The Internet doesn’t speak English only: Here’s why you should care about Internationalized Domain Names

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With over 8 Arabic speaking countries in Africa alone, it will be a great disservice to ourselves not to consider this great percentage of the population in our Internet ecosystem. As the Internet strives and continues to eliminate boundaries in trade and commerce, we need to think more about ensuring that our content is easily accessible globally.

According to a research by Global Reach, 65% of the world’s Internet users population is non – English speaking. This therefore implies that we have a large population of Internet users who use non – ASCII/ English/ Latin based characters. Due to the previous exclusion of this community in the Internet ecosystem there is a great opportunity to those who will devise a multi-lingual inclusive strategy.

About 49% of the Internet users come from Asia and Middle East where the use of non – ASCII characters is dominant. Neglecting this large part of Internet users inhibits the vast opportunities for development and growth availed to businesses, communities and Internet users around the globe through Internet enabled trade and e-commerce.

The introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) has now made it possible for you to reach your target market in their native language and reach the once underserved population with localised offerings. It also provides a better customer experience as they will easily access your website for example Starbucks in Korea uses the domain 스타벅스코리아.com.

Most domain registrars now offer IDNs registrations.Registering an IDN is as simple as the registration of a .com domain name. All you need is request the registration of the domain from a Registrar that supports IDNs.

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What are Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs)

From its inception, the Internet used English as the default language despite the existence of high population of English illiterate population e.g. Greek, Hebrew and Chinese. This therefore resulted in a linguistic barrier in the access to Internet resources. This linguistic barrier resulted in the need for the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

As I alluded in my previous article, domain names were traditionally registered following the Letter-digit-hyphen restriction or in conformance to the use of American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters (i.e. letters A-Z (not case sensitive), digits 0-9 and the hyphen character). Domain names which do not comply to the letter-digit-hyphen restriction or which use non-ASCII characters are known as Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) for example письмо.рф which is a Russian site (pismorf.com).

How does the system work

The root zone stores domain names in ASCII characters and therefore the IDNs can not be stored in the root zone as they are, so they are converted into ASCII characters. For the DNS system to resolve Internationalized Domain Names it uses the Punycode encoding algorithm to translate the domain names into ASCII characters which can be resolved by the DNS system.

The translated ASCII domain name is then prefixed with the xn- characters for example письмо.рф which is encoded as (xn--h1aigbl0e.xn--p1ai). Now an internet user in Russia can surf the internet by typing a domain name in his/her native language thereby eliminating the Linguistic barrier in the internet ecosystem.

There are also third party tools to translate domain names from non – ASCII characters or UNICODE to ASCII characters and vice versa e.g. the  Verisign’s IDN conversion tool. In case your registrar offers IDNs registration service but do not have the translation system you can use this tool for the translation then register the ASCII character domain name.

Status on IDNs

Initially IDNs were registered as second level domains only (e.g. письмо.com) where “письмо” is the second level domain and “.com” is the Top Level Domain.

Later ICANN rolled out the process to register Internationalized Domain Names as Top Level domains in a process called IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process which resulted in the introduction of IDN ccTLDs in 2010. Countries like Saudi Arabia ( السعودية.) now have their ccTLDs in their native language.

Then in the introduction of the New gTLDs, the first four domains to be delegated in the Root zone were Internationalized New gTLDs which are شبكة (xn--ngbc5azd) – Arabic for “web/network”, онлайн (xn--80asehdb) – Russian for “online”, сайт (xn--80aswg) – Russian for “site” and 游戏(xn--unup4y) – Chinese for “game(s)”. Now the whole domain can be registered as an IDN, that is the second and Top Level Domain for example письмо.рф.

This is the 6th article in a series of guest articles authored by Isaac Maposa, the co-founder of Web Enchanter, a Zimbabwean startup in the domain registration space.

7 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Idn.com will hopefully be pure idn.idn this year. The idn.com names get natural direct navigation traffic because everyone in all languages knows what .com is. Once they are pure idn.idn then the Internet will be a truly inclusive place. ICAAN did a HUGE blunder when they let the idn.cctld’s go first. They were supposed to roll out at the same time. It appears they are more interested in $$$$ with the rollout of the new .whatevers. Create more confusion and force business owners to register defensively to protect their business’s against other people registering their names in the new .whatevers. Sad times from Chadi and company.

    1. Isaac Maposa says:

      @Steve we already have some domains which have both second and Top level domains as IDNs as i alluded in the last part of the article, however the process is still ongoing for the Internet ecosystem to be truly inclusive. You can also be part in contributing to this goal. I think having the IDN ccTLDs was a good move especially with the view that there are some countries where there native language is not English, the rest of the English speaking population was already being served. I concur with you that the New gTLDs make companies incur high costs in defensive registrations. But on the other hand they also create opportunities and growth in the Internet ecosystem.

  2. Tapiwa✓ says:

    I have a hard time believing that IDN is the first priority for “our ecosystem” to become accessible. How many websites in the ecosystems are localized in the first place? (i.e. have content that is available in than one language). It makes no sense to localize the domain name before the content.

    1. Isaac Maposa says:

      Prioritising the IDNs all depends with your target market, imagine if you are targeting a country with Arabic as their native language, it makes more sense to reach them in their native language. Nothing deters one to have an IDN and a site with the native language, i gave an example of Starbucks, check their site for the Korean market (스타벅스코리아.com) the content is in the local language.

  3. mansour says:

    registering Arabic IND was the worst investment I have ever made I register 200 domains and one of my customers registered 7,000 domain yes 7000 of them we are not renewing any about 75 left you want them. it is waist of money.

    1. Isaac Maposa says:

      I am sorry for that, but it also seems the registrations may have been done for speculative purposes. That case will be different from someone registering to actually establish his/her business that targets the Arabic speaking population.

  4. usie says:

    I think IDN’s are fine and are being used by many, but as an investment one has to be careful.

    It’s can be hard enough for some domain investors selling good TLD’s in general, let alone IDN’s. Take a look at the Chinese market, pinyin .com is massive, even with the Chinese industry market slowing down and a possible tech bubble. But I have information from one of the main market places relating to the Chinese IDN and there is currently no interest from buyers or sellers in these extensions. (However, in 5 years, things could be different?)

    Basically, .com is still the authoritative extension, and if you can’t prefix a roman language then I would think twice.

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