There is a little-known struggle going on right now over how a new series of “top level domains” on the Internet shall be used by cities of the world. Top level domains, or TLDs, are the suffixes at the end of Web addresses, such as .com, .org and .net. The international body that oversees TLDs is expected to announce a new series of TLDs in 2012 that would give cities their own TLDs. So, for example, New York City would have a .nyc top level domain and Paris would have .paris. The new TLDs could make it easier for people in the same metropolitan areas to find each other and interconnect on the Internet and in physical spaces.
While the TLDs may be “just code” – a set of Internet protocols authorized by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for the Assigning of Names and Numbers – they will function much as parks, roadways and public squares in cities, that is, as spaces for getting around, meeting people, communicating things, and enjoying oneself. The significant question is, Who shall have the authority to manage the city-based TLDs, and under what terms? Very few people understand that the anticipated city-TLDs represent a world-changing urban infrastructure that could well be squandered through short-sighted privatization.
Photo of Queens street by Tony the Misfit, CC Attribution license, via Flickr.
At this point, we don’t know exactly when ICANN will authorize the use of city-TLDs. But we do know that city governments are showing little inclination to treat the TLDs as a critical piece of common infrastructure that should be managed for the greatest public good. It seems likely, at this point, that city governments will blindly delegate this authority to domain-registry companies, who will proceed to make a fortune selling prime domain names such as www.restaurants.nyc and www.queens.nyc.