congratulations.pngJackson Hts., New York, March 25, 2014 - In the past couple of days a number of people have contacted me to offer their congratulations or thanks for my role in making the .nyc TLD a reality. With our city’s TLD having been entered into the root - see it here http://nic.nyc - they presumed that my goals for .nyc had been achieved.

But the Internet Empowerment Resolution that I’ve been shepherding for 12+ years had two key components.The first was acquiring the .nyc TLD. Done. But the Resolution sought the TLDs development as a public interest resource. That is not yet assured. So hold the good thoughts and join us in making sure that .nyc achieves a significant role in making a more livable and prosperous city.

When all New York’s businesses, civic organizations, institutions, artists, and residents have good .nyc domain names; when the city’s digital resources are a cinch to navigate online and off; when we can readily identify problems and opportunities and organize ourselves to address them; then it will be time to break out the bubbly. (Commons graphic courtesy of Mr. Groovysweet.)

Learn more about the opportunities provided by the .nyc TLD on our wiki pages.

Filed March 25th, 2014 under Rant

comments-icon.0.pngJackson Hts., New York, March 23, 2014 - My two primary areas of interest within ICANN’s scope of activities merged last week when the NTIA announced its plan to shift the IANA functions to ICANN. I’ll review that convergence here as it might be instructive to those considering the proposed Internet governance realignment.

My early interest in ICANN emerged from a curiosity about the process and form global governance of the Internet would take. But since 2001 my primarily ICANN focus has been on ways its activities might influence the capacity of the .nyc TLD to best serve to social and economic life of my city.

Last year I was appointed to the .NYC Community Advisory Board responsible for engaging the public about opportunities presented by the .nyc TLD. One task I took on was to explore the implications of section C.2.9.2.d the IANA Functions contract, an agreement between the U.S. Department of Commerce and ICANN that detailed requirements for approving a new TLD. It stated of ICANN that it

“must provide documentation verifying that ICANN followed its own policy framework including specific documentation demonstrating how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest.”

To smooth the way for the .nyc application I inquired about the process New York City should follow to demonstrate that it had received the required “input from relevant stakeholders.” In that task lies a lessons in accountability.

Step one was to write the NTIA about the steps it required of ICANN to demonstrate it had “input from relevant stakeholders” as required by the IANA functions contract. After some delay NTIA informed me that they didn’t set the standard, that I should contact ICANN. So I made an inquiry of the Director of Technical Services at ICANN’s IANA division who responded:

“The [IANA Functions] contract speaks of the obligations ICANN has to the US Department of Commerce, not of documentation that a requester needs to provide ICANN as part of an IANA delegation request.”

The director advised,

For questions about how new gTLD applications are evaluated, our colleagues in the new gTLD team should be able to answer those. Their contact address is csc@icann.org.

Anxious about the seemingly clear and reasonable requirement that stakeholder engagement be part of the review process, I followed IANA’s suggestion. And on March 18 I received the following response from ICANN:

“Please note that while ICANN cannot comment on any applicant’s business operations, if there is any additional information that ICANN needs from any applicant in order to fulfill ICANN’s requirements under its contract with NTIA, ICANN will reach out to the relevant applicant.” 

So, no guidelines for the city. No transparency of process. No guidelines on inclusiveness of relevant stakeholders. Thereby leaving ICANN free, on a whim apparently, to “reach out” to any applicant.

Is this how ICANN implements the IANA functions? Where will accountability lie under an “ICANN only” governance structure? And where in the process is the NTIA?

NOTE: As the .nyc TLD was delegated on March 20, see http://www.nic.nyc/, apparently the city needn’t worry about stakeholder engagement. Fodder for those considering new levels of engagement between cities and ICANN. See Cities, Citizens, and Internet Governance for more on this topic.

Learn more about the opportunities provided by the .nyc TLD on our wiki pages.

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Jackson Hts., New York, February 22, 2014 - When AOL bought Time-Warner in 2000, New York City recognized that a fundamental basis for the city’s awarding the franchise to Time-Warner Cable was being violated: Local ownership was being stripped away, with the city’s cable services  henceforth to be controlled by corporate interests in Virginia.

Luckily the city franchise agreement required city hall’s approval for an ownership transfer, and DoITT’s Commissioner Allan Dobrin negotiated for the provision of a competitive Internet Service Provider (ISP) in exchange for the city’s OK. And thanks to the Commissioner’s eagle eye New Yorkers using Time-Warner Cable now can choose from two ISPs, Time-Warner’s Roadrunner and service from Earthlink. 

