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Universal Acceptance – making the internet work for everyone [Guest Post]

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2021, Domain Tech

Editor’s note: this is a guest post written by Aman Masjide, head of compliance at new gTLD registry Radix.

Back in 2014, to foster innovation and to better the choice in domain names, ICANN introduced new generic top-level domains through its New gTLD Program. It was a monumental move that enabled businesses, individuals, and communities across the globe to mark their presence on the internet.

Allowing users to be present digitally in their chosen language (non-ASCII characters and scripts) gave opportunities to local businesses, civil societies, and governments to better serve their communities.

Analysys Mason conservatively estimates that there is scope of $9.8 billion growth in potential revenue from both; existing users who are using new domain names and from new internet users coming online through Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

To achieve this, Universal Acceptance of new gTLDs and IDNs is critical in making the Internet more accessible to the next billion users. Founded in February 2015, the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) undertakes activities to promote Universal Acceptance of all valid domain names and email addresses.

Through its ambassadorship and local Initiative programs, UASG promotes Universal Acceptance globally. Their efforts are divided and executed through five working groups that include:

  • Technology Working Group
  • Email Address Internationalization Working Group
  • Communications Working Group
  • Measurement Working Group
  • Local Initiatives Working Group

Before we get into the acceptance of new domain extensions (nTLDs), we must first understand what acceptance means and how it’s measured.

The Universal Acceptance Steering Group’s mission sums up acceptance in one short statement: “All domain names and all email addresses work in all software applications.”

While this is a simple understanding of the concept, for an end user of an nTLD, this statement further branches out into multiple questions such as:

  • Will my domain name work on all platforms/applications–online or offline?
  • Will my email address on a new domain extension get accepted on all websites/platforms and pass all the validation tests?
  • Will my emails on new domain extensions, once accepted, stop going into the junk folder?
  • Will I be able to use all the features of a website/platform irrespective of my domain extensions? For example, will a social media platform accept a new domain extension in the bio, comments, posts, messenger, etc, and process it exactly like any other legacy TLD?

The Universal Acceptance (UA) of all domain names and email addresses requires that every piece of software is able to accept, validate, process, store, and display them correctly and consistently.

As a new domains registry, it was critical for us to understand what the gaps were and how to close them so that the internet operates the same for nTLD users as it does for the legacy TLD users.

Initial research concluded that UA readiness issues occur when applications are not able to handle the following categories of a domains name or email addresses:

Domain Names

  • New short top-level domain names: example.fun, example.site
  • New long top-level domain names: example.berlin, example.space
  • Internationalized Domain Names: παράδειγμα.ευ

Email Addresses

  • ASCII@ASCII; new short or long TLD: ekrem@misal.istanbul
  • ASCII@IDN: john@société.org
  • Unicode@ASCII: 测试@example.com
  • Unicode@IDN: ईमेल@उदाहरण.भारत
  • Unicode@IDN; right to left scripts: لیم@لاثم.عقوم ای

For Universal Acceptance to succeed, it needs to be examined holistically.

Over the years, UASG working group members have conducted several gap analysis on programming languages and frameworks, networking command-line tools, web browsers, websites, and have made great strides in acceptance of new domain extensions.

According to UASG’s FY 2020 report, tests conducted on top websites showed that

  • The acceptance rate of emails on short nTLDs has increased from 91% in 2017 to 98.3% in 2020.
  • The acceptance rate of emails on long nTLDs has increased from 78% in 2017 to 84.8% in 2020.

table

Note: The table above compares the 2020 results to the earlier 2017 and 2019 testing results.

Two important caveats should be remembered in this case:

  • Different email addresses were tested (but they were of the same type).
  • The websites tested in 2020 were different from previous ones as they were the 50 most popular in the 20 countries rather than the 1,000 most popular globally.

However, these results may still be used to compare overall trends.

Universal Acceptance Readiness Report 2020 (pdf) also segregated test websites as per different categories such as eCommerce, government, education, etc and the results were promising.

table

Such studies help UASG ambassadors and advocates to identify and focus on websites of a specific category that require immediate attention. We conducted a similar study at Radix where we analysed top websites belonging to different categories. These were the results (click to enlarge):

table

While the acceptance rates for new short and new long cases is more than 80% under most categories, we see a drastic dip when a domain is on an IDN TLD. Such comparisons highlight problem areas and provide direction to ambassadors and members who are advocating for Universal Acceptance.

Radix’s contribution to UASG

UA is something that affects nTLD users the most. This is why it’s crucial to focus on the feedback that we receive from them. At Radix, we work closely with our users to ensure we have the first hand information on any UA related issues faced by the customer.

