TLD registrations in the Internet's root-zone file currently are divided into two broad classifications: generic and country-code top-level domains. With respect to the latter classification, no new "strategy" is required to add further ccTLDs as a relatively well-working process is already in place to integrate the occasional new country-code top-level domain. With one of these two classifications under reasonably sound management, it is therefore perfectly understandable to see that the ICANN organization consequently views its obligation to "Define and implement a predictable strategy for selecting new TLDs” as a mandate "to begin the process of allocating and implementing new gTLDs”… the flaw in this conclusion, however, stems from the presumption that the Internet's taxonomy must necessarily contain only the two above-so-mentioned broad classifications. I am proposing a third TLD classification — based on languages.
As our objective is to maximize the public benefit derived from the Internet's system of unique identifiers, our focus must be upon utility — that which serves the greatest good for the greatest number of people worldwide. A series of top-level domains based on language identifiers would satisfy that goal; it would promote on a global scale commercial and civil/social opportunities that would necessarily result in the opening of new markets for domain registration services world-wide.
As noted in the 16 April 2002 "Discussion Paper on Non-ASCII Top-Level Domain Policy Issues", "A language-associated TLD string may assist in the development of global language-based Internet communities, particularly where the language speakers are widely distributed around the world, for example, the various Cambodian-speaking communities."
Imagine for a moment a future in which a young businessman whose native language is Wolof (a language understood by over 8 million Senegalese as well as a language spoken by significant populations in The Gambia, Mauritania, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, France, Italy, and Spain), can sit by a computer and access websites written in Wolof simply by using a search engine to sift through records found in the .wol domain (a string derived from the ISO 639 list). Before long, he has found trading partners both locally and abroad, a wealth of opportunities and a host of valuable services all provided in his own native language.
It is said that "The Internet is for everyone" — this is a way to make it so, by giving each language grouping its own top-level domain. The significant value of language-based TLDs is to make the Internet more fully accessible to the 92% of the world's population that does not speak English.
Questions, Issues & Answers:
One might reasonably ask, how will ICANN know exactly what constitutes a "language"? The answer lies in recourse to an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) list. ICANN uses the ISO 3166 list to determine that which constitutes a ccTLD. In similar fashion the ISO 639 list of three-letter language codes can be used to definitively establish an acceptable list of languages.
Does this proposal require the creation of non-ASCII TLDs? In the spirit of "keeping-it-simple", this proposal only calls for the use of the ASCII three-letter codes as established in ISO 639. One hopes that after an initial proof-of-concept stage is evaluated, possibilities will later emerge to allow for an ultimate migration to non-ASCII representations under ICANN's guidance.
3. Quantity of TLDs
Just how many language-associated TLD strings (L-TLDS) are being proposed? The ISO 639 list of three-letter codes contains about 400 entries. While some of these listings (such as "peo", the code for "Persian, Old [ca 600 - 400 B.C.]"), can safely be edited out of the list, I believe that we can still talk in terms of round numbers and use 400 entries as the approximate value under discussion. Please note that there are 241 currently active ccTLD registrations in the Internet's root-zone file.
4. Phased roll-out of TLDs
I envision a ten+-year phased introduction of the language-associated TLD strings with a launch cycle periodicity of eighteen months (this should allow for necessary review mechanisms):
Because attempting to create TLDs semantically linked to languages might well raise a number of extremely delicate political problems (consider the prospect of selecting a registry operator for a language group that includes hundreds of millions of people and spans a number of nation-states), prior to the start of each selection cycle, deference will be made to governmental entities that oppose participation in this selection process (through some type of diplomatically appropriate method, their language-associated strings will be removed from the group of potential candidates for inclusion into the Internet's root-zone).
6. The Selection methodology
After necessary exclusions that result from the political process, a computer will be used to randomly select the strings that will be launched in each given cycle.
7. Choosing the registry operators
It is my belief that a process should be put into place to pre-certify registry operators. Once registry operators are accredited entities, they may choose to be considered as candidates in a random draw process. Just as the TLD strings will be randomly selected, so too shall the accredited registry operators be randomly chosen to operate the language-associated TLDs.
Each registry operator selected to operate these L-TLDs will conduct its communications with the public and with the registrar community in the language-group that is under its management. Accordingly, all registry operators accredited to operate LTDs will warrant that they will secure an appropriate level of staff with fluency in whatever language-group they are selected to handle.
In the last round of TLD selections ICANN chose both small communities (such as .museum) and potentially large communities (such as .info) to be awarded a presence in the Internet's root-zone file. It is my expectation that a random selection process for L-TLDs will result in a similar mix: some small language communities and some large language groups. Whatever the outcome, we can expect the expansion of competition in the domain name registration business as firms with relevant language proficiency and technical skills vie for registrar accreditation in this new TLD environment.
Consumers world-wide will benefit from increased choice and the innovations that will accompany the launch of language-based TLDs, and ICANN will have proven that it is truly an international organization that is committed to the needs of the global community of Internet users.
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