Today's meeting in Abu Dhabi is part of a series of global meetings hosted by ICANN for members of the Internet, government and business communities to familiarise international audiences with the new programmes.
The IDN programme allows for the introduction of Internet address names formed from non-Latin based languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. Internet penetration in the Middle East is currently at 23% of the population, representing user growth in excess of 1,250% since the year 2000 and continuing to demonstrate dynamic uptake in many areas of the region. Growing use of the Internet has been further driven by availability of online Arabic language content and applications, and will receive a further boost from opportunities for local and international brands and organisations to attract new audiences with local language domain names.
In conjunction, the new gTLD addresses - that portion of a web address name that is to the right of the dot (i.e., .com, .org, .asia, etc) - will expand on the existing 21 domains available for registration. ICANN is proposing that the limitations be lifted and the opportunity for new gTLDs be expanded to allow all varieties of names and words. The corporation expects to receive hundreds of applications when it opens up the first round of applications for new gTLDs as early as next year.
Karla Valente, Director of Communications Product Services, ICANN, said:
"Innovation is not something driven simply by demand in a marketplace, it is also provided by the opportunities in the structure of the marketplace and the technology available. The Arab world will now have access to Arabic language domain names for the first time ever. This is a ground-breaking development that marks the next stage in the evolution of the global Internet and eliminates another barrier to its use by groups of society. Entrepreneurs and community leaders will drive new possibilities in this environment of innovation, which is an important part of the IDN programme."
The impact of these new programmes is expected to be significant in the Arab world, growing the number of people who will be able to access the Internet completely in their native language. The programmes will also allow greater options for local and international companies and brands that are considering extending their online presence in the region.
"Companies can establish their brand online in the name they're best known to their target audience. Today, when some companies begin to build their online presence, they are forced to use English-language names which may not be familiar. This creates a significant psychological barrier to entry and represents a missed opportunity for both the business and its consumers," says Baher Esmat, Manager, Regional Relations - Middle East for ICANN.
The initiatives have been in the works for several years. ICANN has taken comments and suggestions from the public, business and all varieties of stakeholders.
The new IDN web addresses are expected to be available later this year, with the gTLD application process expected to begin in 2010.