Report from the Internet Governance Forum 2016

The IDN World Report website was launched at the Internet Governance Forum 2016 (IGF) in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Workshop 19, ‘Enhancing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Cyberspace’ was moderated by EURid’s Giovanni Seppia and featured speakers from UNESCO, Verisign, the European Commission, ICANN, Global Voices, Google, Analysys Mason and many more.  There was lively interaction with the audience, both in the room and via remote participation.

Internationalised Domain Names

Emily Taylor, the lead author of the IDN World Report presented an overview of the findings for 2016. As of December 2015, there were 6.8 million IDNs. Despite growth of 8% since 2014, only 2% of the world’s domain names are IDNs. Web content is more linguistically diverse with IDNs, and the distribution of IDN scripts geographically maps to the languages spoken throughout the world.  Universal acceptance remains a key challenge.  Without it, IDN uptake will remain inhibited.

Wafa Dahmani and Manal Ismail spoke about their experiences in implementing IDNs in Tunisia and Egypt.  Both spoke about the lack of universal acceptance as possible explanation for why uptake so far had been lower than expected. Dahmani highlighted the need to raise user awareness, and Ismail described the weakness of local domain name industries.

Peter van Roste of CENTR spoke about the situation in Europe, where there was a great deal of multilingual content, but uptake of IDNs had so far been low.  He explained that for many European languages which use Latin script, IDNs are ‘not seen as a necessity, but more of a nice to have.’  van Roste also noted the lack of universal acceptance as an inhibitor.

ICANN’s Baher Esmat elaborated on universal acceptance, and introduced the work of ICANN’s Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), which brings together stakeholders to help drive the essential work of improving universal acceptance.  The UASG is working on outreach, documentation, and measurement.

Verisign’s Keith Drazek highlighted launches of .com IDN equivalents in Japanese and Korean.  He commended the work that ICANN is doing to enhance universal acceptance.  He noted that ‘there are real challenges still with availability, awareness, promotion, and importantly usability of IDN strings.’  Verisign is committed to continuing to support the IDN World Report and is engaging directly with the UASG.

Enhancing cultural and linguistic diversity in cyberspace

UNESCO’s Indrajit Bannerjee predicted that of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, 50% will disappear by the end of the century.  UNESCO is one of the partners of the IDN World Report.  Bannerjee described numerous initiatives that UNESCO is engaged in to promote cultural and linguistic diversity, including language learning and language preservation.  UNESCO’s Recommendation on Multilingualism in Cyberspace encourages governments to take urgent action to ensure that languages thrive on the Internet.  In discussions with the audience, Bannerjee also highlighted the lack of locally relevant, multilingual web content.  Once that exists ‘I’m sure the access will take a dramatic turn’.

Google’s Marcel Leonardi showcased two projects that aim to encourage diversity in cultural and linguistic expression.  The first is the Google Cultural Institute which provide more than 6 million high resolution images of more than 400,000 works of art from 70 countries. “It digitises all the content free of charge…for the preservation for future generations.”  The second example relates to YouTube. Brazil is the second largest consumer of YouTube videos, but is not as active in content creation.  African Brazilians were experiencing harassment and attacks on social media when they produced content. Google’s Creators for Change, working with the NGO Midia Etnica showcases the importance of fostering cultural diversity within a specific country.

Michael Kende of Analysys Mason, and former Chief Economist with the Internet Society, shared findings from his recent paper (co-authored with Bastiaan Quast) ‘Promoting Content in Africa’.  The paper shows that none of the major advertising platforms support any Sub-Saharan African languages.  So, content creators from Sub-Saharan Africa have to advertise their sites in English. However, the advertising platform does not allow mixing of languages – you have to advertise in the same language as your web content.  The effect is that content creators cannot advertise in any local languages.  The authors flagged that to the company and they are starting to think about it. A separate study by Bastiaan Quast demonstrates that when Google began to support the language Setswana in its search engine, the impact was felt in South Africa: computer ownership went up, the usage of local language went up and even employment went up.

Eddie Avila of Global Voices highlighted their work with young, indigenous internet users across Latin America who are taking advantage of the Internet and digital tools to promote and revitalise their language online.

There was interaction with the audience, and numerous questions throughout. Audience members contributed on topics relating to IDNs, including highlighting the need for email address internationalisation, ensuring that post-fix and sendmail servers could handle IDN email addresses, and the work that EURid is doing to make .eu available in all 24 official languages of the EU.

Further resources:

Full transcript (corrected).

Video (produced by IGF).

Official report of Workshop 19, IGF 2016