Now, a decade later, a challenge to local ownership has arisen from Philadelphia based Comcast. But the 2010 franchise agreement the city negotiated with Time-Warner (long ago separated from AOL) allows for ownership transfer if consummated via the exchange of publicly traded shares (thank Mayor Bloomberg for this). New Yorkers with cable complaints can now take Amtrack to Philadelphia. (Image courtesy of Teamcoco.)

Learn more about the opportunities provided by the .nyc TLD on our wiki pages.

Filed February 22nd, 2014 under Rant

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Jackson Hts., New York, June 13, 2012 - I recently requested the support of a bright young urban planner in identifying and developing engagement and collaboration tools for use by the city’s dotNeighborhoods. He declined my invite saying that Google was getting better every day at finding things, that good domain names were unimportant in locating resources; and if one needed local information, or to file a complaint, sites such as EveryBlock and 311 were available. Therefore the dotNeighborhood names were probably unnecessary.

With Google’s near-magical ability to locate information, I can appreciate the “If you need something, just ask Google” viewpoint. And if the need is to buy a book, auto, or find a movie, then most certainly it does. But living within a world of civic activism, I question the extent to which finding things helps us do things - other than in some atomized, subject-to-master complaint filing manner. Indeed, for the consumer, Google is God. But how well does it support the needs of civil society, citizens, and the cultivation of livable neighborhoods? 

Subject ~ Citizen ~ Consumer 

At the recent Freedom To Connect conference, author Barry C. Lynn spoke about a transition of residents of what’s now the United States of America from “subjects” to “citizens” during the colonial days. The above graphic from the draft of the Declaration of Independence, shows the hand of Thomas Jefferson changing residents from being “subjects” to “citizens.” (Hyperspectral imaging by the Library of Congress enabled the discovery in 2010.) That change in viewpoint had a huge impact on residents’ view of their role and responsibilities in society. For example, the “subject” exists under government and petitions power, the citizen grants the use of power to government. According to Lynn, “The subject passively consumes, the citizen produces goods, and ideas, and work.”

In the later part of the 20th century another change in attitude occurred when citizens became “consumers.” Lynn placed the origin of this shift with an agreement by the hard right and hard left to change government’s role from protecting markets to protecting the consumer. The significance of this change is becoming increasingly apparent as the Net eases consolidation and fosters efficiency. Lynn stated that this change toward efficiency will foster bigger scale and efficiency, and that the drive for efficiency has historically led to autocratic rule. He used as examples the efficiency Rockefeller heralded to defend his oil monopoly, and Stalin’s defense of his monstrous reign on the basis of the need for efficiency.

Lynn didn’t draw a parallel between the googles and Stalin, but he cited Justice Brandies to the effect that “the preachers of efficiency are always aiming at autocracy.” And speaking of the desirability of aware and responsible citizens, he spoke of the “liberty of the citizen to make a community with one’s own neighbors,” and quoted Justice Marshall on one of the benefits of inefficiency: the friction that sustains democratic society. (See Barry Lynn’s 30 minute talk.)

Neighborhood Consumer or Citizen?

Since about 1950 there’s been a growing abundance of information about the world in which we live, indeed, the late decades of the 20th century were frequently referred to as the Information Age. And for the last decade or so, as the Net and Google-like entities have evolved, it’s been increasingly easy to find that information.

Getting back to my discussion with that urban planner and his view that the power of search and 311-like complaint services provided suitable tools for addressing local needs, let me raise some concerns with some recent experiences. 

My hands-on experience with civic issues, solutions, challenges, opportunities, tasks, and the like has largely been at the local level. Having a 30 or so years involvement with making more livable neighborhoods, I can say that the information abundance has not helped me to a significant degree. Let me provide three examples from this past week.

