the Geography of Domain Names
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 neighbourhoods, 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.
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 neighbourhood
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 neighbourhoods. 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.
geographical pattern of domains shows distinct concentrations, with
clusters in the TriBeCa, Soho and Greenwich Village neighbourhoods.
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
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
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.
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.
Place Back in Cyberspace'
key finding of his research thus far, says Zook, is that, "…
the distribution of domain names is unevenly distributed at every
geographic level - nation, 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
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
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...." 
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."
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 a undifferentiating force for dispersal or
concentration. Both can happen at the same time."
the geography of domain names rights down to street level is certainly
a useful starting point to putting place back in cyberspace.