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The End of the Global Brand? What International Domain Names Mean for you.

English is Just Another Language

May 6th 2010 was one of the most important days in the 40 years of the Internet’s existence.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has launched domain names written in local scripts for local languages – so called ‘International Domain Names‘ (IDNs).

English now has really become ” just another language”.  And here’s why:

People  will now be able to type local language domain names into the address bar of their browser using their local keyboard and local script – as well as have email names that are fully in their local script.

McDonald's Golden Arches

(cc) Kjirstin

What  implications does this have for the future of the Web?

One thing we do know:  the number of keyboard characters available for creating a domain name at the top level will go from the 26 characters available in English today to the more than 100,000 characters available in other languages.

Domain names are a key part of brand equity whose value has been partly based until now on the limited number of characters available to create them.

A massive explosion in International Domain Names (IDNs) is bound to follow. What will this do to the brand equity of traditional global brands?

The ICANN Announcement

The first International Domain Name (IDN) country code Top Level Domain (ccTLDs) to be launched are as follows:

  1. Egypt: مصر (Egypt)
  2. Saudi Arabia: السعودية (AlSaudiah)
  3. United Arab Emirates: امارات (Emarat)

This means we will now be seeing domain names ending in local script for these countries instead of the Roman alphabet alternative such as .EG for Egypt or .SA for Saudi Arabia etc. in Hindi in Hindi

The first site to go live with an IDN will be the Egyptian Ministry of Communication with many more to follow.

And there are more languages on the way also.  Here is the list of countries who have entered the IDN ccTLD process to date.

What This Means for You

For some time, the character of the Internet has become increasingly local – less Euro or US-centric.  More than 73% of internet users now do not have English as a first language.

The introduction of IDNs has far reaching consequences for all societies, but particularly those in the developing world.  This small technical tweak will lead to a massive step change in how the internet is used in those countries.  In particular, it will open the web to new users who would never have been able to access or trade online before.

And most of them will not speak a Western European language.

Just for a start, consider this:

  • A knowledge of English or any other Western Language will no longer be a prerequisite to using the web.
  • For the very first time, the web will be accessible to anyone who is literate anywhere in the world who has access to an internet connection.
  • Local businesses will be able to set up fully local eCommerce systems that use local brand names in local scripts.

And then there are other questions:

  • What kind of response do global online marketers have to the rise and rise of local markets for local people in local languages?
  • Has the dominance of traditional (Western) brands on the web been based solely on technical deficiencies with the Internet that are now at last resolved?
  • What does all this mean for Search and in particular for the future of  global search engines like Google, a company that has already withdrawn from a major high growth country in the developing world.

Many of these consequences will take some time yet to play out but it looks like we may at last have reached a tipping point to a truly multi-lingual web.

One thing is certain, however: the number of web users worldwide will grow exponentially with this change.

The key question for marketers is this: how many of these new users will provide the organic growth opportunities for traditional (Western) global brands – brands that are desperate to access new consumers in the developing world to bolster their declining markets in Europe, Japan and North America?

Will ‘localisation’ be enough next time around?

And just what kind of a place will the Internet be in 10 years time?

Exciting times!

I am an experienced international marketing and product localisation specialist with more than 20 years experience in European, Latin American and East Asian markets. Wide functional experience in international software program management and product planning, intranet and internet project management, international product planning and marketing management, training course development and delivery – as well as localisation project management. With 15 years spent working at Visio Corporation and Microsoft in Office, Exchange, HRD and Business Solutions divisions as an international program manager– I have also worked as a consultant with a leading online marketing communications firm and in the aviation training and third level sector.

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  • Hi Dermot, great post & wow this is really BIG news. If Ireland’s pays enough attention, this could mean opportunity knocks?

  • Email and a lot of other things DO NOT work fully with IDNs.

    Domain value has absolutely nothing to do with character sets.

    Your other statements about internet usage make it sound like non-English speakers are currently unable to use the internet, which is ridiculous.

    IDNs level the playing field in many respects, but you are making out that non-English speakers couldn’t do anything up until now. That is a gross misrepresentation of the realities.

  • I like the fact that it will bring the “westerners” down a peg or two – we have a certain level of arrogance when it comes to dealing internationally – English has always been known as the “universal” language, despite a claim I read recently that there are more people in China speaking English than in the USA!

    Let’s even the playing field, but I agree with Michele that just because non-english speaking people are not seen by me on the Net, doesn’t mean they cannot or do not have access to the information provided on-line.

    Thanks for raising these points Dermot, they are news for me also, and I am sure there are doors knocking everywhere 🙂 One possible downside I sense immediately is increased potential for fraud, but will be the beginning of many great things ahead.

  • Dermot, I think you’ve lost the run of yourself. It’s not big news, it’s hype. For those markets looking to sell or buy on a global scale having a domain in any script will not benefit any further than just that – a domain in any script.
    People are people and they will have to converse at some point whether on the web or elsewhere and a domain is not going to fix any lack of language. If anything, this delays the progress of having a universal language which may yet be Chinese or Spanish but I am hoping for English.