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  • Sleeping Beauty - My apartment is conveniently located near a well stocked neighborhood retail street with a great supermarket separating my building from the street. At the supermarket’s rear are two bottle recycling machines. The machines are turned off at night but with their accoutrements, they sometimes provide shelter for a homeless fellow (see picture right). Yesterday a neighbor saw him “relieving himself” on a parked car and called the police. While awaiting their arrival another neighbor urged him to go to a park or the local pedestrian plaza. When the police arrived they joined the residents and, using their power of intimidation, suggested he “go home” and “leave this place” - which he did. A Google search of “homeless services in new york city” provides any number of institutional remedies - NYC department of Homeless Services, New York City Homeless Shelters, Coalition for the Homeless - that I’m certain provide a variety of worthwhile services. But the beat cop did just what they’ve done for generations. And the availability of the Google links (46,040,000 listings for “homeless services in NYC”) did not adequately engage what I know to be caring residents.
  • The Transportation Study - Living just off a busy retail street I’ve been quite aware of the traffic snarls that have afflicted our neighborhood for the 20 years I’ve lived in my current residence. The horn honking that is the penultimate expression of that traffic was for years just far enough away that I was able to say to myself - “how can the people living there bear it.” That traffic problem was taken up in a significant way two times in the 14 years I was a member of the local community board, to no avail. But in 2009 our congress member addressed the issue with a 500K traffic remediation study. This began a year or so of car counting, public meetings, and engineering studies seeking a solution. A digital feature of the study was a website provided by the city’s Department of Transportation, and my Google search of “Jackson Heights traffic study” returned 204,000 results. And halfway down the first page of results was DoT’s portal to facilitate public participation in the planning process - http://a841-tfpweb.nyc.gov/jackson-heights/. Not a good domain name, but google did a reasonable job of finding it.
  • Queens World Film Festival - This past week my wife met with a co-worker in Astoria, a neighborhood or two away from us, and mentioned a Queens World Film Festival in which she had participated. The co-worker expressed regret that she’d missed the event and asked “How can I find out what’s going on in Jackson Heights.”

Google made it easy to find the available services for the homeless, and if you knew there was a traffic study underway, Google would help you find it. And the co-worker could sign up for a Google Alert and learn about a plethora of events taking place in Jackson Heights. But a missing factor in these situations was a geographic center point for identifying these needs and the means for acting on them.

The Empowered Citizen

Which brings me back to the dotNeighborhoods. Imagine we cultivate these names, creating digital commons where local issues and opportunities could be found, a place of permanence that utilized an existing intellectual resource - the neighborhood name. And imagine if these dotNeighborhoods - Astoria.nyc, BrooklynHeights.nyc, Corona.nyc, Ditmars.nyc, EastHarlem.nyc, Flushing.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, etc. - had alert capabilities, and provided state-of-the-art engagement, organizing, and coordination tools that linked residents to one another and the existing civic infrastructure.

It seems to me that placing these tools in the hands of residents might re-enthrone Jefferson’s citizens, empowering them to improve their neighborhoods and their world. And that the alternative is an increasingly atomized population of consumers that petition distant masters through invisible channels, channels that were not designed to foster civic life.

What do you think? (Images: top, from Library of Congress, bottom the CnI library.) 

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

notes-from-DoITT-visit-on-NeuStar-contract-b.jpgJackson Hts., New York, March 22, 2012 - I’ve got to start with a gripe. I was forced to spend the morning at DoITT’s office at 75 Park Place looking at the parts of the proposed contract for the .nyc TLD that have been completed. Forced because they refused to email me a copy. Also, I was forced to make hand notes - see picture - because they wouldn’t allow me to take pictures with my cell. Why? It’s a draft document and not complete. (Perhaps a reason they shouldn’t be having a hearing on a incomplete document!)

Separately I was informed that the one public hearing - Friday, 2 PM at 2 Metrotech Center, 4th Floor, Brooklyn - meets the letter of the law, and that’s probably true. But clearly it’s not the spirit of the law. It’s an odious situation. And with the mayor and his staff quoted in this morning’s New York Times as saying he’s opposed to the “daily referendum” of social media and that people should focus on long term planning - OMFG.

OK, got that off my chest. So what did I learn from my 2 hours at DoITT? I can say I was at some points pleased, for example, in its handling of the Nexus question. But even here close scrutiny is required and was not possible as I was relegated to a noise lunchroom to view the materials. (OK, last gripe, promise.)

But vital pieces had not yet been completed, for example, Appendixes F and G dealing with reserved domain names. G deals with “names reserved for marketing and business development.” Is that the neighborhood names? How is it possible to testify on that?

I didn’t see anything about creating a sustainable TLD. There was nothing about how the funds, from auctions of some names, were to be used: to help small business? for education/training? moderate the digital divide? - not a word. At least none that I was able to find in the lunch room. (Fact, not gripe.)

