By Adrian Kinderis
In a special opinion editorial first published by ITP Magazine, Adrian Kinderis, CEO of ARI Registry Services, explains why nurturing an end-to-end Arabic online experience will be important to address the needs of the next 90 million Arabic Internet users.
By Adrian Kinderis
Dubai, UAE – Monday 4 March 2013
The next time you’re driving down the D89 Airport Road to Dubai International Airport, take a moment to look at the advertising billboards. In particular, look at the domain names used in the call to action.
You will notice a number of Arabic advertisements aimed entirely at an Arabic audience that strangely feature domain names written in English.
How can we expect the Arabic community to navigate to online content using domain names written in a foreign language? Furthermore, how many real world and e-commerce transactions are missed because an Arabic speaker was unable to navigate online?
The problem is that while there have been advancements in Arabic content and applications, the very infrastructure used to navigate online has not kept pace – namely the regional domain name market.
We know the next billion Internet users won’t come from English speaking countries. The same can be said for the Arab region; the next 90 million Arabic Internet users will expect to navigate the Internet in their native language.
The writing is on the wall – and it is in Arabic script. Arabic is the fastest growing language online with growth of more than 2500 percent between 2000 and 2011. Arabic is also the fastest-growing language on Twitter.
These roadside billboards offer an insight into the challenges faced by Arabic speakers online and highlights the limitations of the regional domain name market and the options available to businesses wanting to register domain names. It shows there is a disconnect between an increasingly online-orientated society and the accessibility of participation.
Is it no wonder that many local Internet users rely on Google to navigate the Internet? Why should they have to rely on a third party to seek out the content they are looking for?
What we need is an end-to-end Arabic online experience for the Arabic speaking community. This means an Arabic keyboard to type in an Arabic domain name to visit Arabic content.
The solution is Arabic Internationalised Domain Names which eliminate the reliance on traditional Latin scripts and instead allow Arabic speakers to navigate in their own language. Non-Latin Arabic script domains will be a significant factor in helping the next wave of Arab Internet users navigate to online Arabic content.
There are a number of countries already hosting Arabic script domains, including the United Arab Emirates (امارات.), Oman (عمان.) and Qatar (قطر.). These national digital assets are of enormous value to their respective countries and the citizens who access the Internet through them. However, they are being underutilised and are limited to the boundaries of the individual countries – stifling region-wide participation.
However, later this year, a new Arabic script domain name is set to revolutionise the Internet in the Arab region. شبكة. (.shabaka – translates to .web in Arabic) will establish an entire corner of the Internet completely dedicated to the Arabic language, culture and society.
Unlike the national Arabic scripts currently available, شبكة. will be the first cross-border Arabic Top-Level Domain extension open to all Arabic speakers across the region. It will provide an emotive connection between Arabic culture and the community while opening an online channel to intuitively connect Arabic speakers to online Arabic content.
Initiatives such as شبكة. will help bridge the gap between Arabic content and Arabic speaking Internet users. It will help provide the platform needed to fuel greater Arabic orientated online entrepreneurism and innovation.
Furthermore, there are commercial incentives for Arab-based organisations to help break down the accessibility barriers. To put a price on this, the Gulf Cooperation Council predicts B2C e-commerce sales in the region will reach around $15 billion by 2015. Savvy business leaders would be wise to recognise this commercial potential.
The big question is, who is responsible for facilitating this end-to-end Arabic online experience? The beauty of the Internet means it will be a collaborative approach from the business sector generating the Arabic content, to policy makers raising greater awareness and the industry providing the technology and platform.
I strongly believe that this will go a long way to removing the barriers to greater Internet participation in the Arab region.
It is my prediction that in the near future we will see a greater number of Arabic advertising billboards targeting Arabic speakers with Arabic script domain names such as شبكة. directing viewers to engaging online Arabic content.
The dawn of the end-to-end Arabic online experience is upon us.
By Adrian Kinderis
Adrian is CEO of ARI Registry Services, a global domain name technology company. Adrian discussed the topic of developing a robust Internet in the Arab region during his keynote address at the ‘Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance in the Arab world’ forum on Monday 4 March 2013 at the Radisson Royal Dubai.