subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Picture: 123RF/wklzzz
Picture: 123RF/wklzzz

Expanding the internet’s domain name system (DNS) to support more scripts in domain names and email addresses will allow for the inclusion of more of SA’s indigenous languages. This will support the inclusion of more cultural identities and help create a more digitally inclusive and multilingual internet.   

The internet wasn’t born global. What began as an academic project in the US has become a foundational communications infrastructure used across the world. Some of the early design choices for the internet were essential to allow it to scale into a global system that can technically connect one endpoint to another in the digital world.

Today more than 60% of the world’s population are on the internet. But many are left behind due to language barriers and a lack of a universally inclusive infrastructure. In fact, the majority of the world does not speak English as a first language or use American Standard Code for Information Interchange characters. 

True local and global meaningful access to the internet can only be accomplished when all internet-enabled applications, devices and systems work with all valid domain names and email addresses through Universal Acceptance (UA). UA is a technical necessity that ensures that all valid domain names and email addresses can be used by all internet-enabled applications, devices and systems.

The DNS makes the internet more user-friendly and navigable, allowing people to enter domain names to reach a website instead of having to use internet protocol addresses, which are made up of a long series of numbers. These unique identifier systems are essential for the thousands of independent networks that make the internet one single globally interoperable system.

​There are more than 5.6-billion users on the internet , with the potential to expand to billions more. Those users have access to more than 1,200 generic top-level domains (gTLDs); the majority of which are in English. However, there are billions of people who read and write in Arabic, Chinese languages, Cyrillic, Devanagari and other scripts.

Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) — domain names in local languages and scripts — give organisations, governments and businesses the ability to reach more citizens and consumers in their preferred language or script. Expanding gTLD options through IDNs will help to further evolve access to local and global content on the internet.

As work to address digital inclusion continues the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the organisation that co-ordinates the DNS, is preparing to launch an initiative that will provide people and entities with the opportunity to create a space on the internet for their communities, businesses and interests, in their language, through new gTLDs. The primary purposes of new gTLDs are to foster diversity, encourage competition, and enhance the utility of the DNS.

The global Icann community is spearheading two projects with the goal of better adapting the internet to the diverse languages and cultures of the world. UA is key to that goal. It enables businesses, governments and other organisations to better serve their communities by ensuring their systems accept an increasing number of new domains, including non-Latin based and language-specific IDNs. Widespread adoption of UA is essential for the continued expansion of the internet.​ ​This will enable millions of users to navigate the internet via new gTLDs in their native scripts and languages.

UA and the expansion of gLTDs are especially important initiatives in a diverse country such as SA, which is home to 11 official languages and many more distinct cultures. SA is a key region of focus for this initiative, and is included in the expansion of gTLDs as Icann prepares to open another round of applications for new top-level domains. These gTLDs go beyond the traditional .com, .org, or .net and give businesses the ability to create stronger identities, better search engine optimisation and stronger global identities through their domain name​.​

For businesses, a top-level domain can be a branding opportunity, and the commercial opportunities are endless. They allow business communities in countries, entire sectors or commercial niches to develop a unique label for themselves on the internet, allowing them to reflect their community, values, and geographic or cultural niches. 

To ensure SA is fully empowered to benefit from these important steps in global inclusion it must be prepared for UA. Internet-enabled applications and systems that are UA-ready can provide a path for the next billion users to come online. 

Everyone, from local to large multinational digital organisations and digital start-ups should embrace these scripts and cultures in the online world to promote digital inclusivity. It is therefore imperative that all stakeholders in SA, including technology developers, system administrators, and email software and service providers, ensure that their systems are UA-ready.  

The next round of new gTLDs will provide opportunities for the next billion people waiting for access to a more multilingual and inclusive internet. An organisation managing a top-level domain can vet applicants requesting a domain name, to maintain trust in or protect the brand associated with it.

Expanding the DNS to be locally relevant isn’t just about scripts, but also ensuring that internet domains resonate with a range of cultures, traditions and societal norms. 

Dandjinou is Icann vice-president: Africa. 

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.