By Anand Parthasarathy
October 1, 2023: Last week, the agency that has regulated the naming on 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 harness 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, though it continues to operate from its headquarters in Los Angeles, California in the US.
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 United Kingdom. In 2012, domain names were expanded to Generic TLD or gTLD which opened a flood gate of 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 users.
When ICANN launched Internationalized domain names to reflect global linguistic diversity, it enabled India to offer to 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 official Indian languages.
Though growth of Indian language domain names have 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 internationalised domain names (IDNs)", said senior ICANN executives during an interaction with Economic Times in May this year.
Added ICANN CEO Sally Costerton: “Digitisation 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 neighbourhood with their own linguistic diversity, like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka ---will watch with interest how India handles and evangelises 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.
This story has also appeared in Swarajya