The feedback could be about linkification, validation or acceptance of emails on nTLDs on different websites and platforms. Radix also actively invests its resources in gap analysis by testing various websites and social media platforms. We are also part of the ambassadorship program promoting and supporting local and global UA initiatives.

Here are some of the UASG initiatives that Radix is part of:

At Radix, our objective is to ensure that nTLDs are accepted across websites and platforms. To achieve this, we actively work with UASG and share as many issues and gaps noticed and reported by customers.

Contribution by other registries

A key objective for most registries is to ensure great customer experience when it comes to their nTLDs and I’ve always admired it when registry operators have actively taken initiative and participated in the five UASG groups mentioned above.

One of the ways to do this is to capture all the queries and complaints reported by their customers/registrar partners and share it with UASG. This will help their support team direct their resources in solving the problems and encouraging those websites to become UA compliant.

Contribution by registrars

When it comes to UA-related issues, registrars are the first in chain to receive a complaint or feedback from the user. Therefore, it’s crucial that their support teams have all the necessary information needed on how to best handle such complaints.

For now, they can:

  • Inform the customer about the potential UA issue and raise a request on behalf of the customer with UASG. Issues can be logged at – https://uasg.tech/global-support-center/
  • Report these instances to the Registry Operator so that they can connect and follow up with UASG.
  • Join any of the five working groups and participate.

The path ahead

The UASG is consistently compiling and sharing all the important information needed for organizations and developers to become UA ready. This is not only about ensuring the readiness of a system to accept certain TLDs or emails, but also about realising the full potential of an organization by connecting with people and businesses that might not be even on it’s radar.

Every successful step taken by an organization towards UA readiness is also a step towards equality and inclusiveness on the internet.

Guest poster Aman Masjide leads compliance and abuse mitigation at Radix.

Data beats Merdinger to head universal acceptance group

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2019, Domain Policy

Email entrepreneur and internationalized domain name expert Ajay Data has been named as the new chair of the group that is struggling to promote the universal acceptance of top-level domains across the internet.

Data, who replaces Afilias COO Ram Mohan after a four-year term, beat GoDaddy’s VP of domains Rich Merdinger in a secret ballot of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group this week.

The number of votes each candidate received were not disclosed.

India-based Data is founder and CEO of Xgenplus, a developer of enterprise email servers with a focus on support for non-Latin scripts and internationalized domain names.

He’s been intimately involved in all things IDN for many years.

The UASG is an independent group, which receives funding from ICANN, dedicated to reaching out to software and web site developers to ensure their systems can support domain names in all scripts, including IDNs, as well as raise awareness of new gTLDs.

New gTLDs still a crappy choice for email — study

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2017, Domain Tech

New gTLDs may not be the best choice of domain for a primary email address, judging by new research.

Over 20% of the most-popular web sites do not fully understand email addresses containing long TLDs, and Arabic email addresses are supported by fewer than one in 10 sites, a study by the Universal Acceptance Steering Group has found.

Twitter, IBM and the Financial Times are among those sites highlighted as having only partial support for today’s wide variety of possible email addresses.

Only 7% of the sites tested were able to support all types of email address.

The study, carried out by Donuts and ICANN staff, looked at 749 websites (in the top 1,000 or so as ranked by Alexa) that have forms for filling in email addresses.

On each site, seven different email addresses were input, to see whether the site would accept them as valid.

The emails used different combinations of ASCII and Unicode before the dot and mixes of internationalized domain name and ASCII at the second and top levels.

These were the results (click to enlarge or download the PDF of the report here):

IDN emails

The problem with these numbers, it seems to me, is the lack of a control. There’s no real baseline to judge the numbers against.

There’s no mention in the paper about testing addresses that use .com or decades-old ccTLDs, which would have highlighted web sites that with broken scripts that reject all emails.

But if we assume, as the paper appears to, that all the tested web sites were 100% compliant for .com domains, the scores for new gTLDs are not great.

There are currently over 800 TLDs over four characters in length, but according to the UASG research 22% of web sites will not recognize them.

There are 150 IDN TLDs, but a maximum of 30% of sites will accept them in email addresses.

When it comes to right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic, the vast majority of sites are totally hopeless.

UASG dug into the code of the tested sites when it could and found that most of them use client-side code — JavaScript processing a regular expression — to verify addresses.

A regular expression is complex bit of code that can look something like this: /^.+@(?:[^.]+\.)+(?:[^.]{2,})$

It’s not every coder’s cup of tea, but it can get the job done with minimal client-side resource overheads. Most coders, the UASG concludes, copy regex they found on a forum and maybe tweak it a bit.

This should not be shocking news to anyone. I’ve known about it since 2009 or earlier when I first started ripping code from StackOverflow.

