x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Arab world to get internet addresses in Arabic script

By the middle of next month, the first all-Arabic, generic top-level domain names ending with .shabaka will be operational, and the firm selling the addresses is seeking buyers.

Internet addresses can now be registered in Arabic script following approval from the global regulator last week.

By the middle of next month, the first all-Arabic, generic top-level domain names ending with .shabaka will be operational, and the firm selling the addresses is seeking buyers.

Shabaka is an Arabic word for net, and .shabaka in Arabic script will join other mainstream domain names ending with .com or .org.

Last week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) approved .shabaka along with other generic top-level domain names in Chinese and Cyrillic scripts.

“This is the turning point. It marks the biggest change to the internet in its history,” said Yasmin Omer, the general manager of the Dubai-based dotShabaka Registry, which is targeting major brands and companies interested in reaching a pan-Arab audience.

“The Arabic internet is a reality now.”

Companies across various industries that are keen to tap the Arab market have been approaching dotShabaka for its offering.

Ms Omer says her firm is seeking launch partners, major brands and businesses to be “ambassadors”.

Indeed, Arabic internet addresses could draw more Arabic speakers online and increase Arabic content on the web.

Currently there are about 120 million Arabic-speaking internet users, about 5 per cent of the online population of 2.4 billion. In terms of content, Arabic material makes up 2 per cent of the global mix.

Baher Esmat, Icann’s vice-president for the Middle East, says .shabaka or other top level-domain names will cater to the Arab world.

“Individuals or business have the chance to register the name they want in the local language rather than registering a transliteration of the name,” he said.

“It is something that is expected to open new avenues for marketing and branding.”

There are hopes that this development would entice companies in the Middle East to register their online domain names in the region, rather than using the more affordable .com or .net addresses hosted in the United States.

Mr Esmat says the domain name business is a small component of the internet industry in the Middle East. “It cannot be compared to the mobile business or apps [applications]. It is a relatively green market,” he said.

The telecoms firm Etisalat currently dominates the UAE registry business for the .ae domain name with a market share of 72 per cent. Instra Corporation is second-largest with 9 per cent.

Meanwhile there are more Arabic domain names in the pipeline. Icann has received 50 applications from the Middle East, 36 of which are from the UAE.

They include Etisalat, which has registered its domain name in Arabic and English, as well as cities such as Doha and Dubai.

thamid@thenational.ae