The Next Billion Internet Users: What CIOs Need to Know

Ashwin Rangan, CIO, ICANN
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Ashwin Rangan, CIO, ICANN

The Internet has experienced explosive growth over the last 20 years. In 1995, there were only 18,000 websites; by 2010, there were more than 80 million dot com domain names alone. In addition, the number and types of domain names has also increased beyond “dots” such as dot com, dot edu and dot org to hundreds of new types of suffix endings. In the last three years alone, there has been an increase of nearly 25 million new domains that use the new domain name endings, many of which are suffixes that speak to people’s interests and affiliations (such as .COLLEGE, .RIO and .EARTH, among many others) or are in languages other than English (such as .世界 or .ОНЛАЙН). This considerable growth, while rife with opportunities for both individuals and organizations, has fundamentally changed the infrastructure of the Internet.

But while the infrastructure has changed the software that supports Internet-enabled applications, devices and systems and software has not–it is still based on rules set up more than 20 years ago.

This causes problems for organizations and headaches for users because if the systems do not recognize or appropriately process the new domain names or email addresses that use these extensions, it will result in denial of service and a poor user experience. For example, many online forms will reject an email address such as “Ashwin.Rangen@CIO.photography” because “.photography” exceeds the traditional two-or three-character domain name length. The consequences, especially for businesses, may mean lost revenue opportunities if customers are unable or unwilling to complete a transaction as a result of their domain extension not being recognized by a company’s website.

 ​Long-term success in today’s digital world requires that businesses ensure their systems work with the common infrastructure of the Internet–the domain name system 

What is Universal Acceptance?

ICANN, along with leaders in the Internet community–including some of the of the world’s leading technology firms such as Apple, Google and Microsoft–is helping organizations and software developers update their systems and services through a process known as Universal Acceptance (UA). In its simplest terms, UA is the concept that all domain names should be treated equally. It refers to the removal of all technical barriers that might hinder a user from accessing any name in any TLD from any web browser, email client or other Internet application on any computer or electronic device.

UA provides a gateway to the next billion Internet users as it enables government and societies to better serve their populations through the use of an increasing number of new and non-Latin based, language-specific domain names. It is considered essential for the continued expansion of the Internet as it ensures that all domain extensions and email addresses can be used by all Internet-enabled applications, devices and systems.

How UA Affects CIOs

UA readiness is a business opportunity, one where CIOs play a critical role. Long-term success in today’s digital world requires that businesses ensure their systems work with the common infrastructure of the Internet–the domain name system. When businesses are UA-ready, it means that their systems and services will work harmoniously with the continuously expanding domain name space and will help set those organizations up for future opportunities and success by supporting their customers using their customer’s chosen identities.

Said another way, UA-ready websites, applications, and services lead to better user experiences. When a company is UA-ready, email addresses in any language from any extension are more likely to reach their destination, and not bounce. When a site is UA-ready, it will allow customers with new TLD suffixes to more successfully use the site and its forms.

Clearly, customer satisfaction, ability to engage with new audiences, and new growth and revenue opportunities are all among the benefits of UA readiness. CIOs have an opportunity and a mandate, therefore, to raise awareness of UA and help their organizations realize these benefits by ensuring UA compliance.

Steps CIOs Can Take

From a technical standpoint, UA is about the acceptance, validation, processing, storing and displaying of all domain names equally, consistently and correctly.

The good news for cash-strapped IT departments is that UA doesn’t need to be a standalone project; it is best viewed as a best practice, standardization project that can be conducted as part of regular system maintenance and will help future-proof online properties. To give a sense of a typical timeline, ICANN began its UA-ready initiative in March 2016. We hope to begin updating systems on a rolling basis by December 2016.

The Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), which leads the global UA-readiness effort, has created comprehensive materials to help simplify the process.

As millions of new Internet users around the world come online every year, the Internet and its naming components will continue to expand. Businesses’ readiness to accommodate use of these new domains will help them provide a better customer experience, uncover new revenue opportunities and future-proof their online properties for the next generation of Internet evolution and beyond.

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