(by Diwaskar Chettri & Nikhil Pahwa)

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is expected to approve this week international domain names – or addresses- that can be written in non-Latin script. The proposed IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process (pdf) enable the introduction of a limited number of internationalized country-code top level domain names (IDN ccTLDs). Once implemented, this will be  the first time that users can obtain a domain name with the entire string in characters based on their native language. The process will be available to all countries and territories where the official language is based on scripts other than the Latin (extended) script.

Language and Script Criteria

Languages and scripts can be used for the requested TLD string if the language is an official language in the corresponding country or territory, and have legal status in the country or territory, or serve as a language of administration. The language requirement is considered verified if:
–If the language is listed for the relevant country or territory as an ISO 639 language in Part Three of the Technical Reference Manual for the standardization of Geographical Names, United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (“UNGEGN Manual“); or
–If the language is listed as an administrative language for the relevant country or territory in the ISO 3166-1 standard under column 9 or 10; or
–If the relevant public authority in the country or territory confirms that the language is used or served as follows, (either by letter or link to the relevant government constitution or other online documentation from an official government website): used in official communications of the relevant public authority; and serves as a language of administration.

Languages based on the Latin script are not eligible for the Fast Track Process. That is, the requested string must not contain the characters (a to z), either in their basic forms or with diacritics.

Implications

The first thing you’re likely to see, is something of a bonanza for domain registrars as companies rush to register domains related to their trademarks, and prevent domain squatting: not just in English, but in 22 Indian languages as well. The other great opportunity is a gold-rush for registering generic domains that cannot be trademarked, but given the nature of the names, have significant potential for business value in the future.

Issues

We’re not really enthused by the availability of domains in non-latin languages: there are far too many barriers to entry in India from an Indic language perspective, and this is just a very small step (albeit an important one) in helping increase Internet adoption in India among those not conversant with English. There’s other work to be done, like popularizing Indic language keyboards, operating systems, word processing software, among others. Transliteration tools from Quillpad and Google help, but we really don’t foresee transliteration as a final solution, though it is an important component. Perhaps multilingual operating systems, keyboards and word processing software are a solution, which allow consumers to switch between English and a particular Indic language.