    I agree with Mr Neylon’s points also.

  • DermotQ

    Glyphs are central to the original meaning of a ‘brand’. And a greater choice of glyphs to make your brands (25 characters to 100,000 characters) certainly has significance. At least to someone in a local market.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that ‘non-english speakers couldn’t do anything’ before this change. But there are many people in the world who don’t understand the Roman Alphabet – and wouldn’t understand a Roman domain name written on the side of a van, in a newspaper or on a tee-shirt. Nationalism is also a factor in peoples attitudes to local domain names – as well as fairness and respecting another’s culture. Plenty of reasons why this is a significant milestone.

    In fact, people have been using workarounds to replace Roman domain names with local script versions for some time now. The ICANN announcement is just another step towards removing the issues with email and other things that such workarounds have caused. There’s also some catchup with the applications that support the internet. But If international domain names don’t matter from a communications perspective, why have people been demanding them?

    My key point is with regard to the marketing communications perspective, – that the demand for workarounds and the ICANN initiative was driven by local needs to have local script domain names for local branding and local communications purposes.

    The interesting question is whether this will lead to fragmentation/regionalisation of the web and the decline of global brands. I don’t know the answer to that except I think the ‘universal language’ scenario is unlikely.

    Personally, I don’t believe that anyone can definitively state that ‘domain value has absolutely nothing to do with character sets’. But let’s wait and see!

    hoà bình! Dermot.

  • DermotQ

    I hope I’ve answered your points with my comment above otherwise the ICANN blog gives some more detail:

  • Dermot

    Read the blog post you linked to. The only software that they’re talking about is browsers NOT email, which is what I was talking about.

    IDN in the name part ie. the part on the left of the “.” is not new. In some TLDs it has been available for several years, so your comments above are flawed, as the change with the IDN ccTLDs is the introduction of pure IDNs.

    In any case nobody will be able to register IDN.IDN immediately. The announcement from Kim, which we mentioned a few days ago (see: ) refers to the extensions going into the root.


  • DermotQ

    You are correct there are still issues with email. But I don’t doubt that these will be addressed in time.

    My main point is about semiotics not technology, as the Icann blog states:

    “The choice of effectively being able to select which script or language a domain name should be based on. In this way you can brand yourself better and in that way target the market you want more effectively. Printed material can have web references in the same script as the material is written in. And keep in mind that a website can for example have more than one address….which now can be a choice between different scripts and languages.”

    Introducing pure IDNs extensions to the root was done to head off the creation of different internets for different language groups and a technically fragmented internet as I understand it. The demand for a fully functional internet that supports native languages and scripts for email and other applications will not go away. Localised IDNs have been possible for some time as you say but have been limited in value due to the limitations you’ve mentioned. That will not continue to be the case.

  • Well hopefully the email issues will be addressed quickly, as without email the domains won’t be of much use to “average” users. From our own experiences email is the key service that people use. Anything that impacts on the usability or reliability of email is going to be a significant blocker to adoption.

  • DermotQ

    Agreed. I guess the big question for global marketers will be how we respond when all these elements do work together. Will it be a threat or an opportunity? The Icann announcement doesn’t mean all this stuff is available today – but it is hugely symbolic and puts the pressure on to fix the outstanding problems. We may have less time to think about this than many people think.

  • It’s all relative.
    http://www.президент.РФ is live, though I’m currently being shown the punycode URL 🙁
    The amount of time between a domain getting into the root, to launch, to adoption can be quite long, though I suspect the Russians will be up and running faster than any of the others (they’ve been working on it a lot longer than the others).
    However it could take a lot longer. Take a look at IPv6 for example 🙂

  • DermotQ

    That’s interesting. I’m always struck by the way that the BRIC (Brazil India Russia China) and CIVETS (Columbia Indonesia Vietnam Egypt Turkey South Africa) are ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting technology. I believe China has been a leader in adopting IPV6 although thats really not saying much:-)

  • Within the EU several countries now have commercial IPv6 based services including France and Belgium. Ireland doesn’t have any, though most Irish universities are using IPv6.
    One of the blockers with IPv6 adoption is that the hardware for end users will need to be upgraded, which is not a cheap exercise.

  • Anonymous

    I fear that all these arguments are missing the main point, which is the one that most western countries seem to be oblivious to–and that is culture, not character sets. If westerners think that they can win friends by simply understanding the language, they will be sorely disappointed.

  • DermotQ

    I agree up to a point. For instance, the availability of the bible in local languages had huge impact on European society in the 17th and 18th century by providing many of the conditions for the Industrial Revolution such as mass literacy and the individualistic values that spawned modern liberal democracy etc. It must be remembered that this break from the medieval model was only possible due to printing technologies – while these didn’t cause the societal changes on their own, the world we know today would not have been possible without them.Expressed in marketing terms, the advent of IDNs is market driven – not innovation driven like voice recognition and other technologies that have been around forever and not gained any mass market acceptance. It is a cultural phenomena. I think it is a valid question to ask why people are asking for IDNs. In my opinion – and I don’t claim to be right – this can be put down to one thing: Modernization doesn’t mean Westernization – – which kind of underlines your point about learning languages, culture and making friends.There are some folks who find this disturbing.To summarize, the symbolic value of international domain names as cultural artefacts and how this will play out – not the technology itself – is really the key matter of interest here.

