South Africa could soon get domains like .bathong and .sê

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has launched a campaign that could see South Africa get new generic top-level domains.

Currently, South Africa’s top-level domains (TLDs) are limited to its country code domain, .za, and city-based domains like .joburg, .capetown, and .durban.

ICANN is a nonprofit public-benefit organisation that coordinates the global system of unique identifiers for the Internet.

As part of the campaign, ICANN called on South Africa to adopt its Universal Acceptance policy for domains and top-level domains.

This allows non-ASCII scripts and characters to be used in all parts of a domain name, including Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese Hiragana and Katakana, Korean Hanja characters, and Vietnamese script.

Although non-Latin scripts have been available in domains for years, and there are already several such top-level domains, these are uncommon in Africa.

ICANN’s head of stakeholder engagement for Africa, Pierre Dandjinou, told MyBroadband that they are launching a Universal Acceptance initiative in South Africa and intend to expand it to the whole continent.

“ICANN is taking this step to ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, culture, language, or location, should be able to make full use of the Internet,” the organisation said in a statement on Wednesday.

“While more than 60% of the world has access to the Internet, many are left behind due to language barriers and a lack of a universally inclusive infrastructure,” it stated.

“While the majority of domain names are in a Latin-based script like English, only one in 20 people worldwide speak English as their native language.”

ICANN said that even though domain names and emails in different scripts are available, they are not always recognised as valid by online applications, devices, and systems.

“New domain names that are longer run into similar problems of not being universally accepted,” it noted.

This was the case for .capetown when it first launched. Several online services in South Africa did not recognise the TLD as valid because of its length.

“Better acceptance of all domain names, including Internationalised Domain Names, will facilitate the development of a more inclusive and multilingual Internet,” ICANN stated.

Dandjinou said a deliberate effort is underway to make the Internet more inclusive and diverse.

“Soon, South African businesses, communities, and others will have the opportunity to apply for new top-level domains tailored to their culture, language, business, and customers, allowing them to reflect their community, values, and geographic or cultural niches,” he said.

According to Dandjinou, ICANN hopes to introduce new South African TLDs within 2–3 years.

The organisation has invited interested parties to apply for new TLDs under its established procedure.

Dandjinou explained that applicants must meet several requirements, including showing that their proposal is technically sound, that they can administer the TLD, and that the character set they want to use is available.

In South Africa, character sets are less of a concern as all 11 officially recognised written languages use standard Latin script with diacritics that are already widely supported.

The challenge for many people will be typing these special characters if South Africa wants to adopt domains like .sê, tša, or ḓisa.

MacOS and Linux offer keyboard layouts that make it easier to type some of these characters.

However, when it comes to the ever-popular Windows operating system, many South Africans have adopted the regular US keyboard layout and generally forego typing diacritics except in formal communication.

Dandjinou said ICANN does not produce character sets or keyboard layouts, but that if local industry wanted to use non-ASCII domains, they would make it happen.

“If the industry takes it into consideration, it will happen. In Chinese and Arabic they had to design character sets,” he said.

For those interested in applying for new TLDs, Dandjinou advised that they familiarise themselves with the ICANN Applicant Guidebook.

He said the guidebook covers how to request a new gTLD, and the requirements applicants must adhere to, including demonstrating that they have a sound business model and the technical know-how to run the domain.

Now read: ZADNA appoints .ZA Internet domain registry operator

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South Africa could soon get domains like .bathong and .sê