x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Arabic domains key to expanding language’s online presence

Content in Arabic accounts for just 3 per cent of all online content, while 12 per cent of the population of the world are Arabic speakers.

There are 125 million Arabic internet users, a figure that is expected to double by 2016. iStock
There are 125 million Arabic internet users, a figure that is expected to double by 2016. iStock

Arabic web addresses are one of the best ways to increase the percentage of Arabic content online, according to a senior telecoms executive in the region.

Content in Arabic accounts for just 3 per cent of all online content, while 12 per cent of the population of the world are Arabic speakers.

Last year, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global regulator of web addresses, approved plans to move away from .com and .net and introduce general top-level domain (gTLD) names in more languages, including Arabic, Korean and Japanese, to make the web more accessible to non-English speakers.

There are 22 domain names across the world, with 100 more expected to go live soon. There are more than 160 million websites globally, but of them about 111 million end with .com. Of the 2 billion internet users, more than 70 per cent are not native English speakers. Another 2 billion are expected to go online by 2016, almost all of whom will not count English as their first language.

While some argue that introducing language-specific domain names will break up the internet and create different factions, others believe it is important to reach out to users who do not speak or read or write English, or whose native language does not use the Latin script.

“For someone that doesn’t speak English, why should they have to type www? I want to use the Arabic script and websites need to be developed for that,” said Ebrahim Al Haddad, the director of the International Telecommunication Union’s office for the Arab Region. “Governments, regulators and domain name allocators need to give better privileges for Arabic websites.”

There are 125 million Arabic internet users, a figure that is expected to double by 2016, but uptake of Arabic gTLDs has been slow despite the expected growth.

One of the first to receive approval was .shabaka in Arabic script. The company, launched its registry two months ago and since then 1,800 companies have registered.

“Uptake is slow, but .shabaka should not be compared to .com. It is a completely different market and audience and it is more about the quality for us rather than quantity,” said Yasmin Omer, the general manager of the Dubai-based .Shabaka Registry “It is important to note we haven’t launched our multimillion-dollar marketing campaign in the region just yet, so it is rewarding to see this number of registrations without launching the marketing campaign.”

Etisalat.shabaka was one of the first to go live, redirecting to the company’s Latin-script domain name. Others that have signed up with .shabaka are in the entertainment, e-commerce and hospitality sectors. Radisson Blu hotel said it views a .shabaka domain as a means to strengthen its brand in the region.

“Uptake is slow because the search and browser companies like Explorer and Google have not implemented Arabic fully,” said Mohamed Al Ghanim, the director general of the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. “ICANN did their part, but it is very low in the technology chain. It has to be picked up by technology companies to embed the Arabic domain name in their systems.”

It is a process that requires education and time, industry experts say.

“The problem is not the sale of the Arabic domain name – it’s about understanding their hidden powers. This Arabic names and gTLD revolution will allow small-change investments out of shoe boxes to become major players,” says Naseem Javed, the founder of ABC Namebank. “The art of naming is now a big issue, as each name must pass the test of simplicity, logic, use, style, trend and meaning before becoming popular. Complexity of name decides the winners and losers.”

thamid@thenational.ae

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