  • DermotQ

    Of course you are correct that Lingua Franca have been around forever. For instance, English is the official language of Nigeria where more than 500 native languages are spoken.

    One significance of the Icann anouncement lies in the fact that it preserves the Internet as a global system rather than fragmenting it into multiple, technically heterogeneous internets supporting different language systems but with limited interoperability.

    I understand that many people in the West fear that the availability of IDNs will fragment the web on a linguistic level and more importantly as ‘an imagined community’ – but even this is a much better outcome than the technical Babel that could have resulted from ignoring demands for this reform.

    Domain names are a key element of brand – the Icann imprimatur means it will no longer be a speculative investment to build brand awareness of local script domain names. This will drive the resolution of the outstanding I18n issues with email, browsers and other systems to make that investment worthwhile. Thats news!

    Your idea about a universal world language is, of course, intriguing –

  • DermotQ

    For anyone with a serious professional interest in this:

    World Localization Conference, Berlin 7-9 June 2010

    Tina Dam from ICANN will talk about internationalized domain names: what opportunities they offer for international internet users, how to register them, timing, cost and challenges.

  • DermotQ

    Michele, congrats on your IIA award and FYI:

    World Localization Conference, Berlin 7-9 June 2010

    Tina Dam from ICANN will talk about internationalized domain names: what opportunities they offer for international internet users, how to register them, timing, cost and challenges.

  • Demot – thanks, but I’ll see Tina in Brussels later in June at the ICANN meeting.

  • i liked the article …,

  • Dave Thomas

    Elaine,nYou note some good points. I think given the state of the economy, more consumers are compiling lists of what most needs their attention, i.e. rent/food/car payments…. I would think this is a good time for collection agencies to be drumming up business….

  • I have to admit I’m our accountant’s worst nightmare – have been attempting the ‘putting everything in a file/litle and often’ approach and it has been working to a point. I think we might be going back to the ‘everything in a big box and hand it to the bookkeeper’

    Good post, I found what you said about the spreadsheets interesting as that is what our current accountant has us putting the data on.

  • It’s a pain for business owners to have to keep rooting for stuff & you end up paying for it by being labelled “messy” by the acountant. Hours of futility are charged to your account & your accounts are priced accordingly. Accountants could help themselves & their clients by giving checklists to all clients though. For the record, I hate doing the books for my own business! Thanks Niall
    ~ Helen

  • Outsourcing to (or even employing) a good bookkeeper can be very cost effective. They will devote time to tracking down missing invoices, making sure you claim all your VAT back, ensure you are tax compliant, get the money in and out efficiently – no more lost weekends! This frees business owners up to work on the business – what they are best at! 
    I expect people, (even accountants), to challenge me on the spreadsheet point. Spreadsheets are commonly used, can cause serious errors, and are not giving valuable info to the client in most cases.  
    I did a lot of work with the small business unit of a big 4 accountancy firm and client spreadsheets were a nightmare. For instance – a chap who likes everything in order inserts 2 rows to pop in one missing invoice. Without boring you with a step by step – he updated the formula to add everything up. The result? All of the invoices that came before the inserted invoice were not added into totals. He used those totals to calculate his VAT payable and made an incorrect VAT return. He seriously underpaid his VAT as a result & was incredulous that he had made a mistake, because he had used a spreadsheet. He thought he had removed the potential for error…
    I won’t go on – it could be another blog post! Actually it will 🙂
    Thanks Lorna.

  • Great timely piece Helen. Spreadsheets burned me badly a couple of years ago when I was relying on them for my debtors. Indeed I was using an accs package to some degree but relying on spreadsheets too much (because I am good with them). I was so good, I missed invoicing 2 clients for work done. 1000 euro was finally retrieved the following year (because I have great clients) but I agree about relying on spreadsheets.

    Little and often, I am a firm believer, but I don’t do it!!! I leave everything for a couple of months, and then because I do have a great filing system, and am highly organised, blitz everything in half a day.

    Book-keeping, I am beginning to think it is a good idea to outsource a couple of hours a week/month, depending on the business, because like you say, it gives back valuable time to the business owner, if even just their Saturday morning

  • Some good points there Elaine  – a nice addition to the post. Thank you,
    ~ Helen

  • Prashant

    Spreadsheets are no longer advisable. Even desktop accounting software is passe. The best solution for small businesses would be to go for an online accounting software like the one we offer at Zoho: Zoho Books. There are numerous benefits to move your accounting to web; you need not worry about backup, it is accessible anywhere and anytime; your accountant can just login to the service and review your transactions online and lot more.

  • Why, thank you 😉 ~Helen

  •  Its really a great post.Thanks for sharing your suggestion & ideas with us.Some interesting thoughts on the subject. Looking forward to see what else you post in the future.

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