VeriSign IDN Industry Brief

VeriSignThe latest VeriSign Domain Name Industry Brief also spotlights how VeriSign and others in the global Internet community are working to provide a way for people of all languages to navigate the Internet. The issue is important, because Internet usage is growing fastest in countries where English and other Latin-based languages are not the primary language.

One method of addressing this is to implement domain names represented by local language characters, such as Japanese Kanji symbols, rather than the ASCII letters and numbers used in English and most European languages. Known as Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), these TLDs use local language characters to represent the domain name, and then to follow them with a common ASCII TLD, such as .com or .net.

Though more than 47 domain name registry operators support IDNs, concerns over public confusion and ease of use, uneven browser support, and local network limitations have triggered a growing desire in the Internet community to provide a fully localized navigation experience by extending internationalization to the TLD itself.

In support of this effort, VeriSign has joined the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and others in the Internet community to pursue development of Internationalized TLDs. While participants are working to resolve the many complicated challenges that exist with fully internationalized TLDs, the Internet community expects the application process in the New gTLD Program will commence late this year. Tests are already underway, with public participation in usage trials designed to help ensure ongoing DNS stability and security.

“The potential for internationalized TLDs to enable a universally accessible Internet is promising,” said Jill McNabb, vice president, Naming Services at VeriSign. “But it must be done right. A careless or rushed approach will expose the community to a high risk of failure over technical and business issues. VeriSign is committed to working with ICANN and others to achieve a safe, consistent and ubiquitous user experience, while protecting company brands and their customers around the world.”

VeriSign publishes the Domain Name Industry Brief to provide Internet users throughout the world with significant statistical and analytical research and data on the domain name industry and the Internet as a whole. Copies of the 2008 fourth quarter Domain Name Industry Brief, as well as previous reports, can be obtained at www.verisign.com/domainbrief.

Internationalization of Top Level Domains

As an increasing portion of the Internet users worldwide are speakers of languages that do not use the Latin alphabet, the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) has provided a way for these users to navigate the Internet in their own language since 2000. IDNs are domain names represented in local characters using scripts beyond ASCII characters. There are currently more than 47 domain name registry operators supporting IDNs. However, the current implementation of IDNs is limited to the second and lower level(s) (e.g., 한글.com), leaving the Top Level Domains (TLDs) still in ASCII. This has created a desire in the Internet community to extend the internationalization to the top level in order to provide a fully localized navigation experience. For purposes of this brief, such IDNs shall be referred to as “Internationalized TLDs”. A few examples of human factors that can be better served by internationalizing the TLDs (e.g., 例え.テスト) include ease of use in that users will no longer need to switch their input mode from the local script to the basic Latin characters (ASCII) in order to append the TLDs still in ASCII characters. In addition, users of bi-directional scripts writing from right-to-left will be able to enter Internationalized TLDs in one single direction from beginning to end. While the Internet community is working on Internationalized TLDs, the level of interest in Internationalized TLDs from the perspectives of registrants and end users is still unclear.

While the Internet community has worked toward bringing Internationalized TLDs into the Domain Name System (DNS) for many years as a key next step from the current IDN implementation, there has been a proliferation of proprietary keyword services. These keyword services provide Internet users a localized navigation experience. This proliferation of private services exemplifi es the anticipation for a localized navigation experience beyond the limitations of the current IDN implementation. However, unlike IDNs based on DNS, these proprietary services by nature have critical dependence on specifi c network environments and confi gurations making ubiquitous access to the services with uniform user experience impossible. These services also could create potentially signifi cant user confusion as there could be multiple service providers mapping one seemingly identical keyword string to different identifi ers in DNS – thus, lacking the mission critical characteristic of “uniqueness” in an identifi er. The long-term reliability and stability of the proprietary services are also concerns among end users and businesses.

According to recent qualitative research conducted with small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) in multiple locations across Asia and the Middle East, IDNs are still not seen by a majority of those surveyed as viable replacements for ASCII domain names for businesses. The respondents cited the need for proven popularity and usage, especially given the low adoption of IDN-aware browsers in some markets, particularly in Asia. However, the research also indicated that SMBs perceive that IDNs have clear advantages in targeting local markets and non-English speaking Internet users, as well as, for local promotions and advertisements. Respondents felt that IDNs are still a novelty and are able to attract consumer attention. The current IDN implementation with the top level in ASCII was raised as one of the major challenges because it is confusing to mix multiple scripts in a single domain name and, more importantly, more difficult to input than a URL that uses an Internationalized TLD. As a part of community efforts to internationalize the top level, the Internet community has been working on two parallel tracks:

1. IDN Fast-Track for Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs).
2. New Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) Program.

The Fast-Track process focuses on meeting a near-term demand with the implementation of a limited number of non-Latin based IDN ccTLDs associated with the ISO 3166-1 two-letter codes while a full IDN ccTLD policy is developed. The New gTLD Program focuses on expanding gTLD choices, including IDNs at the top level, in order to meet growing diversity and encourage competition for more innovation, choice and change to the Internet’s addressing system.

The Internet community continues to strive to make progress in both tracks and to address many complicated challenges such as resolving string contention, protecting rights, handling internationally recognized issues of morality and public order, and the geographical names process. It is anticipated that the application process in the New gTLD Program will commence sometime in late 2009. While the process and timing is under development, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been testing and evaluating internationalized strings of “example.test” in  scripts in the DNS root zone since August calling for public participation to ensure ongoing DNS stability and security. The potential for internationalized TLDs to truly
internationalize the Internet is promising, but it must be done prudently or there is a high risk of failure over technical and business issues including the requirement for a safe, consistent and ubiquitous user experience as well as protection of trademarks and other intellectual property.

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