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The Role of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) in Cultural Preservation

D’Rosario, M. (2024) The Role of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) in Cultural Preservation


Introduction

IDNs represented a significant turning point in the development of the internet, introducing an era of worldwide inclusivity that has somewhat gone under the radar. Previously, domain names were confined to ASCII characters, which created substantial obstacles for non-English speakers. The introduction of IDNs has transformed this situation, allowing for the registration of domain names in various languages and scripts. This significant development has made the internet more accessible to a broader international audience, while also safeguarding the linguistic and cultural identities of communities across the globe.

The emergence of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) signifies a critical turning point in the internet's evolution, inaugurating a period where digital inclusivity and linguistic diversity are prioritised. This advancement holds considerable importance in of cultural preservation, as IDNs act as essential tools for protecting linguistic and cultural identities that might otherwise be marginalized within an online environment dominated by the English language.

These domain names play a crucial role in fostering a more accessible and multilingual online environment, opening up the internet to a broader range of cultures and languages. IDNs expand the capability of domain names to include characters beyond the conventional ASCII set, not limited to ‘a to z’, thereby promoting a digital environment that is more inclusive and diverse.

While the internet is more diverse now than at its earliest vestiges, with significant Spanish, German and other language presences, it is still largely dominated by languages employing the Latin script, and earliest Unicode specifications. IDNs have expanded the internet to broader audiences, and in theory serve as a tool for cultural preservation. This article aims to shed light on the various ways IDNs contribute to cultural heritage conservation, highlighted by relevant case studies, and to consider the wider effects on global cultural diversity and identity.

 

Theoretical Framework of Cultural Preservation through IDNs

IDNs symbolise a significant technological progression aimed at democratizing the internet by facilitating the use of numerous scripts and languages for domain names. This innovation is not just a means to improve accessibility; it represents a meaningful acknowledgment and endorsement of cultural diversity. By enabling the use of native scripts for domain names, IDNs inherently validate and celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity. This validation serves as a protective measure against the dilution of cultural identities, ensuring the preservation of humanity's linguistic diversity.

The conceptualisation of IDNs as a mechanism for cultural preservation is anchored in the broader discourse on digital sovereignty and linguistic rights. The enabling role of domain names in diverse scripts and languages through IDNs epitomizes a significant leap towards digital inclusivity, asserting the importance of maintaining linguistic and cultural diversity in the face of global digitalization. This perspective aligns with theories of cultural globalization that emphasize the need for preserving cultural identities within the digital commons (Appadurai, 1996; Castells, 1997).

 

Country Level Case Studies of IDNs Facilitating Cultural Preservation


The .भारत Initiative (India)

The launch of the .भारत (Bharat) IDN in the Devanagari script mark a significant achievement for the Hindi-speaking community after significant planning and effort[1]. This initiative symbolizes the digital affirmation of India's linguistic heritage, creating an online space where Hindi speakers can produce and access content in their native language. IDN support is now available for many scripts supporting numerous official languages in India.


Internationalized Domain Name (IDN)

Script

Languages Supported

.भारत

Devanagari Script

Hindi, Bodo(Boro), Dogri, Konkani, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali, Sindhi-Devanagari

.ভারত

Bengali Script

Bengali, Manipuri

.భారత్

Telugu Script

Telugu

.ભારત

Gujarati Script

Gujarati

.بھارت

Arabic Script

Urdu

.இந்தியா

Tamil Script

Tamil

.ਭਾਰਤ

Gurumukhi (Punjabi) Script

Punjabi

.ಭಾರತ

Kannada Script

Kannada

.ଭାରତ

Oriya Script

Oriya

.ভাৰত

Bangali Script

Assamese

.भारतम्

Devanagari Script

Sanskrit

.भारोत

Devanagari Script

Santali

.بارت

Arabic Script

Kashmiri

.ڀارت

Arabic Script

Sindhi

.ഭാരതം

Malayalam Script

Malayalam


While the availability of so many languages as part of the Bharat IDN initiative has been lauded by many, the challenges associated with initial registration were acknowledged. Through the efforts of Neustar[2], the new framework for registration now makes registering IDNs much easier, with no knowledge of punycode required.

