Mapping the Geography of Domain Names
There are currently over 18 million .com domains registered on the Internet, along with another 11 million domains of varying sorts . What is the geography of these domains - who owns them and where are they concentrated? Clearly domain names are a valuable commodity (and some of them are very valuable, for example the $7.5 million paid for business.com or $3 million for loans.com), but they are also a useful indicator for tracking Internet content production. Mapping domain name geography provides valuable insights into where the decision makers, the new jobs, and the money are, helping identify which neighborhoods, cities, regions and countries are leading the pack on the Internet. Matthew Zook is a researcher at the forefront of measuring and mapping domain names in his Internet Geography Project . Map of the Month asked him recently about his project.
Zook has been running a bi-annual survey of the geography of domain names since the summer of 1998. Using the billing address for the domain name registration he is able to pinpoint the location at which it is owned. From this dataset he undertakes a variety of analysis and mapping from the global scale down to the local neighborhood level. An example of one of his maps shows the detailed geography of domain names in Manhattan, New York, at the level of individual streets and neighborhoods. The blue dots represent clusters of domain names at individual street addresses, with the size of the dot denoting the number of domains at that location.
The geographical pattern of domains shows distinct concentrations, with clusters in the TriBeCa, Soho, and Greenwich Village neighborhoods. This area of Manhattan is popularly known as Silicon Alley and is a hotbed of Internet start-up, Web design, and online services. Also, clusters are evident in the Wall Street district and on the east side of Mid Town Manhattan - areas where business headquarters are concentrated.
The cartographic style employed by Zook is called graduated symbol mapping and is widely used to show the distribution of phenomena at distinct locations. In terms of Internet geography, MIDS use a similar type of mapping to show the global distribution of Internet hosts (see the Map of the Month article MIDS Map the Internet Worlds, December 1999).
|Geography, Domains & Cities|
Matthew Zook is a doctoral researcher in the Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley. When he began his project in 1997 to understand the geography of the Internet, he said, My research questions weren't very clear at the start but I knew that I wanted to look at how the use of the Internet was diffusing across the US and the world. It was clear that despite the rhetoric of how we were witnessing the destruction of space and cities, a lot of Internet activity really was clustering in a few key locations. At that time were no suitable indicators available to track the geography of the Internet at a detailed scale so he launched his own survey of domain names. This metric has both strengths and weaknesses. On the 'plus' side, it provides very detailed locational information down as far as individual streets in certain countries. Whereas most other Internet (and telecommunications and IT) metrics are collected and published only at the national scale. The domain name metric is also more geared to measuring content production, whereas the other commonly used metric of Internet hosts  is a more technical measure, related to infrastructure growth. Domain names are a key building block in forming a coherent Internet presence and the decision to register a name is arguably marks the point at which someone a positive decision to go goes from an Internet user to an Internet producer. Finally, domain names can be tracked over time and provide a means to explore temporal patterns of growth.
On the negative side, you cannot tell what the domains are used for. In terms of domain registrations, cybergeography.org and yahoo.com are both equal, but obviously they are light-years apart in terms of their importance in the Internet industry! There is also considerable amount of name speculation going on, with people registering domains in the hope of making a quick buck and with no intention of actually using them to provide content and services.
|'Putting Place Back in Cyberspace'|
The key finding of his research thus far, says Zook, is that, the distribution of domain names is unevenly distributed at every geographic levelnation, region, city, neighborhood, or street. Rather than being placeless, the Internet is in fact strongly connected to the physical world. The production of content and information services on the Internet is very much concentrated in a few city regions, for example just the five cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and London 'own' over 17 percent of the world's domains.
Zook argues that his research is 'putting place back in cyberspace' as a scholarly response to the simplistic claims made by some commentators that the Internet and telecommunications will inevitably lead to the massive dispersal of people and economic activities, as physical location becomes unimportant, the ultimate consequence of this being the 'death of cities' . For example, renowned tech-guru George Gilder  claimed in a 1995 Forbes ASAP magazine article,
We are headed for the death of cities... Moore's Law will overthrow the key concentration, the key physical conglomeration of power in America today: the big city...We've got these big parasite cities sucking the lifeblood out of America today. And those cities will have to go off the dole. Rather than being centers of value subtraction, they will have to learn to add value to the nation's output... 
Such claims are clearly being proved wrong, as the new economy has enhanced the importance of certain cities, which have been the key hubs for innovation and start-up. And this kind of rhetoric bothers Zook, who says, Basically I want to remind people that despite its reputed 'spacelessness,' the Internet is grounded in specific locations. After all, the Internet is all about people communicating with one another and every person is located and interacts with the physical world around them. For example, I am sitting in my office in the San Francisco Bay writing this email and although I will send it halfway around the world via the Internet to you, it will eventually end up on a computer in London. Although both of us could be anywhere, i.e. the beach, a remote mountain cabin, etc. it's not coincidence or happenstance that we are located in two of the biggest Internet city-region nodes in the world.
Furthermore, Zook say Gilder's simplistic formulation about the impact of technology on cities, reflects a mindset that I think is far too common. That is, that the Internet can only have one effect on human society and that is of dispersal. The use of the Internet like any other technology or innovation is socially constructed and therefore it will not simply act as an undifferentiating force for dispersal or concentration. Both can happen at the same time.
Mapping the geography of domain names rights down to street level is certainly a useful starting point to putting place back in cyberspace.
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