The new IT mandate: Preparing for the next billion Internet users

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The internet’s technologies, including the Domain Name System (DNS), are constantly evolving, and many organisations are struggling to keep up. Companies that fail to update their applications and systems to keep pace with these changes run a very real risk of failing their customers, missing out on engaging new markets and potential economic opportunities.   

If this sounds like hyperbole, consider that the root zone of the internet has experienced explosive growth over the last decade, with more than 1,500 top-level domains (TLDs) now in suffixes that speak to interests and affiliations (e.g, .COLLEGE or .LONDON) or are in languages other than English (e.g., .世界 or .ОНЛАЙН). But while the infrastructure has changed dramatically, the software that supports internet-connected applications has not – it is still based on rules set up more than two decades ago.    

This creates problems for organisations and headaches for users. If the systems do not recognize or appropriately process the new domain names or email addresses that use these extensions, the result can be denial of service and a poor user experience.  

While the expansion of the DNS is critical in bringing the next billion people online, giving them choice in their online identity and growing the global internet economy, the incorporation of these new domains across the global internet is not an entirely automatic process. CIOs, web administrators, application developers and others have an important role to play in making sure their applications are compatible with the evolved internet infrastructure, a state known as Universal Acceptance (UA).   

What is Universal Acceptance and Why Does It Matter?   

Universal Acceptance (UA) is the state where all valid domain names and email addresses are accepted, validated, stored, processed and displayed correctly and consistently by all applications, devices and systems. 

Due to the rapidly changing domain name landscape, many systems do not recognize or appropriately process new domain names, primarily because the TLD may be more than three characters in length or in a non-ASCII format (otherwise known as an Internationalised Domain Name, or IDN). New standards in email, known as Email Address Internationalisation (EAI), have also been introduced to accommodate the non-ASCII domain name space as well as Unicode (a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems) in the mailbox name. 

Not all online portals are primed for the opening of a user account with one of these new email addresses. While filling out online forms, TLDs that exceed the previous standard length of two or three characters and email addresses that are based on Unicode are not always accepted. Let’s look at an example: A potential customer in Thailand has an email address with a Thai domain ending. That customer is trying to buy something online from a retailer whose e-commerce system doesn’t recognize non-Latin scripts. The transaction can’t be completed, and the company loses the opportunity to make a sale.   

A Closer Look at the Benefits of UA Readiness   

The next billion internet users will, more likely than not, speak a language other than English. Improved access to wireless broadband, growth in smartphone usage and e-commerce innovations in markets like China and India are leading to increased demand for internet content and services in markets where most residents speak non-Latin-based languages. Additionally, the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) give organisations and people a better sense of identity online and enhance competition, innovation and choice. When businesses are UA-ready, it means that their systems and services will work harmoniously with the continuously expanding domain name space and will help set those organisations up for future opportunities and success by supporting their customers using their customer’s chosen identities. The growth of these new domains means that being UA-ready is key to the biggest business opportunity many companies are missing.  

A recent study, Unleashing the Power of all Domains; the social, cultural and economic benefits of Universal Acceptance by technology consulting and research firm Analysys Mason examined the economic, social and cultural benefits of UA. Their findings, which were both qualitative and quantitative, were interesting.     

From an economic standpoint, Analysys Mason conservatively estimates that there is a potential U.S. $9.8 billion revenue growth opportunity from both existing users using the new domain names and from NEW internet users coming online through IDNs. This is a conservative metric as this figure does not take into account potential future growth in e-commerce spend or in the registrations of new domains. It also looked at just five major languages and language groups that would benefit from IDNs –Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Indic language groups.    

From a social and cultural perspective, the report also showed that when governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) become UA-ready, they will be better able to engage with their citizens and communities who want to choose their own identity with their own domain name, whether in English or non-English scripts. 

The Role That IT Leaders Play 

The new top-level domain names give people choice and help ensure competition in the domain name world. Every email or request to display a website passes through online systems at the application level, which is why it’s important that these applications be updated to work in harmony with the common internet infrastructure.  

The good news is that UA issues can be addressed quite easily through what can be described as a “bug fix,” or routine update to online systems. Through their research, Analysys Mason found that the efforts for software and application owners to implement UA are not particularly onerous, and are outweighed by the benefits.  

UA readiness is a business opportunity, one where IT leaders play a critical role. Long-term success in today’s digital world requires that businesses ensure their systems work with the common infrastructure of the internet – the domain name system. IT leaders have an opportunity and a mandate to raise awareness of UA and help their organisations realize these benefits by ensuring UA compliance.  

Those who would like more information about UA as well as resources for becoming UA ready are encouraged to visit the UASG website.      

Don Hollander, Secretary General for the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG

Image Credit: Kaspri / Shutterstock