A vast new stretch of digital real estate opened on Monday in New York City, where several dozen local businesses, non-profits and institutions went live online with enviable new dot-nyc Web sites. The early settlers include a savvy local photographer (casey.nyc), a beekeeping association (bees.nyc), a renowned jazz club (birdland.nyc), a university (pace.nyc), and the city's current first lady (flo.nyc).
The land rush to New York's new generic top-level domain name — made possible by a massive new expansion beyond the Internet's old dot-com, dot-org suffixes — underscores how much a physical address in the city still matters in an increasingly digital world. To qualify for one of the new URLs, locals, businesses and organizations must prove they have an actual address within the five boroughs (the .nyc online addresses, according to the city's application Web site, are "reserved exclusively for true New Yorkers").
You can't have pizza.nyc just for selling New York-style pizza in suburban Connecticut. You can't live in the city's corner of the Internet if you don't pay actual rent in the real one.
New York is the first American city to take advantage of the municipal possibilities in the new digital expansion and officially register for dot-nyc with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, a non-profit that manages the Internet's domain names (the application fee: $185,000). Berlin, London, Vegas and Miami also quickly lined up, although none of those cities translates quite as elegantly into a web appendage.
For cities and their residents, the idea opens up new revenue sources for local government and all kinds of new branding opportunities, making generic top level domains the online equivalent of area codes. In New York, the city will get a cut of each registration. A private company, Neustar, is managing the registry. Through a "landrush period" ending Oct. 3, locals can try to grab their preferred domain. Multiple people laying claim to the same URL will enter an auction. As of Oct. 8, domains will open up on a first-come, first-served basis, with registration costing $20 a year. The batch of several dozen websites unveiled Monday represents a kind of soft launch for the program.
Some points of tension in New York and elsewhere will be inevitable: What does ICANN do with two Portlands? What should a city do with controversial brands vying for semi-official domain names? Will consumers come to confuse the URLs — and the content they contain — with government-sanctioned websites? And, surely, there will be some squatters.
The idea won't work everywhere. dot-chattanooga is a mouthful. Tulsa isn't particularly a brand. Companies based in Newark may not want to draw attention to that fact. For some international cities, though — the places that tend to have coveted real-life real estate — their very own domain name could be a boon. Provided, that is, that they can manage thousands of competing demands for the city's imprimatur.