ICANN Introduces Arabic Internet Domains at Meeting in Abu Dhabi

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, unveiled to Arab audiences that Internet address system will soon be open to greater customization and localization.

ICANN meeting hosted in Abu Dhabi last week is a part of  familiarization campaign for their new program, Internationalized Domain Name (IDN), a program and the generic top-level-domain (gTLD) program reflect the growing ubiquity of the Internet on a global scale and demands for new ways to customize its application.

The IDN program allows for the introduction of Internet address names formed from non-Latin based
languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. Internet penetration in the Middle East
is currently at 23 % of the population, representing user growth in excess of 1,250 % since the
year 2000 (source: www.internetworldstats.com)  and continuing to demonstrate dynamic uptake in many areas of the region.

In conjunction, the new gTLD addresses – that portion of a web address name that is to the right of the dot (i.e., .com, .org, .asia, etc) – will expand on the existing 21 domains available for registration. ICANN is proposing that the limitations be lifted and the opportunity for new gTLDs be expanded to allow all varieties of names and words. The corporation expects to receive hundreds of applications when it opens up the first round of applications for new gTLDs as early as next year.

Karla Valente, Director of Communications Product Services, ICANN said: “The Arab world will now have access to Arabic language domain names for the first time ever. This is a ground-breaking development that marks the next stage in the evolution of the global Internet and eliminates another barrier to its use by groups of society. Entrepreneurs and
community leaders will drive new possibilities in this environment of innovation, which is an important part of the IDN program.”

The impact of these new programs is expected to be significant in the Arab world, growing the number of people who will be able to access the Internet completely in their native language. The programs will also allow greater options for local and international companies and brands that are considering extending their online presence in the region.

Baher Esmat, Manager, Regional Relations – Middle East for ICANN said: “Companies can establish their brand online in the name they’re best known to their target audience. Today, when some companies begin to build their online presence, they are forced to use English-language names which may not be familiar. This creates a significant psychological barrier to entry and represents a missed opportunity for both the business and its consumers.”

In fact, these initiatives have been in the works for several years and will effect postively on the Arabic web – enhancement, richness, and availability. Growing use of the Internet has been further driven by availability of online Arabic language content and applications, and will receive a further boost from opportunities for local and international brands and organizations to attract new audiences with local language domain names.

ICANN has taken comments and suggestions from the public, business and all varieties of stakeholders. And the new IDN web addresses are expected to be available later this year, with the gTLD application process expected to begin in 2010.

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Tarek is the founder and chief researcher at Youngberry, a youth research and marketing firm dedicated to the region. Tarek founded interactiveME.com and previously worked as Manager at Flip Media (Interactive Agency), Bayt.com (Job Site) and Consulting House Qatar (Consulting firm). He is researcher and writer on internet & disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, and youth culture.