I asked about the contract development process: Was an independent industry expert brought in to advise the city? No. So apparently the proposed contractor, and the overworked city employee drafting the contract, worked out (or rather, are working out) the details.

I’ll be in Brooklyn tomorrow at the “public hearing” (first announced on the last page of Tuesday’s City Record, an arcane insider paper). Hope to see some supporters of good government and long term planning at 2 Metrotech Center, 4th Floor, at 2 PM tomorrow. The A,C, F, and R trains will take you there.

UPDATE: See details on the city’s application for the .nyc TLD as submitted to ICANN and its contract with vendor NeuStar here.

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

Atrium-closed-smaller.0.jpgNovember 17, 2011, Occupied Wall Street - The Campaign for the Commons, a working group of the Occupy Wall Street movement, was to meet this evening in the Atrium, at 60 Wall Street, with the topic “Occupy the Digital Commons.”

The Atrium is a magnificent Greek-revival neoclassical structure opened in 1989. It is a “privately owned public space,” which means:

  • The land is owned by a private entity.
  • In return for adding several floors above the allowable height - which block the public’s light, air, and space - the owners agreed to make the ground floor Atrium space available for public use.
  • When the building is torn down - in 10 or 1000 years - the owners can do with the space as the law then allows.

But until then, the owners must abide by these city rules:

  • Arcade: Open 24 hours
  • Covered Pedestrian Space
  • Open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
  • May be closed to the public with advanced notice for 6 private and 6 local community not-for-profit organized events per year starting at 2:00 p.m. weekdays or at any time on weekend days

Since September the Atrium has been the de facto meeting headquarters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Each night several of the movements 80+ working group meetings have been held there. Always in an orderly and respectful manner.

Tonight was to be the first meeting of the Campaign for the Commons working group, focusing on the commons, spaces like streets, parks, waterways, and public areas like the Atrium. The discussion was to center on how to nurture and grow the commons, including New York’s TLD. We’ve contacted Deutsche Bank for an explanation of the closing, and when and under what circumstances they plan its reopening.

The word irony comes to mind with 60 Wall being closed on the night a discussion on governing the commons was scheduled there. (Commons photo of guards in front of the Pine Street entrance to the Atrium, from the Connecting.nyc Inc. library.)

Learn more about our overall effort from our Wiki Home Page

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Jackson Hts., New York, June 30, 2011 - I split my out-of-office advocacy efforts for .nyc between civic and tech events. Generally I receive a positive reception at civic oriented meetings and a “why bother” at tech events. Last night it was an East Village Tech meetup at d.b.a., a beer garden at 41 1st Avenue. It was a loud space with about 10 picnic style tables with our group of perhaps 25 occupying three of them.

I went to test the salience of the “secrecy story” as a recruitment tool: that is, that inadequate transparency on .nyc’s development precludes sufficient public engagement and endangers the resource’s optimization. Or more viscerally, will residents become enraged upon learning that the .nyc TLD is being divvied up behind closed doors at City Hall?

The first fellow I spoke with was student working for a firm that had just made a bundle selling Tweet Deck, a Twitter add-on. His listened attentively but as I answered a question from another 20ish fellow next to me, moved to another table, either not having understood me or not interested. That second fellow worked for a tech advertising firm. He told me that he’d not entered a domain name in three years and doubted their value, (typical of those under 30). With the event being a geographic East Village tech meeting, I tried drawing upon his civic pride, “Wouldn’t you want to have a role in managing the EastVillage.nyc domain?” He responded with confidence that only corporations could guide the development of a successful digital product. I was about to mention our dotNeighborhood governance approach, the success of Wikipedia and open source when he asked the fellow across the table what he thought, presenting the secrecy aspect with cogency. That fellow responded that corporations are going to get what they want anyhow, so why bother to even try. My neighbor nodded his acquiescence, and so went the evening. 

On a more positive note, I conversed with someone frustrated with the banking system who wanted to create a collaborative financial guidance tool, perhaps a wiki. I thought this was a great idea and agreed to make a connection with the Wikimedia folks. And finally, d.b.a. had a great Brooklyn East India Pale Ale which made the evening a joy. (Ice Cream photo courtesy of Free Photo.)

Learn more about our overall effort from our Wiki Pages

tern-the-bird.png New York, September 2, 2010 - As the school year opens in this part of the world, my thoughts turn to the returning students, and I dream of reaching those few who might collaborate on our work.

