Uptown Top Ranking: New Dot Art Domain Launches

Pondering the creation of a new top level domain name for the artworld: .art

Tomorrow, Monday 28 November, will see the launch of the first top level domain name geared specifically towards the art world. A top level domain (or TLD) is the bit after the dot in any given url. So we’ve had .com since 1985, .info since 2001, .jobs since 2005, .xxx since 2011, and .blue (for “everyone who loves the colour blue or wants it to enhance their business”) since 2014. Now, too, there will be .art. Its an order of succession that says something, at least, about the web’s priorities and self-definition.

“It’s finally happening,” sighed Art Net News, its exhausted relief palpable. For UK Creative Ideas Ltd., the company charged with administering it, “.ART domain will instantly identify you as a member of the art world and position you as a key player in the international arts community.”

“A .ART domain is an instant brand,” their website continues, “telling the world who you are and what you do.” But precisely who UK Creative Ideas Ltd. are and what they do remains a bit obscure. Their own ‘About’ page indicates merely that they are “an international team based in London”. No staff members of investors are listed on the site. Reporting on the various competitors for the .art generic – which included the highly respected e-flux mailing list, journal, and New York gallery space as well as the six-year old start-up Donuts, who are already responsible for some hundred odd TLDs – back in June 2012, Art in America described UK Creative Ideas Ltd. as a “mysterious applicant” about whom “almost no information” was available.

Precious little seems to have come to light since. They have a London address (shared with twelve other companies) registered with Companies House. And also, it would seem, addresses in the Isle of Man and Baku. The company’s founder is a certain Ulvi Kasimov, named by Forbes as one of Russia’s most successful venture capitalists. A former deputy director at the once-highly secretive atomic research lab, the Kurchatov Institute, Kasimov is also one of the driving forces behind SferiqTown, a “franchise project” aiming to build quasi-utopian creative communities at the edge of cities with the hope of “dissuading creative people from leaving Russia by providing them with the comfortable and inspiring environment to realize their potentials in business innovation and scientific research from the comfort of their own neighbourhood.” But asked by the Financial Times back in May, how much the new .art domain names would cost, Kasimov refused to be drawn.

About the “early adopters” of the new TLD, UK Creative Ideas is much more forthcoming. The Tate’s digital director Ros Lawler has already announced that they are “delighted to take part in the launch of this new domain, which will help promote some of the world’s greatest art collections, galleries and museums.” Other prompt signatories include the Centre Pompidou, the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, Stedelijk Museum, Delfina Foundation, Istanbul Biennial, Hauser & Wirth, Fondation Cartier, Kickstarter, and e-flux. “We are very proud to launch with these Early Adopters,” the .art website proclaims, “and look forward to welcoming more in the coming months.”

Quite why anyone with an existing site as well-known and oft-visited as Tate or Guggenheim would want to switch their dot org up for a dot art is unclear. The .art site speaks of “a huge opportunity to attract new audiences.” Has anyone ever stumbled upon a company’s site by aimlessly scrolling through likely sounding TLDs? When you need information about something, is your first thought to check out what comes up with thatthingyouwantinformationabout.info? And, anyway, hasn’t everyone from Forbes and Fast Company to artist Constant Dullaart been predicting the final death of the URL itself for some time now? Chrome, Firefox, and Safari now have removable address bars. Who can be bothered to type in an address with all its ugly dots and dashes? We already inhabit a click-through online environment.

When .xxx was finally launched, eleven years after it was first proposed, in the spring of 2011, pornography trade body the Free Speech Coalition vigorously protested the move, claiming it would lay the industry open to censorship and suppression. Christian groups were scarcely more welcoming (though, perhaps, for different reasons). Further controversy was stirred by the creation of .sucks four years later when Vox Populi Registry Inc., the company given responsibility for doling the new addresses out, was accused of running a “shakedown scheme” when it began charging big names two-and-a-half grand each to register with them in order to stop someone else using the string to damage their brand.

ICANN, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the non-profit tasked with managing the internet protocol and domain name system, has been a focus for criticism almost since its creation. If they once served an arguably indispensable function, today they are apt to come across like an estate agent that deals in addresses without any property attached to them. It is likewise hard to imagine exactly what function .art will serve – except, of course, that of generating a great deal of money for the investors behind UK Creative Ideas Ltd.

But sometimes TLDs can take on a life of their own, revealing subtle truths about the people who adopt them. After the revolutions of 1989 and the break-up of the former communist bloc, national level domain names like .cs (for Czechoslovakia), .yu (for Yugoslavia), and .dd (for East Germany) soon fell into disuse – quite naturally, since the countries they were named after no longer existed. But .su (for Soviet Union) has shown an extraordinary persistence, continuing to append the urls for communist nostalgia sites, Putinist youth movements, and thousands and thousands of cybercriminals. In each case one can detect varying combinations of opportunism and historical denial. We can but speculate what .art will ultimately signify about those who choose to employ it.

The new .art domains will be rolled out in stages. Over the next two months, the first round of addresses will be provided for the afore-named early adopters “and ICANN-registered, trademark-only organisations”. Between February and March, it will be open exclusively to “established members of the art world”, although exactly how that will be defined and policed is left unclear. But from May 2017 on, dot art domains will be open to all, available to any bidder who wishes to boldly signify their own artiness – from which point, the suffix is sure to stand as a conclusive indicator of nothing so much as a given webmaster’s pretentiousness.

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