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Shouldn’t Tea Time for Kenya Mean IDN Top-Level Domains?

Anyone who knows Kenya knows it is famous for tea. And while I can now get Kenyan tea online from US companies like Starbucks, Caribou Coffee or any number of other re-sellers, like most consumers I would vastly prefer to cut out the middle man and buy my tea direct from Kenyan companies. Why not?

But here’s the rub. Besides me and a significant number of Brits, who buys Kenyan tea? According to Kenya’s Department of Agriculture, after the UK the three largest buyers of Kenyan tea are Egypt, Pakistan, and Sudan. In fact, the Arabic speaking Middle East accounts for about 25% of world tea purchases.

To reach these customers directly, Kenyan tea producers really need the ability to “speak their language” on the web—to provide websites and web addresses that are all in Arabic or Urdu. However, since today’s internet doesn’t allow website names in anything but Roman characters after the dot, we’ve got to wait for ICANN to enable these Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

Monday night here in Seoul ICANN held a reception to celebrate the coming of IDNs for country code domains (like .eg for Egypt). It was a love fest, complete with cocktails, slide shows and commemorative t-shirts. And it’s true, ICANN should be complimented for this advance—however belated.

Still, as I sat there talking with delegates from Kenya I was struck by just how limited a victory this will be—and what a missed opportunity it is—for existing and potential e-businesses. Even to reach their best Arabic-speaking markets with an all-Arabic website, no Kenyan company is likely to go through the trouble and expense of buying IDN domains in more than 20 Arabic-speaking countries.

So where does that leave the Kenyan tea industry? If I were the Kenya Tea Development Agency, Ltd I would want to keep it simple. What I would really want is the Arabic version of the website I already have—www.ktdateas.com.

In the end the issue of IDNs shouldn’t be about linguistics or politics, but about economic growth and development, about making the Internet more accessible for the billions of new users and businesses coming online every day. Now that ICANN has committed to make IDN ccTLDs available, why not make the most common existing TLDs—like .com and.org—next in line?

If, as the proverb goes, “tea is liquid wisdom” then ICANN should have a cup or two… then get about the business of bringing global TLDs to the IDN space.

By Andrew Mack, Principal at AMGlobal Consulting

Andrew Mack is Principal of AMGlobal Consulting, a specialized Washington, DC-based consulting firm that helps companies do more and better business in Emerging Markets. A former World Bank project manager and finance professional with experience in more than 80 countries, Mack is internationally-recognized for his work on Public-Private Partnership, Corporate Social Responsibility and economic development issues—including work on Internet policy and its impacts on the spread of technology to Africa, Latin America and other underserved regions.

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This is the domain your Kenyan friends David Wrixon  –  Oct 28, 2009 8:17 AM

This is the domain your Kenyan friends should be buying.

xn—mgbz8d.com   ??? tea

Yes, IDN.com is already out there and attracting traffic and the top level will soon be aliased into other languages, either within the Root or by the Registry (Verisign). If you want to nail down these names you need to act now. Many of the best are already registered but the market is new and prices are still low.

Business and economic development through IDNs is a good thought Dhaval Doshi  –  Oct 28, 2009 10:43 AM

I agree with your thoughts about the need to think about ‘accessibility for economic development’ for the non-English internet audience through IDNs. Your article gives a great example about thinking in that direction. Thanks.

No victory without idn gTLD's David Cohen  –  Oct 28, 2009 11:40 AM

IDN ccTLD’s without IDN gTLD’s are no victory, they are a defeat.
Taking Russia for example, .rf in Cyrillic (.??) is in ICANN’s IDN ccTLD fast track.
It is under government control which in other words is giving governments censorship and tighter control on the internet in the form of a ccTLD.

IDN gTLD’s and IDN ccTLD’s were always one process and always meant to go parallel. There is no excuse to the separation of IDN’s and holding back world progression due to .SpeculativeNoImmediateNeedAsciiNewGTLD

Rather .gay will be controlled by someone from the gay community or not and what is the future of .food with Wolfgang Puck’s wife is not important enough to stop users from China,Japan,Russia,India and all other countries using non latin scripts.

