fabric, and no one’s yet evaluated these names.
And the value realized from using .nyc to create a trusted economic zone, where the world feels safe doing business, is totally unknown. So too is the value of the neighborhood names, which will provide good local communication for the first time; and my favorite, voters.nyc. How do you put a dollar value on improved community and governance? I’ve not calculated that, other than to say - a whole lot. But I promise to return 9 years from now (Pitchdrop is my middle name) with a more definitive answer.
The key point we’d like to make on this 9th anniversary of the Internet Empowerment Resolution is that toilets.nyc is just one domain name. Let’s ponder, dream, think, study, explore, and research about the entire set of domain names that will arrive with the .nyc TLD and make sure Shift Day is one we will all benefit from in a thousand ways.