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20 Jul 2013
At its meeting in Durban, ICANN signed contracts with the applicants for four new top level domains. The new domains are شبكة, which means "web" in Arabic, онлайн and сайт, which mean "online" and "site" in Russian, and 游戏, which means "game" in Chinese. They should give us an interesting hint about the future of the new TLDs, because all four are utterly, totally, generic.
If you read the applications, you will find that after you skip over the blather about innovation and trust and the other usual buzzwords, all four of them will let anyone register, first come first served, subject only to the rules about trademarks and reserved names that apply to all new TLDs. The two Cyrillic domains are from the same applicant, CORE, and the applications are almost word for word the same. The only meaningful restriction on registrants beyond the ICANN rules is that the registered names have to be in the appropriate language, Arabic for شبكة, any of the languages written in Cyrillic for онлайн and сайт, and Chinese for 游戏.
So what are we likely to see in these highly innovative new TLDs? We'll certainly see web sites. The web is probably the most thoroughly multilingual of Internet applications. Putting up a web site entirely in Arabic, Russian, or Chinese is straightforward, and most web browsers will let you enter URLs in those languages, automatically translating the encoding as needed.
Late last year I blogged about EAI e-mail extensions, which enable fully international mail, including addresses in any language. The interest in EAI has been pretty intense in China, and less so in other countries. So I expect it's moderately likely that we'll see mail systems with addresses in 游戏, but considerably less likely in the other three.
The biggest question, of course, is whether we will see anything in those domains at all other than defensive trademark registrations and a few network geeks who register just to prove they can do it. In 2010 and 2011, ICANN provided IDN versions of country domains for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Algeria, Oman, the UAE, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Qatar, and Palestine, so anyone who wanted a domain name in his or her own language already has pretty good options in Chinese, the Cyrillic languages, and Arabic,.
Is there a pent up demand for generic names in those languages? When I look around the Internet, my guess would be no. In most countries, registrants typically use their country domain, and I don't see why their preference would change when they can register in their own language rather than English. (The US is an exception, but that's because of the strange way the .US domain was managed before 2002.) It'll probably be close to a year before any of those four domains are open for general registrants, so check back in late 2014 and we'll see if I was wrong.
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