Ms. Tiwary, the Head of India’s national education and research network (ERNET) asserted that “This will indeed be a new age of success for India’s digital economy and internet users”[3]. A significant advancement in India's IDNs landscape is the accessibility of the country's official government portal in diverse local scripts, beyond just the Latin script.[4]

 

The .中国 Deployment (China)

The implementation of the .中国 (China) IDN, utilizing Chinese characters, showcases the capacity of IDNs to create a more inclusive internet. This effort has greatly enhanced the online presence of Chinese linguistic and cultural content, thereby aiding in the preservation of China's cultural heritage.

The performance of certain Chinese IDN domains like .网址 (web address) and .公司 (company), launched in 2014, shows limited growth, stabilizing at lower numbers than their initial peaks. The .中国 (.china) domain, available since 2006, saw an unexpected increase to 1.9 million registrations in 2018, later decreasing slightly. The reasons for these fluctuations in domain registrations, particularly the surge in .中国, remain unclear and warrant further examination[5].

 

Cyrillic and Greek IDN support

In 2009, following ICANN's introduction of the IDN fast track, the .eu domain was requested in Cyrillic and Greek scripts in response to the European Commission. The delegation of the Greek script domain was finalized, culminating a lengthy process[6]. This completion ensures the representation of all primary scripts used within the European Union: Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek. With the introduction of .eu in Greek script, registrations for Greek script domain names will be exclusively under the Greek .eu, aligning with the script consistency policy.

What is notable are the attitudes of IDN proponents. EURid in dialogue with the Association of the Internet Industry assert that “What we are very proud of is that we are offering it because it’s part of our strategy to support online multilingualism. So it doesn’t matter how many, for us it is a matter of offering it and then supporting the use of Greek. Greek domain names. This is what we have been doing with Cyrillic”. This is further evidence of the potential for IDNs to improve multilingualism and the diversity of the modern internet.

 

IDNs and their association with website languages

There is strong evidence to suggest the use of IDNs promotes greater use of the corresponding language within the website. This would indicate that the increased use of IDNs will drive greater usage of corresponding language on websites, increasing internet diversity. Additionally, the Association of the Internet Industry (2019) note that certain Greek businesses, including a previous Web Awards nominee, are transitioning their domain names from Latin-script .eu to the Greek-script equivalent. This change will align their domain names with their primary website language, Greek. These companies have indicated plans to implement this shift, contributing to enhanced online multilingualism and allowing for expression in their indigenous language.


Punycode, the essential enabling technology

The deployment of support for additional scripts through punycode represents a powerful tool for inclusion and cultural preservation for a number of reasons. Firstly, IDN support enables those traditionally excluded due to a lack of familiarly with a Latin based script from being included. This enables the experiences of cultural communities normally excluded to be captured in and preserved in digital archives, preserving the legacy and traditions of the excluded.

Secondly IDNs enable the creation of safe spaces, spaces that are culturally and linguistically sensitive and safe for diverse populations. This may be encouraging of individuals who feel unfamiliar or unsafe within anglophone digital environments. Thirdly, they enable the bridging of non-Latin script environments with traditional Latin script based environments, creating bridges between culturally safe spaces and public/mainstream spaces. 

These reasons illustrate the significant role of IDNs in cultural preservation, offering proof of how technological advancements can be leveraged to protect linguistic diversity and cultural heritage.

 

Implications for Cultural Identity and Global Diversity

The proliferation (albeit slow) of IDNs underscores a pivotal shift towards a more inclusive and heterogeneous digital landscape. This transition is instrumental in facilitating a digital environment that is reflective of the world's linguistic and cultural plurality. The implications of this shift for global cultural identity and diversity are profound, aligning with scholarly discussions on the significance of digital media in the preservation of cultural heritage (Cohen, 2012; DeNardis, 2014).

The widespread adoption of IDNs has significant implications for cultural identity and global diversity. By enabling the representation of various linguistic and cultural identities, leading to a more varied and inclusive digital world. This diversification not only enriches global digital heritage but also plays a critical role in promoting understanding and respect among different cultures.

