The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is readying to open applications for the new Generic Top Level Domain Names (gTLDs) for South Africa.
These gTLDs will go beyond the traditional .com or .org or .net.
In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Pierre Dandjinou, VP of global stakeholder engagement at ICANN, explains this gives businesses the ability to create stronger identities, better search engine optimisation and stronger global identities.
ICANN is a non-profit organisation (NPO) responsible for co-ordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the internet, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation.
The organisation says the internet’s domain name system (DNS) is expanding to support more scripts in domain names and e-mail addresses by making new top-level domains available.
According to ICANN, the NPO is taking this step to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, culture, language, or location, can have full use of the internet.
It points out that while more than 60% of the world has access to the internet, many are left behind due to language barriers and a lack of a universally-inclusive infrastructure.
While the majority of domain names are in a Latin-based script like English, only one in 20 people worldwide speak English as their native language, it adds.
Even though domain names and e-mails in different scripts are available, they are not always recognised as valid by online applications, devices and systems, says ICANN. It adds that new domain names that are longer run into similar problems of not being universally accepted.
It believes that better acceptance of all domain names, including Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs), will facilitate the development of a more inclusive and multilingual internet.
IDNs enable people around the world to use domain names in local languages and scripts. IDNs are formed using characters from different scripts, such as Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, or Devanagari, ICANN says.
Catering for all
Increasing the demand for these new domain names and resolving the issues around Universal Acceptance (UA) is an important step in ensuring the benefits of the internet reach all users (current and new) in the coming years and decades, it adds.
UA is a technical necessity that ensures all valid domain names and e-mail addresses can be used by all internet-enabled applications, devices and systems.
“IDNs make the internet accessible to a wider range of users, in a secure manner, and accommodate a greater diversity of languages and scripts from those in use around the globe,” Dandjinou says.
He points out that ICANN is preparing to open another round of applications for new top-level domains – which includes South Africa.
“Soon, businesses, communities and others will be able to apply for new top-level domains tailored to their community, culture, language, business and customers. South Africa will soon be able to register domain names that are longer than three letters and can contain special scripts where possible.
“These parties will have the opportunity to reflect their community, values and geographic or cultural niches.”
For businesses, Dandjinou adds, a TLD can be a branding opportunity, yet the commercial opportunities are endless, allowing business communities in countries, entire sectors, or commercial niches to develop a unique label for themselves on the internet.
While all gTLD applicants will need to meet a detailed set of requirements for approval, setting up a TLD requires considerable technical and financial resources, he notes.
“Expanding the Domain Name System to be locally relevant isn’t just about scripts, but also ensuring internet domains resonate with a range of cultures, traditions and societal norms. This will allow for the potential inclusion of some South African languages – an important part of creating cultural identity and inclusion in the global internet.”
The new gTLD programme is developing the applicant’s guidebook which stipulates all requirements, including technical and financial requirements, says Dandjinou.
Internet-enabled applications and systems that are UA-ready can provide a path for the next billion users to come online, he notes.
Dandjinou explains that UA enables the private sector, government and societies to better serve their customers and communities using an increasing number of new domains, including non-ASCII-based, language-specific domain names – in Arabic, Chinese and many other scripts.
“Everyone, from large multinational digital platforms, to digital start-ups, needs to embrace these scripts and cultures in the online world. With this in mind, all stakeholders in South Africa – including technology developers, system administrators, e-mail software and service providers – need to ensure their systems are UA-ready.”
He points out that all South African actors developing applications and operating services online are encouraged to ensure their systems are updated to support all domain names and e-mail addresses.
“Where culture, language, diversity and inclusion are key to driving empowerment within South Africa, this creates key opportunities for individuals, communities, businesses and government to better represent their identities online. It also allows South Africa to establish more authentic and inclusive online global engagement,” Dandjinou says.
.ZA rules the roost
He states that increasing the demand for these new domains and resolving the issues around universal acceptance is important to ensuring the benefits of the internet reach all users.
“Ultimately, everyone, regardless of their background, culture, language, or location, should be able to make full use of the internet. The Domain Name System is expanding to support more scripts in domain names and e-mail addresses, making new top-level domains available.”
With regards to country code TLDs, Dandjinou reveals the uncontested leader in the African region is the .ZA (South Africa) domain, with strong growth of 8% and which accounts for over 1 500 000 domain registrations compared to the 2 400 000 for the whole of Africa.
He says the other gTLDs, such as generic (.com and .org), geographic (.Africa and .Durban) brands and community, are in a period of concentration and stabilisation in South Africa.
“Basically, an overview of local dynamics, thanks to an analysis of trends, shows that country code TLDS are thriving in Africa, while .com is steadily losing ground.
“This situation almost certainly results from an effort on the part of African registries to increase their attractiveness in the face of the .com domain, even though some are still struggling to align their rates with those of .com due to their low volumes,” Dandjinou concludes.