• Common Pool Resource

last modified February 26, 2014 by tomlowenhaupt

­How we allocate and manage our digital infrastructure? Here we explore if the Common Pool Resource approach provides an effective, efficient, and equitable domain name distribution policy. 

A Failed Common Pool


(Commons photo courtesy Sheila.)

The Simplest Model for CPR Failure

Ostrom, Gardner, and Walker in Rules, Games, & Common Pool Resources say:

The simplest model leading to suboptimal appropriation assumes identical appropriators who have unrestricted access to the CPR, resource units distributed homogeneously across space, and a single technology available to all appropriators.

So if one looks to New York's TLD as the common pool, and registrars/registrants (domain name buyers) as appropriators, with each having equal access to purchase .nyc names, a first look says a Standard Model (i.e., like .com) assures failure.

But this raises some flags:

  • the runaway economic success of the .com TLD
  • the unlimited pool of domain names within the .nyc TLD

The definition of a TLD's success from a city perspective views the TLD as infrastructure, with the quality of the things built upon it determining its success. Not name sales.

And the "unlimited pool" shrinks to a pond if one is talking about good domain names - those that are short, descriptive, and memorable.

More Thoughts on the Common Pool

Alex Linsker wrote:

Some key concepts for effective governance of common pool resources:

1) Neighborhood structure. Make a 'federal' or 'neighborhood' structure, e.g., pools within pools, each with specific governance responsibilities. Within cities, these pools are boroughs, districts, block associations, etc. Within .nyc, these pools might be by borough, subdivided into industry and/or neighborhood.

2) Time limits. Have regular elections of people who govern these neighborhoods, and limits to how long governors can govern, to ensure rotation of new policies, ideas and involvement.

3) Oversight. Have oversight and/or 'checks and balances' and/or separation of responsibilities which are as separate as possible and influence each others decision processes as little as possible, ideally 3 strong separate branches of governance. e.g., mayor, city council, judiciary. in NYC, separation not so good. in .nyc, at each level, maybe have "executive", "policy", and "oversight" teams. works best when one person is in the executive/mayor role with unique responsibility for that role.

4) Charter. Have a Constitution or Charter with a Bill of Rights, which citizens can make amendments to, which specify the above.


Research finds that people adopt a far greater number and more complex set of rules to overcome obstacles to common-pool resource management than previously recognized, suggesting that polycentric, multi-level governance systems are more likely to achieve sustainable resource use than is reliance on single-level solutions, such as governmental control or privatization of all common-pool resources. 

D. James Baker


A world where the goal is not acquisition and ownership, but access and use. 

David Bollier


Our Governance Ecology page provides several approaches to the appropriate social-political-economic model for managing the .nyc TLD. Here we examine the .nyc TLD to see if it fits the common pool resource, or CPR, economic model. Typical resources governed as common-pool are irrigation systems, fishing grounds, pastures, forests, water, and the atmosphere.

Elinor Ostrom, an American political scientist and winner of the 2009 Noble Prize for economics based on her CPR work, is a thought leader in this area. A reading of her work indicates many similarities with these resources and a TLD. She has identified eight "design principles" of  stable local common pool resource (CPR) management.

  • Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external unentitled parties);
  • ­Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources are adapted to local conditions;
  • Collective-choice arrangements allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
  • Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
  • There is a scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
  • Mechanisms of conflict resolution are cheap and of easy access;
  • The self-determination of the community is recognized by higher-level authorities;
  • In the case of larger common-pool resources: organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.­
  • Commons - Variant Views

    While an exploration of the concept of commons for a city-TLD can be seen as one of several governance options, some see commons as radical, for example, Ugo Mattei presents this view:

    The commons are radically incompatible with the idea of individual autonomy as developed in the rights-based capitalistic tradition. In this respect, commons are an ecological-qualitative category based on inclusion and access, whereas property and State sovereignty are rather economical-quantitative categories based on exclusion (produced scarcity) and violent concentration of power into a few hands.  

    Common Pool Resource Q&A

    Q. Is the .nyc TLD a common pool?

    Q. If so, what can we learn from these principles?

    From Wikipedia...

    Common property regimes arise in situations where appropriators acting independently in relationship to a common-pool resource generating scarce resource units would obtain a lower total net benefit than what is achieved if they coordinate their strategies in some way, maintaining the resource system as common property instead of dividing it up into bits of private property. Common property regimes typically protect the core resource and allocate the fringe through complex community norms of consensus decision-making. Common resource management has to face the difficult task of devising rules that limit the amount, timing, and technology used to withdraw various resource units from the resource system. Setting the limits too high would lead to overuse and eventually to the destruction of the core resource, while setting the limits too low would unnecessarily reduce the benefits obtained by the users.

    In common property regimes, access to the resource is not free, and common-pool resources are not public goods. While there is relatively free but monitored access to the resource system for community members, there are mechanisms in place which allow the community to exclude outsiders from using its resource. Thus, in a common property regime, a common-pool resource appears as a private good to an outsider and as a common good to an insider of the community. The resource units withdrawn from the system are typically owned individually by the appropriators. A common property good is rivaled in consumption.


    Common property regimes typically function at a local level to prevent the overexploitation of a resource system from which fringe units can be extracted. There are no examples of common property regimes which solve problems of overuse on a larger scale, such as air pollution. In some cases, government regulations combined with tradable environmental allowances (TEAs) are used successfully to prevent excessive pollution, whereas in other cases — especially in the absence of a unique government being able to set limits and monitor economic activities — excessive use or pollution continue.

    Related Links

    Related .nyc Governance Pages

      Key .nyc Pages