Our last few blog articles have covered a brief, early history of IDNs as well as certain innovations in Universal Acceptance, and for this week’s blog i’ve decided to combine the two subjects into a more recent history of IDNs and how they are evolving even in the face of universal acceptance issues. Understanding the history of IDNs is important and interesting, however it is even more important to understand the current state of IDNs and its place in the ever-changing internet and domain name landscape.
If you can recall, the origins of Chinese IDNs include the rise and demise of the infamous “3721” plugin in the early days of the internet that left many Chinese netizens back then in a state of frustration and disarray. As the internet grew and continued to change, it was clear that Chinese netizens wanted to use the internet in their own native language more than ever before, even though 3721 had somewhat started off internet globalization on the wrong foot.
The grand failure of 3721 did not dissuade other companies from capitalizing on the opportunity to advance an internet that did not fully support a multitude of languages, Chinese included. When ICANN initially announced the new gTLD program, several organizations applied for, won, and now operate various IDN strings with the underlying goal of achieving “Universal Acceptance”. As more and more new domain extensions are coming to market each month, universal acceptance becomes an ever-important issue that global internet advocates must address and work to resolve.
Currently, there are well over 1,000 ICANN-delegated new domain extensions, with 136 of them being IDNs in several languages and local dialects. Out of the 136 IDNs, just 21 total are Chinese. With a limited amount of new domain extensions available to populations and communities who do not speak or understand English, it is up to proponents of universal acceptance to assist with the task of bringing these non-ASCII IDNs to prominence for a truly global internet.
How do global internet advocates and activists go about bringing IDNs to prominence in the domain name space? By implementing and carrying out ongoing universal acceptance initiatives.
For example, ICANN’s Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) is a consortium made up of individuals and companies operating within the domain name and various other aspects of the internet technology industries, to continuously work through issues and roadblocks preventing the Universal Acceptance of a truly global internet.
One recent success for achieving UA was delivered by means of EAI, or Email Address Internationalization, as we covered in our previous blog post, which is the ability to set up and use email in a non-English language using IDNs. Email software company XgenPlus recent update supports non-English, non-ASCII email for various different languages -- Chinese, Indian, Russian, Japanese, and more. There is still quite a bit of work to be done on the Universal Acceptance front, but the ability for internet users in non-English speaking parts of the world can now set up and use email completely in their own language.
A non-English script all across the board -- to the right and left of the “@” as well as to the right and left of the “dot” in an email address is something we haven’t seen before now, and this innovation opens the door to millions of current internet users, as well as the next several millions of internet users -- mostly coming from countires like China and India, where the majority of the populous do not speak or understand English.
The UASG focuses its efforts on influencing its target audiences to implement, adopt, and advocate IDNs. This means working closely with computer programmers and developers, CIO’s, board members, media and other consultants to assist them in understanding the importance of UA and to work toward an internet that serves internet users in a global marketplace, rather than disregard them.
Those who speak and use English on a daily basis have it easy when it comes to using the internet. Domain names, email, web content -- they are all primarily in English. Imagine if those everyday, common web tools we use and rely so much upon was in Chinese. We’d be constantly frustrated, confused, and people would be advocating for English options en masse. UA aims to mitigate and eventually abolish this completely, giving internet users from all around the world the ability to use the internet in their own native language.
As Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan eloquently said, “We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world's people share the benefits of globalization."
Those words ring true and are absolutely applicable to the internet, the engine of immediate knowledge. I would consider internet access and availability of it in all languages is a global social need, and the world would benefit immensely from it. The more people who have access to the internet, the more we can share ideas, communicate, create, buy, sell, learn, and grow as a global community. But for this to happen, the internet must be available for the entire world in all languages.
Until then, we must continue to strive for UA, and IDNs play a major role in shaping the future of a truly global internet.
-ChopChop Domains Team