Microsoft's latest release of Internet Explorer will drive demand for internationalized domain names, according to industry experts who are predicting a sharp increase in sales of foreign language domain names. That's because IE 7 has built-in support for IDNs, as does Firefox 2.0, also released in October.
Previous versions of Firefox and Opera Software browsers supported IDNs but ran into problems because they were susceptible to spoofing and phishing attacks through IDNs. The newest IDN-capable browsers have protection against these attacks.
IDNs allow foreign language characters such as umlauts and accented vowels to be used in domain names.
The Internet was designed to use English-language ASCII characters in domain names and e-mail addresses. Internet engineers and policy makers have been working for years to come up with a standard way of supporting foreign language characters without disrupting how the Internet's domain name system works.
The arrival of browsers from Microsoft, Mozilla and others that offer built-in support for IDNs could open the floodgates to IDN sales and usage.
"We're looking to see what happens as Microsoft launches its new browser and makes it easier for IDNs," says Mike Denning, vice president and general manager of VeriSign Digital Brand Management Services. "Once it's made easier to do IDNs natively in the browser, that's when you're going to see the IDN space really accelerate."
VeriSign says more than 600,000 IDNs have been registered in .com and .net, and that these names are "experiencing double-digit growth in new registrations and high renewal rates," according to its Domain Name Industry Brief published in August.
More than 75 percent of IDNs resolve to Web sites, according to VeriSign, which reports that 41 top-level domains such as .com, .net and .info support IDNs. The most popular IDNs are in country code top-level domains for Germany, Taiwan, China, Japan and Korea.
IDNs are popular with multinationals. For example, Bloomberg and Bertelsmann have bought derivations of their names in German that use foreign language characters with the .info domain.
Anticipating an uptick in IDN sales, Afilias announced last week that it is supporting eight additional language scripts for .info names. These scripts are: Polish, Swedish, Danish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Korean.
Afilias already supports German scripts, with 20,000 German language .info names sold during the last two years. Overall, 3.5 million .info names are registered.
"The fact that IE 7 and Firefox both support IDNs by default seems to have sparked a new level of interest in IDNs, particularly in countries where ASCII is not the primary mode of access to the Web," says Ram Mohan, CTO and vice president of business operations for Afilias.
Afilias officials say they are working on Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Arabic scripts, some of which will be released in 2007.
Afilias says it is seeing the most demand for IDNs in Korea and Japan. For example, Japanese IDNs in the .jp domain have risen from 80,000 to 122,000 this year since the last beta version of IE 7 was released. Similarly, IDNs now represent 30 percent of all registrations in the Korean country code top level domain.
"From the market trends that we've watched, what's clear is that IE 7 has the potential to change how enterprises are using domain names and how users are viewing domain names," Mohan says. "Users are moving rapidly from ASCII-based names to multilingual access."
Ram says he's particularly excited about the market opportunity for IDNs in Korea.
"Korea has been a bellwether in terms of the adoption of new domain name technologies," Ram says. "In Korea, they've already sold over 1 million domain names in local languages. It's a clear market requirement there."
On the horizon is internationalized e-mail, which will allow the letters to the left of the @ symbol in e-mail addresses to include foreign language characters. The Internet Engineering Task Force has established a working group to develop a standard for internationalized e-mail addresses.
"We just initiated in the IETF along with a few other technical experts a process to create a brand new international standard protocol for multilingualizing e-mail so people can send e-mail to one another purely in local scripts rather than being forced to go to ASCII," Mohan says.
For multinational corporations, IDNs and internationalized e-mail offer the ability to communicate with potential customers in their native languages. Today, a U.S. company might have a foreign language website but the address to that website would be partly in English.
"There's potentially a really good marketplace that awaits a completely localized Web experience for advertisers," Mohan says. "Already, all of their collateral is in the local language except the e-mail address and website."