What you are failing to understand is David Wrixon  –  Oct 28, 2009 12:10 PM

What you are failing to understand is that the IDN gTLDs have already been sold, they are simply waiting to be implemented as IDN.IDN. The approval to do this is not going to lag the technology to do this which is still being implemented. But frankly I doubt that Left to Right script users will actually bother with the IDN.IDN variants of IDN.com.

It is sad that people confuse domain names with actual content Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 29, 2009 5:43 AM

The point the article makes is correct. Domain names dont matter in the final analysis - usable content does. Websites in Arabic, Hindi and whatever other market the Kenyan tea makers sell to (assuming they conduct deals over the web in any other form than perhaps using hotmail or gmail to exchange emails typed in their own language).

Proposing that a kenyan tea manufacturer acquire twenty different IDN domains in the languages of twenty different countries that it markets to is just plain silly.

This is right at one level and David Wrixon  –  Oct 29, 2009 7:14 AM

This is right at one level and equally just as wrong.

If you have content in twenty language you need 20 URLs. Each URL should be in the appropriate language at the sub-domain or sub-directly level, contrary to what the idiots that think using other languages will split the Internet. That isiof course rubbish. If you cannot generate a URL, then you probably cannot read the content anyway and would never go there in any case.

What Suresh is missing is that the life blood of sites is traffic and having the correct language domain will assist in bringing search traffic as well as direct navigation. Of course the need can be obviated if you have massive advertising budgets. But it does bring out the point that for many language the introduction of IDN at the top level was probably unnecessary. Just about everyone is familiar with Dot Com and can type it. It doesn’t need translation except where you have the incongruence of script direct change in right to left languages. What does need to happen is to get the message out there that IDNs are in the Root and have been working for best part of a decade. Between them Microsoft and ICANN have hindered the process enormously. Rather than invent IDN all ICANN has done is over-complicate and delay their introduction.

Not really Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 29, 2009 7:34 AM

Look at all the domainers out there who simply buy domain portfolios and stuff them with pay per click links. The (notional, only realizable when the domain is actually sold) value of that portfolio might be sky high. (And keep in mind most of the customers in these trades are domainers buying the domain off each other and then trying to resell them .. to another domainer as like as not). That bubble won't take too long to burst, whereupon the domainer who is stuck with those domains at the end will have in his hands a portfolio that's worth its actual value - that is $10 (or whatever the wholesale cost of the domain is) multiplied by the number of domains. The value of PPC or other traffic generated revenue - even with relevant sites (tea manufacturer's website translated into multiple languages say) is negligible - especially when compared to the cost of maintaining and updating the website in multiple languages.

Sorry, but the evidence clearly shows that David Wrixon  –  Oct 29, 2009 7:54 AM

Sorry, but the evidence clearly shows that you do not know what you are talking about. If it did, would there even be a discussion going on about IP rights at ICANN?

Ah, a discussion at ICANN. And who is fueling the discussion? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 29, 2009 8:04 AM

IP lawyers? Domainers? A very short list of "usual suspect" NGOs? Or, perhaps, the actual industries that are supposed to be buying and deploying these domains?

IP lawyers generally act for large corporates. David Wrixon  –  Oct 29, 2009 8:08 AM

IP lawyers generally act for large corporates. I had to fight Carnival off a bloody name this year, so I think I know what I am talking about. When mega corporations stoop to trying to steal IP, then you know there had to be value there somewhere.

Do I detect some sour grapes here. If generic domains were not valuable. Why would you care anyway?

Sour grapes, no. Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 29, 2009 8:11 AM

Contempt, yes.

