.ART Re-Emerges as “The Art World’s Exclusive Domain”

by Rea McNamara on June 6, 2016 Newswire

Screen shot of .ART's new website.

Screen shot of .ART’s new website.

Will the days of describing the internet as an ungentrified space finally be over? As the internet becomes an overcrowded domain space, ICANN’s new generic Top Level Domain (TLD) program is showing signs of an emerging virtual real estate boom—or at least that’s been the story for the last several years.

At the center of all this is .ART, which went live last week. The website, dotart.domains, comes less than a year after the widely-contested Top Level Domain (TLD) went to highest bidder UK Creative Ideas Limited. Judging by the art fair-esque logo and elevator pitch calling itself “the art world’s exclusive domain”, it seems the centralized online entity that is now .ART has truly been exploited by commercial interests.

This comes as no surprise. When AFC first reported on the end of a two year grassroots campaign led by e-flux and DeviantArt for the domain integrity of .ART, the UK-based group’s proposal was fairly explicit in identifying its potential customer base: galleries, auction houses, museums and foundations. Further, its founder, Ulvi Kasimov, is a top Russian venture capitalist who has long been a backer of digital technologies for the art market.

Despite the bid being settled last year in a private ICANN auction, a press release circulated earlier this week announcing that UK Creative Ideas Limited (UKCI) had only just signed this past March an agreement with the non-profit to be the exclusive operator of .ART. As detailed by the Financial Times, UKCI has spent $20 million so far to own the domain for ten years (with the option to renew), and will “rent” the domain to the art and culture sector. They have yet to reveal how much it will cost to rent the domain, nor elaborate on the different rates it would apply to its varying categories of its intended user base, such as an artist versus an auction house. At present, all you can do is request the names of URL’s you’re interested in by signing up for their mailing list. An automated email is returned, that reads, “Thank you for signing up. We are thrilled to see incredible demand for the anticipated launch of .ART domains.”

“Our goals are to support existing museums, galleries, artists, auction houses and others in protecting and enhancing their brands, to inspire new organizations to build on .ART real estate, and to make domain names available to younger players to the art scene whose names are no longer available in other TLDs and want to immediately be identified with the art world,” said John Matson, CEO of UKCI, in the press release. (Tellingly, the release also mentioned that Matson, formerly an executive at Architelos, had advised ICANN on its new gTLD program.)

The website so far is just a front page, but also extends to recently activated social media channels like a Facebook and Twitter account. It’s front page, with a slideshow cycling through images of glittery fiber optic cables and detail of a brightly-hued city block, makes frequent references to real estate. Not only is .ART “the art world’s exclusive domain,” we’re told, but it’s also “new internet real estate” and a “digital neighborhood” for art. The Art Newspaper went so far to call it an addition “to the art world’s reputation as a self-obsessed bubble.”

Not since the deleted Geocities cityscape has there been so much talk about virtual real estate. In March, new research from the University of Cambridge suggests that there’s potential for a boom in new top level domains such as .art, .food, and .sex. The report compares the domain name market to urban economic models. According to Dr. Thies Lindenthal from the University of Cambridge, a domain name could be considered on par with a business district: “the commute, to, and consequent value of, virtual locations depend on linguistic attributes: familiarity, memorability and importantly length,” he says. “A virtual commute is about the ease with which a domain name is remembered and the time it takes to type.”

“The snappier and more recognisable a domain, the more it is going to be worth. What I find fascinating is that the observed transaction prices of domain names reveal a free market valuation of linguistic characteristics and language itself,” he says.

This brings up the concern, as expressed by our commenters back when AFC reported e-flux’s intentions to buy .ART in 2012 — which would join forces with DeviantArt three years later in its failed bid — of .ART being centralized, acting as a gatekeeper for an online community.

Additionally, no institutions have gone public as .ART “tenants”. When Luxury Daily’s Forrest Cardamenis contacted Sotheby’s and Christie’s to confirm if they had plans to register .art domains, both auction houses declined to comment. Which is strange, since Cardamenis suggests that .ART could be useful for specific auctions, in terms of “funnelling search traffic and with the interface and design of an auction, which would no longer need to conform to the aesthetic of the auctioneer’s host site.”

It remains to be seen if .ART will be fully embraced by the very arts and culture sector the domain professes to serve when it launches this fall. Prices have yet to go public, and there are a lot of unknowns—namely, whether anyone is going to pay for these domains in the first place. .NYC’s rapid growth may suggest there’s a vast marketplace ready to be tapped, but they are a rare success story amongst TLDs which have yet to prove they have a supportable business model.   

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