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Report Finds Arabic Domain Names Ripe for Growth

Mohammad Zeidan

The Arabic version of this post can be viewed here.

Since شبكة. (.web in Arabic and pronounced "dot shabaka") launched as the world's first new Top-Level Domain in 2014, we've faced many hurdles in growing adoption of Arabic domain names. From universal acceptance and general awareness issues to a lack of Registrars with Arabic retail interfaces — the challenges have been numerous and varied.

However, according to a new ICANN-commissioned study released this week — one of the first to investigate the Middle East DNS sector — there is much to celebrate too.

Domain name registration growth rates in the Middle East region and adjoining countries are booming at greater than 20% per year and the total number of domain names is predicted to double over the next three years.

The study found there are 2.9 million domain names registered in the region, with strong annual percentage growth — in stark contrast to the flattening global domain name market in recent years.

Despite the strong growth, the region still only accounts for 1% of the world's registered domain names and 3.7% of global Internet users. Furthermore, only 21,000 Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs – like شبكة.) have been registered, although the region primarily speaks non-Latin-based languages.

All this confirms that while the market is currently underdeveloped, there is enormous potential for growth if the challenges can be addressed.

Language preferences

One of our major objectives with شبكة. was to create a platform that enabled an end-to-end Arabic experience online. The ideal outcome was to have people use an Arabic keyboard to type in an Arabic domain name to visit Arabic content, without a reliance on English, Google or social media.

Unfortunately, the study found English still dominates as the "forced" language of choice for web content in the region, accounted for in 71% of websites associated with the region (compared with 55% of global sites).

A survey conducted through the study found there is a clear disconnect between the language preference expressed by web users in the region and the languages associated with web content. For instance, those surveyed expressed strong preferences for using local languages when interacting with friends and government.

The study says the clear preference for local languages signal potential for IDN growth in the region.

Use of domain names

The survey also found the outlook for the use of domain names in the region is positive; Internet users in the Middle East region are more likely to use domain names for direct navigation than their global counterparts, and nearly all users check the domain name before clicking on search results.

While social media is flourishing in the region, the survey found websites are preferred to social media when interacting with businesses and governments.

Registering domain names

Confirming what we have experienced in launching شبكة. domain names, the study found there are many challenges for consumers who wish to buy domains — from a lack of local providers and value added services, to limited choice in payment options.

The study also suggests the strong uptake of social media in the region might partially be a result of the difficulties experienced by consumers in registering domain names.

Recommendations

The study makes a number of recommendations to address the challenges facing the region — namely to address universal acceptance issues, market deregulation and encouraging greater involvement from international Registrars to stimulate long-term growth.

We support these recommendations and encourage all stakeholders within the region to collaborate on addressing these issues. Being on the front line of the industry, we're well aware that our Registrar partners and Registry colleagues are already tackling these challenges.

We call upon ICANN to support the Middle East region through direct investment in policy changes that foster growth in the region, supported by awareness and education campaigns that go to the heart of addressing the recommendations suggested in the study.

Funds from the proceeds collected during the ICANN new TLD auction process — which now totals more than $105 million — would be well invested in addressing this cause.

It's clear from the study that the Middle East DNS market has many challenges to overcome, but with collaboration and investment from all stakeholders — including ICANN — we can begin to realise the significant potential identified in the report.

By Mohammad Zeidan, Product Manager at Neustar
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Related topics: ICANN, Multilinguism, New TLDs
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