Well, at least we are both being David Wrixon  –  Oct 29, 2009 8:17 AM

Well, at least we are both being honest here to a degree, as my motivation is greed. But my justification is that not only am I not hurting anyone, unlike some of the larger corporations, but if I didn't go for that financial gain, somebody else would. However, it is a bit disingenuous to hold people in contempt for making money, but yet at the same time deny that it is actually happening.

inefficiency hurts, and money making w/o creating value is worth of contempt no matter how or wh Ronald A.  –  Nov 3, 2009 11:32 PM

The attempt to shed responsibility "because someone else would do it anyway" is an ethical misstep. We are each individually responsible for our actions. The same sort of thinking was common about littering streets with garbage. Thankfully in that respect in some civilized countries the attitude has changed. However, litter and clutter exist in other domains (pun intended), too. And it wastes people's time. Wasting someone's time is fractional murder, because lost time is irretrievably lost. e.g. Spammers kill people, because they incrementally steal time from a large number of people, which added up amounts for multiple individual lifetimes of productivity, family life, etc. lost. Every two hundred millions sent spam messages cost about one human life. That is a lot of lives each day! The internet makes it easy to hide one's personal responsibility through anonymity or by spreading the social impact thin enough to be superficially hard to detect, but that doesn't undo the damage.

Yes, that's right. Freedom to do what David Wrixon  –  Nov 3, 2009 11:38 PM

Yes, that's right. Freedom to do what you like on the Internet as long as you are large US Corporation with huge budgets piggy backing on the IP of others. How dare you call me a Spammer. You haven't the foggiest idea what you are on about. I play by the rules. ICANN make the rules and the rest of us have to follow them. If you read the rules then you would know what you are talking about.

Read what I write, not what you would love me to say so you can attack me... Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 12:14 AM

I haven't called you a spammer (unless you are one), I said the new domains will increase spam just like any other technology that comes along and hides from the majority of users what's going on, which is why I compared it to HTML e-mail or for that matter the variety of TinyURLs, all of which hide form plain view where the request ends up going. I know perfectly well what I'm talking about, because being among other things responsible for network security, I know how most potential threats these days come in the form of social engineering attacks, where users are tricked into clicking something by providing an innocuous looking link target. While it's already hard enough for most people to distinguish between http://www.paypal.com/some/link and http://www.paypal.com.some.link.that.is.meeeasliding.cn/and/will/empty/your/account/ the situation is getting worse with each level of confusion added. That said, playing by the rules (i.e. being legal) has nothing to do with doing something positive (i.e. being ethical). There are plenty of perfectly legal practices that are ethically abominable. Also, just because something is possible and allowed doesn't mean one has to engage in it, which is why it makes perfect sense to criticize something, even though it's allowed. e.g. it is allowed to drink yourself into oblivion, but that still doesn't mean it's a good practice or that criticizing alcoholism isn't appropriate.

You called me unethical and talked about David Wrixon  –  Nov 4, 2009 9:15 AM

You called me unethical and talked about Spam at the same time the inference was clear and it was libelous. All I have actually done is registered and kept name for five years that the rest of the World like you have said are unnecessary and a complete waste of time and money. Those same people soon will be turning around soon and calling me unethical. The problem is that I don't care too much for the opinions of hypocrites.

Reading beats writing... Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 9:25 AM

I did not call anyone unethical except spammers and time wasters. What I did say is that playing by the rules does not per se mean being ethical, because acting legally and acting ethically are two TOTALLY different things, even though there is some overlap between the two. If the mere fact that I mention this gives you a bad conscience then you're judging yourself. I, however, did at no point accuse you of anything. All I said is what this proposed and now accepted change will mean for users: more spam, more phishing, more confusion between legitimate and impostor sites, more domain squatting, and no real usability improvement. Again, at no point did I accuse any person of doing anything specific. Those who feel targeted by what I wrote, rightly or wrongly so, are their own judges; but make no mistake, it isn't me who said so or made the judgement.

The result of political correctness and domain name speculators is going to be more spam and malware Ronald A.  –  Nov 3, 2009 10:23 PM

It’s simple. Like it or not, there’s no computer user in the world who can’t easily enough type plain ascii. If we get the letter A in ASCI out of our minds, and just look at things like advertisements, product labels, etc. all over the world, there is no way around for a semi-literate person to avoid the 26 characters plus a few digits. And people who use computers shouldn’t be too stupid to learn them.

In ascii an e-mail address, URL, etc. is instantly recognizable as such, but who will know the entire UNICODE set? Who except the relatively few people of any given cultural subset can parse these non-roman characters? So while English and in particular its character set has become the lingua franca of the modern age, now we have a movement of fracturing the world in the name of political correctness, and the result will be plenty of hackers and malware authors who will use the new system to cloak their phishing URLs, virus download links, etc.

