Maria Kolesnikova is Chief Analyst at the Russian ccTLD registry, Coordination Center for TLD.RU. She spoke to the World Report team about her role as Chair of a local initiative to promote Universal Acceptance of IDNs among countries that use Cyrillic Script.
Q: Maria, you are chair of the local initiative from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and eastern European countries. How many countries, and what kind of stakeholders are involved in the initiative? When was it established and what are its aims?
Maria: Yes, I am very honoured to be a chair of the UASG CIS-EE Local initiative, representing its regional UA related activities, the unique local experience of our members and coordinating its operational work. At the moment our Local initiative has gathered local experts from seven countries (Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine). Of course, we are open for and welcome new members from other countries of the region who are ready to actively participate in new gTLD, IDN and Email Address Internationalisation (EAI) promotion. Our current membership is mostly represented by specialists from TLD registries, accredited registrars and IT companies including policy, technical and marketing persons. The Regional Coordination Group on Universal Acceptance of CIS and Eastern European countries was set up as a Local Initiative as a result of round table discussions on IDN/EAI issues held on 7th of April, 2019 in Moscow. Our first members, ccTLD and IDN TLD registries, have decided to combine their expertise, best practices and capabilities to force UA Readiness and adoption across the region.
Q: Russia has long been one of the leading countries for IDN registrations (for example under РФ). I understand that the РФ domains are quite widely used in advertising hoardings in Russia because they are meaningful and memorable to people – is this correct? How do businesses and other registrants of РФ domains cope with universal acceptance limitations?
That is absolutely correct. Cyrillic domain names in .РФ are very popular in Russia and among Russian speaking users. They are widely used for advertising and marketing campaigns, branding of state and commercial, big and small companies and their products, as they make it easier to reach and communicate with customers. This is particularly noticeable during the current COVID-19 crisis. There were launched several online projects to help Russian citizens to monitor official announcements and news, to support people during their lockdown at home, to provide aggregated educational and entertainment materials, medical advices and logistic help. All these projects were addressed with Cyrillic domains in .РФ (стопкороновирус.рф or мывместе2020.рф) or other ones like .OHЛАЙН (все.онлайн). Not surprisingly, other recent “stopcoronavirus” local online initiatives like #лучшедома campaign or even TV shows were named in Russian as well.
The situation with IDN support is much better now than it was 10 years ago, of course. This year .РФ will celebrate its 10th anniversary and we see that IDNs are properly used in most browsers, popular messengers, social networks, e-government services, etc. But there are still some unsolved issues. For example, Facebook is one of the most popular social networks in Russia and other CIS regions but still you cannot properly post or comment URLs with IDN domain names. These URLs will be displayed in Punycode (“xn–form.xn–form”). When people see such links to any internet resource, they won’t click it as it looks like a virus or a mistake. For this reason, IDN domain holders are forced to adopt workarounds, like making pictures with IDNs or writing them as plain text. But still it prevents their followers from using IDNs in a convenient way.
Another question is Email Address Internationalisation or EAI support. This UA-related issue is well known in Russia and other countries where IDN TLDs are delegated and used. Everyone knows that mailboxes with symbols of national languages don’t technically work. But this is a myth now and technical solutions exist! You already can use EAI mailboxes. For example, in Microsoft and Google mail services and some other email software solutions this functionality is supported. So the main issue here is to continue to raise awareness and explain to system administrators or developers how to modify, change settings or update email software so that it becomes UA-ready.
Q: You recently ran a technical training session for email administrators. What level of awareness would you say there was of the universal acceptance issues among that group? What kind of experiences are people reporting about use of EAI in the region?
The EAI training session that you mentioned was held in Armenia in December 2019. It was organised by Armenian members of our Local Initiative for technical staff of local registrars and hosting providers. The main aim was to explain what needs to be done within a company which maintains its own corporate mail server. Even though the technical level of the audience was high, it was still necessary to start by explaining what Universal Acceptance is. The challenge is that UA scope includes not only IDN and EAI issues but also new gTLD things like existing of Latin TLDs with more than 3 symbols length. So, Ram Mohan’s three rules of TLD acceptance are still relevant.
Another issue that is often overlooked in UA discussions is the use of the dot ‘.’ It is an integral part of how the domain name system works, but not every script has a dot. Armenian script is an example. To type an Armenian script second level IDN, you need to switch to Latin script for the dot symbol. There also were discussed some other issues related to the locally popular email software and their UA settings, as well as the lack of support in Facebook for unicode display of IDNs.
Q: Many of the most popular social media platforms still provide poor support for IDNs. You recently made contact with Facebook about these issues. What was the response and how will you be following up?
As yet, we have had no response from Facebook. But we believe for such an internationally diverse and professional developer team as Facebook has, it should not be an issue at all. Meanwhile, if this bothers you too, you can always open a ticket on your personal page on Facebook and share what you think about Punycode links.
Q: Tell us about the education portal on universal acceptance? When will it be launched, and can you give us any details about your target audiences or key messages?
“Поддерживаю.РФ” is a new project started by Coordination Center for .RU/.РФ for Cyrillic IDNs and EAI support, launched in April 2020. Its primary target audiences are software developers, email administrators and service providers, but there will be also information on UA useful for broader audience. After the launch, we will continue to keep it updated with new appropriate to UA topic materials. The portal is in the Russian language.
The project’s portal presents data on open source software popular in Russia and its level of IDN/EAI support. We invite developers to take part and improve the listed software to make it UA-Ready. For the participants, we provide bug tracking and consult on IDN/EAI deployment. For developers or system administrators who already have experience in UA deployment, we encourage them to share it with the project’s audience. This is in short what we are working at now.
Emily Taylor is the CEO of Oxford Information Labs. She is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and is the Editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy and co-founder of ICANN accredited registrar, Oxford Information Labs.
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