The TRA announced recently that it has acquired ICANN’s approval to take control over the top level domain name for dot Oman in Arabic and that the procedures for using it will be finalized by the mid of 2011. Previously domain names could only be written using the Latin alphabet and websites with Arabic names had to use transliterations of the title of the website as their address as it is not possible to have the address written in actual Arabic letters. After the new approval of ICANN, it will be possible to have Omani domain names written using the Latin alphabet or the Arabic alphabet, so websites with Arabic content now can have their domain names also in Arabic instead of having it written using the Latin alphabet.
ICANN and those advocating for the use of international domain names believe that enabling users to type the domain names of websites they wish to visit in their native alphabet will help make the internet more accessible to those who do not speak a language that uses the Latin alphabet. I personally find this to be a very naive presumption – it is very unlikely that a person who is technically savvy enough to use a computer and open an internet browser will find typing a domain name in the Latin alphabet a barrier to using the internet. The reality is that most people who are not savvy enough to use the internet effectively usually resort to a search engine such as Google to find any website they want to visit.
On the other hand, I find it amusing that someone would choose to create an address for their website that could only be written in a non-universal language. It is wrong to assume that all Arabic speakers have access to an Arabic keyboard to type down the name of an Arabic website, there are a lot of Arabs living in non-Arab countries who would find it difficult to find an Arabic keyboard, in addition to this, a lot of cutting edge devices coming out these days, such as smart phones and tablets, are capable of reading Arabic text published in unicode, but do not have to capability to type Arabic text, this makes impossible to type down the domain names of these websites on these devices.
The result of the inability of a lot of people to type in Arabic would make it absolutely necessary for those who register an Arabic domain name to also register an English domain name as a backup reference to allow those who do not have access to an Arabic keyboard to access their website, this would consequently require them to spend double the space, time, and money to market both the Arabic and English domain names at the same time.
The only real argument for using Arabic domain names is the principle of choice. People should have the right to have their domain name written in their native language if they want to, if they want to have a restricted domain name that is available only to people who speak the language and have access to a keyboard in that language then they should have the right to do so. Whether or not that is in their best interest is a totally different issue. Having internationalized domain names is not necessary to make the internet more accessible because domain names in themselves are not a necessary part of the internet as websites can be easily accessed through their IP addresses and more easily through internationalized search engines.
This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.