Have you ever tried to make a purchase online and had your transaction be denied? Maybe your credit card had expired or your billing address didn’t match the card info on file. Maybe you were able to fix the issue or maybe you abandoned your cart out of frustration. Either way, this scenario is likely the exception for you, rather than the norm. But imagine being a native speaker of Cyrillic, or Hindi, or Thai, and your email address is in one of those languages. For those people – millions of Internet users around the world – denial of service happens routinely when they are trying to interact or purchase something online.
Most native English speakers don’t spend much time thinking about this issue, or the myriad ways the web overwhelmingly caters to speakers of the English language. You might think that the Internet already works the same for everyone, regardless of the domain name or language that they use. But it doesn’t, which is why we need Universal Acceptance (UA).
UA is a technical compliance best practice that ensures all domain names and all email addresses can be used by all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems. If you are a developer and you haven’t heard of UA, read on.
Why should the developer community care about Universal Acceptance?
The Internet’s technologies, including its naming components, are under continual evolution and change. Yet the rules used by many applications are from 20 years ago. The top-level domain (TLD) space has experienced explosive growth since 2010, with the introduction of hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs) that speak to interests (e.g., .ORGANIC) or are in non-English characters (e.g., .世界). These new TLDs are essential for the expansion of the Internet and give people choice and ensure competition in the domain name world.
Problems can arise, however, because many systems and applications still assume that the list of valid TLDs is fixed, or that a TLD will be just two or three ASCII characters. Or that email mailbox names can only contain ASCII characters, even though Email Address Internationalization (EAI) standards say otherwise. The result is that many systems do not recognize or appropriately process new domain names, and not all online portals are primed for the opening of a user account with one of these new email addresses. While filling out online forms, new TLDs and email addresses containing Unicode are not always accepted.
This lack of acceptance locks users out of the organization’s offering. When systems do not recognize or process the new domains and associated email addresses, users will experience a denial of service, and companies that do business online will leave revenue on the table. In fact, a recent study conservatively estimates $9.8 billion USD annual boost in worldwide economic activity from both existing users using the new domain names, as well as new Internet users coming online in their native languages. Online spending from new users (predominantly Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Indic language speakers) could start at $6.2 billion USD per year.
It’s not just about the revenue, however – it’s about keeping up with the rapid pace of change. Most developers understand the importance of adopting current tools and current standards whenever possible; keeping code up to date reduces compatibility bugs in general.
Perhaps most importantly, supporting UA is the right thing to do. English has long been the dominant language on the Internet, but according to a report by Google and KPMG India, nine out of 10 new Internet users between 2016 and 2021 will use local languages. Without UA, these new users – of which there are millions – won’t be able to fully experience the benefits of the Internet because of the language they speak, or the domain name or email they’ve chosen. It is another form of inequality that is within our power to fix.
Taking steps to become UA-ready
Now that you’re hopefully sold on UA, a good first step would be to familiarize yourself with the work of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG). The UASG is a consortium created by industry leaders such as Afilias, Apple, GoDaddy, Google, ICANN, Microsoft and Verisign to help raise awareness of UA and provide support.
On the UASG website, IT professionals can find a host of helpful resources, including an overview of the issue, a technical guide for testing systems for UA-readiness, and a guide to current Internet standards. I encourage you to visit the website and view these useful materials, and also to get involved with the UASG by joining the mailing list.
The important thing is to take the first step. For organizations that haven’t yet begun their UA journey, the process might seem overwhelming. Yet for many sites and services, UA is considered a “bug fix,” deliverable by a routine update to online systems. The efforts for software and application owners to implement UA are not particularly complex and are outweighed by the benefits that could be realized by doing so. An approach that works well is to set up standard processes so that UA is just another compliance activity, like localization or accessibility. And above all, remember – the UASG is here to help.
UA is a tremendous opportunity for organizations that do business online. When businesses are UA-ready, it means that their systems and services will work seamlessly with the continuously expanding domain name space. This harmony will help set those organizations up for future opportunities and success by supporting their customers using their customers’ chosen identities. I hope you will join me and the UASG so we can work together to fully incorporate these new domains for the benefit of the next generation of Internet users.