A Force for Good in the Universe: NamesCon 2016 Keynote from Brian Cute

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Brian Cute, CEO of Public Interest Registry, delivers his keynote at NamesCon 2016

Public Interest Registry (PIR) operates .org, as well as providing .ngo and .ong to NGO groups. PIR deals with internet policy, education and security issues. Brian Cute, CEO and President of Public Interest Registry, took the NamesCon 2016 main stage to talk about the legacy of .org and the future of nTLDs.

.org is “One of the oldest top-level domains,” noted co-founder Jothan Frakes; PIR started running .org in 2002. A lot has changed since then. Cute began his talk with a tribute to the late David Bowie by quoting something the artist said in a 1999 BBC interview:

“What the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.”

Cute asserted that we still haven’t seen the tip of that iceberg. “I think we have a unique perspective on the evolving market,” said Cute. “Our mission is to empower through the internet those who dedicate themselves to improving our world.This is what gets us up on the morning.”

Growing and Growing

2015 was a great year for .org, said Cute. It was the best year-over-year performance for new registrations in four years, excluding the China bubble. PIR is closing in on 11 million domains under management, and renewal rates have risen above 74% for the first time in four years.

The next big growth markets, said Cute, are in corporate social responsibility and social enterprise, which are both for-profit areas. For example, Hyundai launched a campaign to combat pediatric cancer, leveraging the .org brand to communicate its social aims to its customers, stakeholders, and employees.

Attitudes are shifting about doing social good, said Cute, and customers are willing to pay more to deal with companies that do good things for their communities: “It’s about trust, it’s about doing good.” For those companies, he said, “.org is their natural home.”

Cute said that the Internet is changing fundamentally, and “how you present yourself and your identity is really important.” When NGOs look at .ngo and .ong (the romance-language version of the acronym), they see themselves in those three letters. After consulting with nonprofits, charities, and NGOs, Public Interest Registry found that potential donors were encouraged by those TLDs, especially since only NGOs can secure them. Confidence and comfort are paramount in these donor-NGO relationships, said Cute. “Small NGOs don’t have IT people,” he said, so they need simplicity, stability, and tools to address the pain points of running a nonprofit while understaffed and underfunded. It’s about validating your online identity, he said: “You look at other TLDs like .realtor, .bank, .loan, you’re already seeing it.”

Cute said he was inspired by an NGO in Nepal, in which a group of teenage girls were working for their community with no help from the government. “The fire in their eyes, it was absolutely astounding.” After the recent earthquake, those girls leveraged their technical and leaderships skills to help their community survive and rebuild. “It humbles me,” he said. “They deserve to be visible, they need to be found, they need to be supported… they need to become sustainable as organizations.”

Partnering with Nonprofit Tech for Good, Public Interest Registry has trained more than 23,000 NGOs so far on how to use the tools available on the Internet. The registry is also combining a database to verify each NGO in order to establish public trust. In his closing remarks, Cute said, “As a registry, we know it’s on us to bring the market to the channel. We have to invest in building this opportunity, this TLD, this community.”

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Extra: David Bowie on the Future of the Internet

Here’s the full BBC interview with David Bowie that Cute quoted. This video is from 1999. Take a moment recall what the online experience was like back then, and watch how presciently Bowie predicted what was to come. You’ll get chills.

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