This week, the agency that has regulated the naming of websites on the Internet – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – celebrates 25 years of international collaboration in overseeing the coordination of the Internet's naming system.
Domain names, as they are called, are what nearly 400 million users worldwide use to establish their own 'address' on the World Wide Web.
Established in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Commerce, ICANN was administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet's unique identifier systems, including the Domain Name System (DNS). In 2016, stewardship was transferred from the U.S. Government to the global multistakeholder community. Today, no single nation has control of the organization.
At the top of the naming hierarchy is what is called TLD or Top-Level Domain. These could be general-purpose – like .com, .net, .org, etc. Or they could be country-specific like .in for India or .uk for the United Kingdom. In 2012, domain names were expanded to Generic TLD or gTLD, which opened the floodgates to names like .football or .pizza, which users used to draw attention to their specific trade or offering.
The Indian TLD .in has been around almost from the beginning of Internet names, even before ICANN formally took over the administration of names and numbers. In 2022, .in crossed 3 million registrations.
Indian language domain names
When ICANN launched Internationalized domain names to reflect global linguistic diversity, it enabled India to offer its users domain names in multiple Indic languages and their scripts -- Devanagari (for Hindi, Sanskrit, Bodo, Marathi, Maithili, Sindhi, etc.), Telugu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Gurumukhi, Kannada, Tamil, Oriya, Bangla, with Urdu, Kashmiri, and Sindhi in Arabic script. These Indian language domain names have the TLD .bharat or .bharatam. Today, it is possible to create domain names in all 22 scheduled Indian languages.
Though the growth of Indian language domain names has been slow – in tens of thousands rather than millions – the sheer availability is a tribute to Indian efforts in applications to ICANN through the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI). This agency administers all Indian domains -- .bharat and .in.
"India can serve as a role model in Universal Acceptance (UA) and more inclusive internationalized domain names (IDNs)," said senior ICANN executives during an interaction with the Economic Times in May this year.
Added ICANN CEO Sally Costerton: “Digitization in India has been so fast that suddenly we're looking at this kind of poster child country, which is enormous, with vast amounts of people to come online... It’s like the perfect case study for UA… Meanwhile, you've got the (Narendra) Modi government going 100 miles an hour, putting in broadband, putting in digital services from the top down. And that creates the economic momentum.”
The Chair of ICANN’s board is India-born Tripti Sinha whose other responsibility is at the University of Maryland where she is Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Vice President. Able to speak or understand Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, and Sanskrit, Ms. Sinha recognizes India’s challenge to nurture multiple languages on the Internet. ET quotes her: “Other parts of the world are just adapting to English but India is a little bit different – more complex, (with a) diverse population and many languages. You don’t want everyone ‘to come on board to English’. You want to preserve your culture and your identity. And if we can make the internet multilingual, then you preserve all the rest of it.”
Other nations, particularly those in the neighborhood with their linguistic diversity, like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka – will watch with interest how India handles and evangelizes domain names in so many languages and scripts – no other nation comes even near in the number and variety. The poster child for ICANN may yet become a role model for the world.
Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.
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