As if HTML e-mail weren’t already bad enough, things have to get worse because people supposedly don’t already know how to type in regular URLs and e-mail addresses. None of the changes will avoid them from having to learn it anyway, because most won’t bother translating their e-mail and web addresses into 50 different scripts.

So the users who are supposed to have a benefit have none: they will still have to use “old-style” URLs and e-mail addresses, just now they have more choices to guess for the proper domain name. The domain name registrars will make big business selling the new names ot domain squatters, big business will spend a lot of money to defensively buy a lot of domain names, and criminals have a new attack vector for fraud.

You’re really trying to tell me that it’s worth it?

Sorry but this is utter drivel. Sure David Wrixon  –  Nov 3, 2009 10:35 PM

Sorry but this is utter drivel. Sure they can manage 37 characters, it is the combinations and permutations of those characters that causes a problem. Just as you are not in any case going to be able to read the content you will be prevented from accessing because you don’t have the necessary keyboard or computer skills to get to the IDN site, they are not generally going to be able to read the content they would access using an ASCII URL.

The Internet is already divided into linguistic ghettos. It is totally unavoidable, unless you force everyone to learn English, and has been going on for more than a decade. When Unicode become available for site content Chinese language sites converted on mass in less than two years. Everything went from Pinyin to Chinese Characters in very short order. Only an imbecile would conclude that the same will not happen with URLs.

URL and content are not joined at the hip... Ronald A.  –  Nov 3, 2009 11:19 PM

To conclude that "they are not generally going to be able to read the content they would access using an ASCII URL" is complete nonsense. Many globally acting company offer their web contents in multiple languages. Still, they all use ASCII URLs and they use a common entry point, which is why URLS are hierarchical and not one-shot items. e.g. http://www.apple.com/jp/ http://www.apple.com/us/ http://www.apple.com/de/ http://www.apple.com/uk/ http://www.apple.com/ru/ etc. Provide perfectly localized (to both language and geo-location) contents, yet there's no need for anything other than an GLOBALLY UNDERSTOOD ascii URL to achieve this. Further, any internationally active company in its right mind would not want to have more than one main entry point. Some have pop-up menus to allow the user to pick the language, others have maps, etc. It's easy enough. e.g. http://www.skype.com/ has a pop-up at the bottom of the page where you can pick your language, and cookies will remember that setting for you. Asus solves the matter with a map: http://www.asus.com/ and then has different (virtual?) hosts for each country, thus: http://tw.asus.com/ http://ca.asus.com/ (with a language menu for français and english) http://uk.asus.com/ etc. None of them need to create a big market for domain squatters and a new attack vector for phishers to achieve this. If anything, all these companies have to go and spend money to defensively buy even more domains to prevent impostors from stealing customers private information and business. And guess what they will do? Redirect the new URLs to their existing sites. The user lands precisely where he already goes now. Nothing gained other than needless complication and more domain squatters, spammers, and phishers. Guess for what reasons ISO country codes (or automobile country tags since times before there were computers) are in "ASCII"? Because it's simple enough to be globally understood.

Yes, and just emphasize the point, Apple David Wrixon  –  Nov 3, 2009 11:28 PM

Yes, and just emphasize the point, Apple has just launched the iPhone in China. Do you really think that most people in the World's biggest Mobile market even care? Most of what goes on in China is about Chinese selling to Chinese. Just ask yourself how your would feel if the situation was reverse and you were forced to enter Chinese Glyphs to Twitter?

Have you ever entered Chinese text? Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 12:04 AM

You enter chinese text by typing IN ROMAN CHARACTERS a transliteration of the sound of the chinese glyph. (Pinying), or use some other such method. Similar with Japanese, etc. Besides, ever looked at a "chinese for chinese" web site, blog, BBS, etc? There are plenty of things they write in roman characters, because for many things it's plain more efficient. They do it every day, and it's part of their lives, much like we adoped the ARABIC numerals, or do you want to go back to doing math in roman numerals, because you want to stick to your writing system? The iPhone and wether or not people there care about it, has nothing to do with Apple's web site, but with the fact that Apple is selling a high-end product that through political interference had to be crippled (no WiFi) in a country where disposable income is low, and those with disposable income have easy access to Hong Kong where they can buy the real thing, unlocked.