However, the UASG seems to be have been working on the assumption that more sites are using off-the-shelf software libraries, which would have allowed the problem to be fixed in a more centralized fashion.

It concludes in its paper that much greater “awareness raising” needs to happen before universal acceptance comes closer to reality.

Companies losing $10 BILLION by ignoring new gTLDs — report

Kevin Murphy, April 11, 2017, Domain Registries

The world economy is “conservatively” losing out on almost $10 billion of annual revenue due to a lack of support for new gTLDs and internationalized domain names, according to an ICANN-commissioned research report.

The report, conducted by Analysys Mason for the semi-independent Universal Acceptance Steering Group, calculated that patchy new gTLD support means $3.6 billion of activity is lost, with lack of IDN support costing $6.2 billion.

Despite “new” gTLDs being around for a decade and a half, there are still plenty of web sites and apps that incorrectly assume that all TLDs are either two or three characters. Others don’t support non-Latin scripts.

This leads to internet users abandoning transactions, the report says, when their email addresses are rejected as invalid.

Mason calculated the $3.6 billion number by multiplying the estimated number of email addresses using new gTLD domains (152 million) by the estimated average annual revenue generated per email address ($360), then calculating what portion of these transactions cannot happen due to incomplete TLD support.

Earlier research by .CLUB Domains suggests that 13% of sites do not support new gTLDs, so that’s the number Mason used. The researchers then cut the number in half, to account for the 50% of people it reckons would simply switch to an email address in a legacy TLD name.

That gets you to $3.6 billion of potential revenue lost for want of gTLD support.

Another, more cynical way to spin this would be to say that new gTLDs are causing $3.6 billion of economic damage. After all, if everyone were to use legacy TLDs there would be no problem.

For the IDN number, Mason calculated how many users of five major language groups (Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Indian languages) are not currently online, then estimated how much revenue would be generated if just 5% of these users (17 million people) were persuaded online by the existences of IDN TLDs.

The report was commissioned in order to raise awareness of the financial benefits of universal acceptance.

The UASG has spent most of its efforts so far focusing on UA as a “bug fix” to be communicated to engineers, so the report is intended to broaden its message to catch the attention of the money people too.

The report, which goes into much more detail about how the numbers were arrived at, can be downloaded here.

Group forms to stop new gTLDs breaking stuff

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2015, Domain Tech

A little over a year into the live phase of the new gTLD program, a group of domain industry companies are getting together to make sure the expansion is supported across the whole internet.

A new Universal Acceptance Steering Group has formed, with the support of ICANN and the Domain Name Association, to help fix many of the compatibility problems facing new gTLD registrants today.

“The basic problem is that these new types of domains and email addresses just break stuff,” Google’s Brent London said during a UASG meeting at the ICANN meeting in Singapore last week.

“You try to use an internationalized domain or a long new gTLD, or even a short new gTLD, or certainly an internationalized email address and you’re likely to run into problems,” he said. “What we’re doing is going around asking developers to make their products work.”

Universal acceptance is a long-understood problem. Even 15 years after the approval of .info there are still web sites that validate email addresses by ensuring the TLD is no longer than three characters in length.

But the 2012 new gTLD round has brought the issue into sharper focus, particularly given the introduction of internationalized domain names, IDNs, which use non-Latin scripts.

Over the last year we’ve seen scattered examples of popular software — including browsers, instant messaging and social media apps — not recognizing new gTLD domains as domains. The problems I’ve seen are usually fixed quite quickly.

While I’ve not seen any deal-breakers that would prevent me registering a new gTLD domain, I gather that IDN email addresses are often basically unusable, due to the chain of dependencies involved in sending an email.

In my experience as a programmer, supporting all TLDs is not a particularly challenging problem when you’re coding something afresh.

However, when bad practices have been coded in to large, sprawling, interdependent systems over decades, it could be likened to the Y2K problem — the so-called Millennium Bug that caused developer headaches worldwide at the end of the last century.

There’s also a tonne of bad advice on the web, with coders telling other coders to validate domains in ways that do not support an expanding root.

UASG members think the problem is large-scale and that it’s a long-term project — 10 years or more — to fix it satisfactorily.

Members include Donuts, Google, Microsoft, Go Daddy and Afilias.

The DNA has started creating a repository of information for developers, with the aim of describing the problem in plain English and providing code samples. Along with other UASG members, there’s a plan to conduct outreach to make more people aware of the acceptance issue.

You can check out the repository in its unfinished state here.

ICANN is getting involved in a coordination role. After the UASG’s inaugural meeting in Washington DC a few weeks ago, ICANN hosted a session during ICANN 52.

It’s also hosting a mailing list and the group’s first conference call, which will take place tomorrow at 1600 UTC.