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. (cc) Kjirstin www.flickr.com 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: Egypt: مصر (Egypt) Saudi Arabia: السعودية (AlSaudiah) 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. http://Example.com 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!