Why DigitalTown bought 10,000+ .CITY domains – and why it matters

Over the last couple of weeks, more than 10,000 .CITY domains were registered by a single registrant called DigitalTown.com at Epik registrar. This is actually the other major company besides Epik where I serve as CEO. As DigitalTown does have some relevance to the domain industry, in this post I will outline what DigitalTown is doing.

What is DigitalTown

DigitalTown is a public Company (OTC: DGTW). I joined DigitalTown as CEO in May 2015, initially as a turnaround CEO but since signed on for longer. DigitalTown is building a global smart city platform. If you are not familiar with the term “Smart City”, you will be seeing a lot more of that term in the future. Technologies like Uber and AirBnb are beginning to exemplify some of the early characteristics of a smart city.  While these niche applications are compelling solutions to specific problems, they are just scratching the surface.

Looking ahead, a genuine Smart City will make transacting locally a seamless and frictionless experience, whether it is with a local merchant or whether it is with the local government. To this end, the DigitalTown platform is designed from the ground up to be operated in collaboration with local civic leaders as stakeholders, partners and even administrators.  The DigitalTown platform relies heavily on smart phone applications but also embraces the future of a “Smart Web” that will be more intuitive and easy to use.

Why build on .CITY domains

The focus of DigitalTown is to empower thriving local economies, typically organized around cities as the local governing entity that has both resources and personnel who are empowered to guide the local economy towards greater well-being of the community.  Each city will typically have its own character and “brand” identity. For many cities, this brand has never been formally defined by city management. Yet, nevertheless, each city through the process of time is developing a brand as a result of the personalities, businesses, competencies, and public services that are associated with that city or town.  As such, it also follows that a city website should reside on its own branded domain. The .CITY TLD, operated by Donuts, is a perfect domain extension for hosting multi-stakeholder city sites. DigitalTown’s mission is to now bring these .CITY domains and the DigitalTown cloud-hosted content management platform to the cities that can use these city brands effectively.  As for why not build on .TOWN, because towns often become cities, whereas cities very rarely become towns.

The need for Architecture and Design in the new Smart Web

As many registry operators are aware, one of the topics that I have been spending a great deal of time on in recent months, is navigating the topic of how the new domain extensions could be become part of an intuitive navigation framework for a “Smart Web”.  In response, a number of registries have embraced this notion of a strategic approach, aligning with DigitalTown in a formal way.  For example, DigitalTown will roll out a network of approximately 30,000 .MENU sites this year to power a network of local restaurant directories, as well as power a .MENU branded solution for online restaurant management. In the process, we expect .MENU has a compelling opportunity to emerge as a de facto standard for direct navigation in local communities for dining information.  Other registries have taken a more tactical approach, e.g. making blocks of domains available in bulk for development.  However, all registries with whom I have spoken agree with the fundamental premise that the web needs to become more intuitive. It needs to become Smart.   To this end, DigitalTown will be championing a network of “Short cuts” or “Life hacks” that will allow consumers that use web browsers in order to directly navigate to exactly what they are seeking.

The importance of Single Sign-On

The concept of Single Sign-on for the web is certainly not a new one.  I first began working on Single Sign-on solutions back in 2007 through a project called Federated Identity, concurrent with a vast rollout of a network of sites called Product Portals.  The premise of single sign-on is as valid now as it was then, i.e. the need for portable identity and portable reputation for being able to effectively navigate across a federated network of sites so that users do not need to register each time at some niche website. DigitalTown is working to provide a flexible framework that can power a secure online wallet, that is tied to the personal smart phone.

Will DigitalTown be Global?

DigitalTown is a global platform.  The Board of DigitalTown is committed to the vision of enabling participants to “See the World through Local Eyes”. Although the test markets for DigitalTown (Sibley County, MN and Leavenworth, WA) have been in the US, DigitalTown will establish regional presence in strategic hubs around the world, starting with Dubai later this year following a recent strategic investment by a Qatar-based industrialist.  While .CITY –and english language keyword TLDs in general — may not be ideal for every market, English remains the shared language of most of the developed world and will likely remain such for the foreseeable future.  That being said, the user interfaces can and will be localized. Moreover, real-time translation technology for text-based messaging has matured to the point that it becomes highly practical to connect persons of different nationalities, languages, cultures and religions in real-time.

DigitalTown is a shared vision for the Future of the Web

The near-term outlook for domain investors is mixed.  In fact, if stakeholders in the domain economy are not proactive, a large portion of domain economy is at risk of being supplanted by search engines (Google, etc), niche sites (e.g. AirBNB, Expedia, Tripadvisor in the travel category), and by a fast growing universe of clever and secure mobile applications.  In retrospect, I believe ICANN did the domain economy a very great disservice in handing out registries to private operators who in almost all cases had no TLD-specific business plan that would (1) make that TLD useful to end-users, and (2) make the internet as a whole more powerful.  Nevertheless, these domains are now in private hands. Those private stakeholders now have an opportunity to be intelligent stewards.  As such, I invite registries and registrants to be thinking about how to become aligned around a shared architecture that begins to make the web Smart.  This is no different than a group of landowners, agreeing to conventions on area codes, postal codes and street numbering. The result is faster development with less chaos.

A word about Epik to Domain Investors

Epik was never built to be the biggest registrar. Rather it was built to be the best, as well as to participate in the governance dialog related to the future of domains.  Over the coming year, you will see accelerated innovation coming from Epik, including the introduction of mobile services and support for resellers who wish to take advantage of our advance domain name management platform using their own brand identity. We view domain investors as stakeholders and partners in the curation of the Internet. And while DigitalTown did take out many .CITY domains in the last couple of weeks, there are still some fantastic deals to be had in the .CITY registry  Pricing through Epik is as low as $3.50 for the first year.  Contact Epik Support for more information about how to get partner pricing for .CITY domains.

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