Moreover, the function of IDNs goes beyond merely preserving existing cultural identities; they also have the potential to rejuvenate endangered languages and cultures, providing a platform for their revival and global recognition. Thus, IDNs play a vital role in the active conservation of cultural diversity, ensuring that the digital era reflects the vast array of the world's languages and cultures.

The IDN movement is a mechanism for the protection and preservation of languages, in the same way that oral histories facilitate the exchange of spoken language, and cultural particularities. The movement ensures that the unique cultural practices of different communities are captured and presented within the languages that are likely to not evidence the digital presence of those traditionally supported online.

 

Challenges and Prospects for the future of IDNs

Despite the strides made by IDNs towards cultural preservation, several challenges remain. These include technical issues concerning the universal acceptance and interoperability of IDNs and the need for continuous policy support to enhance linguistic diversity online. Overcoming these obstacles requires a collaborative effort from various stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, and the technology sector, to fulfill the potential of IDNs. IDNs stand at a crucial intersection in the endeavour to preserve cultural and linguistic diversity within the digital domain. By facilitating the use of native languages and scripts for domain names, IDNs provide a potent means for cultural expression and preservation. As the internet evolves, the role of IDNs in promoting a diverse and inclusive digital environment will undoubtedly remain a key topic in discussions surrounding global digital policy and cultural heritage conservation.


[2] Extract from conversation between Mr. Nitin Wali and DQIndia. Available at https://www.dqindia.com/importance-idns-local-languages-india-nitin-wali-neustar/



References:

Cohen, J. E. (2012). "Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice." Yale University Press.

DeNardis, L. (2014). "The Global War for Internet Governance." Yale University Press.

ICANN. (n.d.). "Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs)." ICANN. Retrieved from https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/idn-2012-02-25-en.

UNESCO. (2009). "IDNs for Cultural Diversity: UNESCO's Position on the Introduction of Multilingualism for Internet Domain Names." UNESCO.

Appadurai, A. (1996). "Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization." University of Minnesota Press.

Castells, M. (1997). "The Power of Identity: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Volume II." Blackwell.

Rickert, T. (2019, October 15). Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs): The Greek .eu Domain. Conversation with Giovanni Seppia from EURid. eco Association


Acronyms & Key Definitions

ASCII: American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It is a character encoding standard used in electronic communication, which represents text in computers, telecommunications equipment, and other devices, using a set of 128 symbols.

IDN: Internationalized Domain Names. These are domain names that include characters from non-Latin scripts and are adapted for languages that use different writing systems.

ICANN: Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This nonprofit organization is responsible for coordinating the global domain name system and the allocation of IP addresses.

ccTLD: Country Code Top-Level Domain. These are country-specific top-level domain names, which are assigned to a particular country or geographic region, examples include ‘.uk’ for the United Kingdom and ‘.jp’ for Japan.

gTLD: Generic Top-Level Domain. These are top-level domain names that are not tied to specific countries or regions, including widely recognized domains such as ‘.com’, ‘.org’, and ‘.net’.

Universal Acceptance: This is the principle that all domain names, regardless of script, language, or character set, should be accepted equally and function seamlessly across all internet applications and systems.

UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This agency of the United Nations is dedicated to promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, the sciences, and culture.


 

About the Author:

Dr. Michael D’Rosario is an experienced econometrician and data scientist specialising in technology diffusion and trend analysis. He served as chair of Ethics in Financial Services at Deakin University, as Chief Economist at Per Capita, and as an advisor to a number of professional associations, industry bodies and NFP organisations. 

Michael has published extensively in Economics, Data Science journals and led a number of large economic evaluations and research. Michael has also worked with firms such as KordaMentha, Ford Australia, and held a number of board appointments within the university, NFP and for purpose sectors.

Michael’s PhD is in Utilities and Econometrics, and during his studies he served as a Prime Minister’s Fellow in Innovation to Loyola University. He is also a Fellow at the Centre for Public Value, at the University of Western Australia, and teaches Research Methods at the University of Adelaide. He has developed programs in Research Methods and Data Science at the University of Adelaide and the University of Oxford. Michael’s work focuses on the use of empirical methods to support evidence-based policy.   



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