If time allowed, I’d trek up to Columbia University and see if I could recruit a student in the School of International and Public Affairs to look into the impact of city-TLDs on commerce and governance, starting with lessons from the Greek city-states and Hanseatic League. (There’s a PhD thesis in there.)

And I should really head over to Hunter College and see if I can get the Graduate School of Urban Affairs to do a follow-up on the great dotNeighborhoods report they did last year. Or get to NYU’s ITP for someone to imagine the role of a TLD in a location based world (or redo our web presence).

Or perhaps I could send a posting to London to have a student at the School of Economics check my fantasy of a trusted TLD making .nyc a preferred shopping space on the net. Or of the role of a city-TLD as a common pool resource

Locally, I really must get to the local schools and have them begin putting OpenStreetMap.org projects on their agenda, data that will fit nicely on NYCwiki.org

But it’s 95 degrees (35 Celsius) here in NYC and I’m closing shop for the day. A final note: we are very receptive to student proposals of an independent nature.  See ((Intern Opportunities)) for current openings. (CRESTED TERN courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Learn more about our overall effort from our Wiki Home Page

old-vs-new-2.JPG­September 25, 2008, New York - City TLDs are a “potentially” explosive media development. With the ICANN having approved a New gTLD policy this past June, global cities will soon be sporting sexy Internet names - .paris, .berlin, .ven, and my favorite .nyc. And new ideas about the role of the Internet “might” soon show themselves.

But note the troubling “potentially” and “might” earlier in the preceding  paragraph. We run the risk of this new medium being ineffective or appropriated and consolidated by the old, unless we can get lucky - good luck with that - or get organized to support the concept of a community controlled medium. This post is a beginning thought about why little attention is given to city-TLDs as a medium:

  • A Medium? - Most probably don’t imagine it as a medium. While it clearly meets the classic definition of a communications medium - store and transmit information - in its dominant .com form it has been perceived as merely part of a name.
  • Fighting The Last War - Too many of the really smart media critics have become dedicated, life-long, big media busters and are busy fighting the Industrial Media War, re-imagining and re-building its Maginot line.
  • TLDs are Old Hat - SEO-types think TLDs are old hat. SEO comes from Search Engine Optimization, a huge new business that will probably suck up a lot of the discarded brains from Wall Street. They try to figure out how to sell on the net focusing on the role of Google and its dwindling competitors. The SEO types say - “Who cares about TLDs, just use mini-urls.”
  • Doomed To Failure - At ICANN meetings you’ll find many who want to to see the Verisign Empire crushed, and feel any TLD that won’t dislodge the .com TLD from its dominant position is useless and a failure. 

You agree? (Commons photo courtesy of Erica Marshall.)

Learn and contribute to The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

Filed September 25th, 2008 under City-TLDs, Competition, Media Coverage, Rant, Presentation

March 19, 2008 - We’re still in our formative days and need to settle a few governance issues before we’re ready to decide on which of the many opportunities before us we’ll focus our attention (see the wiki). But I don’t think it’s too early to make a decision on what we’re “not” going to do.

facebook-head.jpgOne such banished idea emerged from my seeing the picture at left as I opened my Facebook page today - I’ve named it Facebook Head.

As posted on Facebook, the original bald head image had the “You hair loss?” text above it, with the “Our products for you!” string below. Those who know me might think this an actual summit photo. And I will admit that on first glimpse something looked familiar (though I’ve rarely if ever seen myself from that perspective), but I immediately knew “that’s not one of my posted pictures.” And I almost turned my head upward to see if some monstrous privacy violation was in play. But within a second I realized it was an ad of some type, probably for some magic juice or rug to cover.

As my Facebook visit was a quick in-n-out to respond to a message, I assumed it was not to be seen again. An hour later I returned for another quick visit. And there was Facebook Head again. Poking me in the left eye. And now, two hours later, it appears that Facebook Head is to be my official, personalized, Facebook companion-advertisement for awhile.

So, I’m thinking it’s time we make a commitment: We Won’t place insensitive ads on anything we publish, be that our wiki, our website, an index…

While seemingly a no-brainer, it will be helpful to publish a set of Community Sensitivity Guidelines for the days ahead.

Tom Lowenhaupt

Filed March 19th, 2008 under Rant, Civics, Governance

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