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2021 IDN Overview: Little Growth Big Impact?

The Covid-19 Pandemic has significantly affected the internet world, including the discussion on Internationalised Domain Names (IDN). The demand for digital transformation to cope with the pandemic is the main theme in understanding Internationalised Domain Names (IDN). Countries and societies worldwide pushed for digitalisation in the public and private sectors as the producers, consumers, and workers' behaviour experienced dramatic changes in 2020 and 2021.

According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, digitalisation during the pandemic was the main priority for economic recovery not only in developed countries, but also developing countries in the Global South. Digitalisation in the forms of creating online shops, websites, or joining marketplaces was chosen by small and medium enterprises across the world as a way to pivot their business-as-usual, to business-as-digital. The UNCTAD report also mentions how countries across regions in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia use this moment to accelerate and transform their economy. But, to what extent that these efforts translate to the growth of internationalised domain names (IDN)?

Slight Overall Increase

Our research shows that during 2020-2021 the overall growth for IDN slightly increased from 8.2 million to 8.6 million. This figure is considerably positive compared to the slight decrease in 2019-2020. Although the figure delineates a slight growth during 2020-2021, this is the third-highest growth of IDN since 2009. The highest record growth was in 2015-2016 when there was a dramatic increase from 6.7 million to 8.7 million. The second highest growth was in 2017-2018 from 7.5 million to 9 million.

The figure is followed by the statistics in the top and second-level domains in which both experienced a slight increase during the period. As it is shown in Graphic 2 below, for the top-level domain, the number increased from 3.3 million to 3.4 million. While for the second-level domain, the figure outnumbered the top-level domain as it grew from 4.9 million to 5.2 million. For the second level domain, this number is relatively positive as it bounced back from the slight decrease in 2019-2020.

In addition to IDNs by level statistics, our research also found a slight growth in IDNs by type, especially in ccTLDs (country-code Top-Level Domain). The ccTLDs outgrew GTLDs (Generic Top-Level Domains) from 6.5 million in 2020 to nearly 7 million in 2021, while the GTLDs only slightly increased from around 1.5 to nearly 1.8 million in 2021.

The increase in 2021 can be attributed to the effort of digitalisation by countries across the world. The slight growth, however, shall not be perceived with pessimism on internationalised domain names. Instead, this should be noted in two key takes.

Mature Growth

First, the concerted effort of internationalised domain names from 2009 to 2021 reached its mature growth as the number steadily increased albeit not significantly. The maturity of growth can be credited to long years of efforts by various stakeholders to make IDN more interoperable. Consequently, there are already huge amounts of IDN websites that are predominantly used and have become mainstream websites in various countries. E-commerce websites now have more local languages and scripts used by small and medium enterprises that enable faster digitalisation. Another point to take into account is the fact that internet browsers are increasingly compatible with IDN despite imperfection. Our research on Browser Readiness showed that most internet browsers are already operable with IDN. However, this mature growth needs to be bolstered by social media platforms as our research showed that minimum efforts are made by big social media platforms to be more receptive to IDN. Many small and medium enterprises across the world used social media platforms to sell their products in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is well-documented by the research conducted by Accenture about Social Commerce, the integration between social media and online/electronic commerce. This shall be an important reminder for social media platforms to make more efforts in IDN interoperability.

Quality Growth

Second, the slight growth of IDN in 2020-2021 might show little in quantity, but bring big in quality. The slight increase in IDN in that period is qualitatively followed by more awareness of IDN and Universal Acceptance (UA). This particularly occurred among the internet stakeholders, such as The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), EURid, and governments. The ICANN has significantly increased their efforts on IDN and UA, particularly this year. ICANN made various external engagements with regional and national stakeholders by including the arrangements of Internationalised Domain Names (IDN) and UA. UASG has held more events and meetings since 2021. Some national governments like Vietnam also increased their attention on internationalised domain names (IDN). It is also followed by more grassroots events on IDN and UA such as in Morocco and India as stated in the Middle East Forum DNS Forum this year. Consequently, the IDN has gained significant traction during 2020-2021 discursively and politically.

Still Long Way to Go?

Going back to the main question, one can say that there is a positive correlation between global digitalisation in the COVID-19 pandemic and the growth of IDN albeit slightly. The aforementioned key takes showed there is more to cherish beyond the number. The mature growth and qualitative impact of IDN deserve some appraisal after many years of effort. Yet, this should be taken as the next point of departure, instead of the finished line of arrival. The Universal Acceptance is still a long way to go, thus, the efforts to promote Internationalised Domain Names need to go to the next level, with global efforts, and global stakeholders.

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