October is an auspicious month for the world's Internet users as it marks 10 years of significant steps toward building a multilingual Internet. In October 2013, the first new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) were introduced into the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) from the 2012 round of the New gTLD Program.
What makes this event noteworthy is that those first new gTLDs – all four of them – were Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs):
- .xn--ngbc5azd (شبكة.) – ".web" in Arabic.
- .xn--unup4y (.游戏) – ".games" in Chinese.
- .xn--80aswg (.сайт) – ".site" in several Cyrillic languages.
- .xn--80asehdb (.онлайн) – means ".online" in several Cyrillic languages.
IDNs are formed using characters from various scripts and enable people to use domain names and email addresses in local languages and scripts. The availability of IDNs is a significant step toward a more inclusive and multilingual Internet.
Making the Internet truly accessible means that when people go online, they are able to do so in their own language, using their own keyboard. But the majority of all domain names today are in Latin script, and mainly in English characters, despite the fact that less than 25 percent of the world's population speaks English.
While IDNs like .游戏 and شبكة. have been available for a decade now, IDNs are not always recognized as valid by online applications, devices, and systems. Domain names that are longer than three characters also run into problems of not being universally accepted.
Universal Acceptance (UA) is a technical necessity that ensures that all valid domain names and email addresses are recognized by all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems. Internet-enabled applications and systems that are UA-ready provide a path for the next billion users to come online.
There is a global effort underway to make UA a reality. ICANN is committed to supporting a digitally inclusive and multilingual Internet by enabling domain names in local languages and scripts. IDNs and UA are recognized as a strategic focus and are included in the ICANN Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2021–2025 and ICANN's Interim CEO's goals. Per its Bylaws, ICANN commits to "...adopt or implement policies or procedures that take into account the use of domain names as natural-language identifiers."
ICANN is striving to make its own systems UA-ready, as well as encouraging relevant stakeholders to adopt UA. ICANN is also supporting community efforts on UA and IDN related work. More details on the UA work being done are available here as well as on the UA Steering Group website.
The launch of the New gTLD Program in 2012 resulted in the largest expansion of the DNS to date. ICANN received 1,930 applications, resulting in more than 1,200 strings being delegated into the DNS.
ICANN is now embarking on another stage of this expansion as it prepares to launch the New gTLD Program: Next Round. The program is an initiative that ICANN is implementing at the request of the ICANN community, with a mandate to ensure the security, stability, and global interoperability of the Internet. In doing so, ICANN aims to increase diversity, foster inclusivity, and enhance the utility of the DNS.