Internationalised Domain Names began to be launched at the second level from 2000, with the gTLDs .com and .net. Countries and territories from Asia and the Pacific were among the first ccTLDs to launch, including Japan, China and Taiwan of China (2000–2002).
The first EU countries to launch IDNs (at the second level) were Poland (.pl) and Sweden (.se) in 2003, followed by a wave of launches in 2004 and 2005 that included Austria, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Greece and Portugal along with several others from the European Economic Area.
The EU has more than a decade’s experience of managing IDN. Because the majority of EU languages use Latin script, it is natural that the majority of ccTLDs have opted
to implement IDNs at the second level rather than IDN ccTLDs. The exceptions are Bulgaria and Greece, which use Cyrillic and Greek script respectively, and have applied for бг and ελ via the IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process (see below).
The dominance of Latin script languages in the region could potentially depress uptake for IDNs, as the majority of EU Internet users would be able to decipher traditional ASCII domain names, which are not subject to universal acceptance issues. In practice, though, there is relatively high uptake of IDNs compared with other world regions.
In 2014, 34%, (or 2 million) of the world’s IDNs were in ccTLDs in Europe and North America, second only to Asia and the Pacific (2.4 million). Whereas the relative market share of Asia and the Pacific has increased over time, the proportion of IDNs from Europe has remained fairly constant since 2011.
Factors from the IDN Readiness Matrix may help to explain this – the maturity of domain name markets in the EU, high Internet adoption, low prices, and the strength of languages spoken within member states. Many of the ccTLDs in the EU launched IDNs more than a decade ago, giving time for the market to become accustomed to the domains.
Within the UNESCO region of Europe and North America, the relative market shares have remained fairly stable over time, with the two largest IDN spaces (the Russian Federation, .рф – 840 000 – at the top level, and Germany, .de – 630 000 – at the second level) roughly equal to all the others put together.
Over the past 12 months, the only major shift in market share is under .pt (Portugal), where IDNs have increased by 560% from 9 000 to 62 000. The registry has launched an initiative called “On the Spot Firm” whereby the registry automatically creates a domain name on the day a company in Portugal is constituted. The domain name reflects the registered name of the company, and that is why so many of the new domains are IDNs, because the underlying company names have characters associated with Portuguese language.
Previously published in World Report on Internationalised Domain Names, 2015