I am not even sure why we David Wrixon  –  Nov 3, 2009 11:42 PM

I am not even sure why we are having this conversation. ICANN have passed a resolution to put IDN into the Root after a process that has lasted a decade with endless opportunity to participate in the consultation process. After burying your head in the sand for all that time you now cry foul. What the hell is going on here? You have lost the argument by default last month. Get over it!

Why have any discussion at all? Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 12:19 AM

To quote myself from above: "... playing by the rules (i.e. being legal) has nothing to do with doing something positive (i.e. being ethical). There are plenty of perfectly legal practices that are ethically abominable. Also, just because something is possible and allowed doesn't mean one has to engage in it, which is why it makes perfect sense to criticize something, even though it's allowed. e.g. it is allowed to drink yourself into oblivion, but that still doesn't mean it's a good practice or that criticizing alcoholism isn't appropriate." It was fairly clear that this would be passed anyway, because of the way international NGOs work. So the question is not would that change eventually become legal, the question is, should we engage in the practice. I think not.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-31021_3-10389617-260.html5000 iPhones users signed up in 4 David Wrixon  –  Nov 3, 2009 11:51 PM

http://news.cnet.com/8301-31021_3-10389617-260.html 5000 iPhones users signed up in 4 days after launch. Have they any idea how many people there are in China? I believe market penetration for Mobiles is now over 500 Million, so they already have like 0.001%. Very impressive! Must be done to their Website strategies? What do you think?

Do your homework before posting... Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 12:36 AM

Let me see: Average Annual Income (in China)

The average annual income per capita differs enormously between urban and rural areas. For 2003 the urban figure was RMB 8,472 (US$ 1,058) while the same figure for rural areas was RMB 2,622 (US$ 328)
(source: http://www.chinasavvy.com/services/china-facts.php ) Cost of an iPhone crippled due to regulatory interference:
6,999 yuan, or $1,024, for the high-end iPhone 3GS without a service contract. The same handset can be purchased on the gray market in Hong Kong for about $800 [and there it includes WiFi capability] [...] A sticking point for some potential iPhone buyers has been the handset's lack of Wi-Fi. The capability was left out because the Chinese government temporarily banned it in favor of a rival native offering. The ban, however, was relaxed in May, after manufacturing of the new phone began, and China Unicom hopes to have Wi-Fi in the next line of phones released before the end of the year.
(source: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/11/03/china_unicom_gains_5000_iphone_subscribers_from_launch.html ) So let's translate this: you get a crippled product that costs between one and three years worth of salary, which you can buy uncrippled through grey market channels saving you enough money to hire a maid for a year, or you could wait a few months and get for the same money a phone that's not crippled, and you think the abysmal sales have to do with the web site's URL not being in Chinese? Do you have ANY sense of reality? Maybe you should try to sell a $50'000 phone in the US, with a fully localized URL and see if you can sell 1875 of them in a few days to achieve a similar market penetration. If you can't are you going to blame the fact that your URL is not in English? Oh, but it is! Dang!

This just underlines how arrogant the Americans David Wrixon  –  Nov 4, 2009 9:11 AM

This just underlines how arrogant the Americans are. There are two reasons the iPhone has been delayed so long in China. The first is that the technology on the first two versiona was so retro that Apple would just have embarrassed themselves trying to sell something the Chinese would have regarded as being too slow to use. The second is that the Chinese told Apple to get lost when they demanded a Revenue Share.

arrogant or not is not the issue here... Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 10:21 AM

The iPhone price has little to do with arrogance. Even if Apple has 66% profit margin on the phone (and likely it's more like 40%), that would still mean that an unsubsidized phone costs w/o profit the annual income of someone living in rural China, the equivalent of a device with a base cost of $20k being sold to the US public. The reason a revenue share was envisioned was to bring down that entry barrier price to something more manageable, and the reason that was rejected was because China wants to support a variety of local companies, which of course produce much cheaper and less capable hardware. As far as the iPhone being behind the curve in technology, that's a joke. China Unicom just relatively recently rolled out its 3G network, so an iPhone 3G or 3Gs would have been wasted in China not too long ago. The fact that China is the manufacturing hub for most of the world does not say anything about it's own level of technology deployment which is much more depending on what the government feels it can comfortably control and censor. Further China pushes its population to save rather than to consume, because unlike the US it has an economy based on production rather than consumption. If you were talking about Taiwan, it would be a different story; a country truly advance in many ways, but also held back by disposable income, which makes a lot of high-tech produced and even invented there out of reach for the average Taiwanese. Going to Asia helps when making statements about that part of the world...

The original iPhones were not 3G. China David Wrixon  –  Nov 4, 2009 10:26 AM

The original iPhones were not 3G. China was on an intermediate standard when the US was still 2G, and it now in the process of leap frogging the US. US is way behind China in the Phone market. The only reason Apple is so big in the US is the Government supported Motorola really sucks.

I know the original iPhones weren't 3G... Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 10:35 AM

(heck, I own one of the beasts) but the original iPhones weren't a) 2G either, but 2.5G (GPRS is 2G, EDGE is 2.5G) b) intended for much else but the US market and early adopters elsewhere, because By the time Apple truly launched its international efforts the iPhone 3G was on the market, and negotiations with China didn't even near completion until after the iPhone 3Gs was shipping. Besides, the iPhone 3Gs really should be called iPhone 3.5G, because HSDPA/HSUPA is 3.5G, while LTE is 4G, which hopefully will find its way into the next iPhone model due in the middle of next year. I completely agree with the fact that the US cellular market is anything but cutting edge, particularly compared with certain parts of Europe and Asia, but I wouldn't necessarily add mainland China into that lump, because regulation and lack of disposable income holds back a lot of developments there.

I get loads of Chinese Spam due David Wrixon  –  Nov 4, 2009 9:33 AM

I get loads of Chinese Spam due to my registering Chinese character names. The funny thing is that things go noticeably quite on US Bank Holidays. I wonder why that would be?

there are origins of spam, and true origins of spam Ronald A.  –  Nov 4, 2009 10:27 AM

While a lot of spam bots are located in China, that does not mean that the actual spam originates there. Spambots in China are however convenient for spammers because it makes tracking down the culprits and legal action much more difficult. Harvesting domain registration databases for usable e-mail addresses is a long standing issue, one that domain name registrars take advantage of by *charging* people for the privilege to keep their contact info hidden. All you can do is register domains with very specific, traceable e-mail addresses, and apply very stringent filters to mail coming in on these addresses.

China is still the biggest Mobile Phone David Wrixon  –  Nov 4, 2009 10:38 AM

China is still the biggest Mobile Phone market by a big margin. Within 10 years possibly even five China will be the biggest market in the World $20 peasants or otherwise.

Guys, you may be missing the point here... Andrew Mack  –  Nov 16, 2009 8:43 AM

At the risk of walking into what seems like a nicely progressing e-shout, let me remind what prompted the article: 

People who don’t use Latin characters in their everyday writing want IDNs and are asking for them, and have been. 

Now people who want to reach out to and trade with them using the net (as in my Kenya example) are speaking up too, as they get that IDNs – especially IDN gTLDs can help them.

Based on the long line at the open mic in Seoul, this is a pretty big issue for a lot of voices in the ICANN community from all kinds of countries.  (see my blog—Queuing for IDN gTLDs in Seoul at http://amglobal.blogspot.com/).  Maybe just maybe ICANN seems to be listening as well, as the need to address the IDN gTLDs came up in directly in Rod Beckstrom’s speech yesterday here at IGF in Sharm el Sheikh.

Whatever you think of ICANN, large corporates or even spam, the point of the article is that the world wants IDNs – both cc’s and g’s – and for a whole host of economic development, academic and simple equity reasons, we should be pushing ICANN to make this a reality. 

Andrew Mack

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