Despite some current challenges, “Multilingual Internet” can empower local communities –  echo experts at the pre-IIGF event by IIT Gandhinagar

Despite some current challenges, “Multilingual Internet” can empower local communities – echo experts at the pre-IIGF event by IIT Gandhinagar

Emphasising the significance of multilingual internet as a socio-economic tool of empowerment that can give a voice to people in the language of their choice, the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) hosted a pre-event of the India Internet Governance Forum (IIGF) 2022 on December 02, 2022.

The pre-IIGF event enlightened the audience with scholarly talks on less-familiar aspects of internet governance, potential of multilingual internet, and features and challenges of Universal Acceptance (UA) by eminent subject experts from industry and academia.

Talking about “Universal Acceptance and its Coverage”, Dr Ajay Data, Founder & CEO, Data Ingenious Global Limited, introduced audience with the subjects of multilingual internet and UA, and said, “The idea of website domain names and email IDs in local languages and script is generally alien to most people because historically some programmers assumed some rules for internet domains and everyone followed it for a long time, like there will be only three characters after the dot (e.g. - .com), only ASCII (A-Z) characters in top level domain name, only left to right writing method etc. But the fact is, the Domain Name System (DNS) has changed dramatically over the last decade. There are now more than 1,200 active generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and some of these include domains that use non-Latin scripts and are longer than three characters (e.g. - .ไทย, .LONDON, .SPORT). It is possible to create domain names in 22 official Indian languages, which is also approved by The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI). Universal Acceptance is the cornerstone to a digitally inclusive Internet by ensuring all domain names and email addresses – in any language, script, or character length (e.g. - .рф, .PHOTOGRAPHY) – are accepted equally by all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems.”

Explaining the role of web developers in making internet systems UA-ready and what opportunities it can open up at various levels, Dr Data further said, “A strong understanding of UA is the new competitive differentiator every developer should have in their skill set. System administrators can support the next billion Internet users (many of which are non-English speaking) by ensuring that their systems are UA-ready. If we are able to achieve UA, it can open up a plethora of opportunities. Governments can better reach and serve their diverse constituents by being UA-ready. Businesses that are UA-ready will be best positioned to reach growing global audiences and maximise revenue potential from the current Internet population, as well as the next billion. Going by a conservative estimate, the Universal Acceptance of Internet domain names is a $9.8+ billion opportunity.” He also shared some common challenges of UA across the globe that prevent people from leveraging the possibilities of multilingual internet and explained the process for its acceptance.    

Mr Mahesh Kulkarni, Founder CTO, Evaris Systems LLP, delivered a talk on “Universal Acceptance – A Fundamental Requirement for Multilingual Internet”. Highlighting five criteria of UA and its importance, Mr Kulkarni said, “UA is a foundational requirement for a truly multilingual Internet, one in which users around the world can navigate entirely in local languages. Nowadays, domain names have become very crucial because they provide a unique opportunity to create an online identity. To make the Internet more inclusive for communities around the world, domain names are now available in many different languages and scripts. It is also the key to unlocking the potential of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) to foster competition, consumer choice and innovation in the Domain Name industry.”

Elaborating on the nuances and challenges of implementing the goal of multilingual internet with respect to Indian languages, Mr Kulkarni shared, “The multilingual diversity of India brings several challenges in route of achieving multilingual internet and Universal Acceptance, such as one script for many languages and many scripts for one language, there are alternate forms and spellings, varieties and complexities of languages and scripts, and so on. But still, some of these challenges have been addressed. It is possible to create domain names in all 22 Indian languages, including Sanskrit, Urdu, or any other Indian languages.” He also touched upon a few more common challenges in this domain, like websites are not compliant with UA formats and so they do not accept email IDs in Indian languages; homographs and homophones, i.e. similar looking fonts and characters (e.g. “” instead of “”; use of numeric “1” instead of small L “l”) that can be used as visual tricks for cheating people; and single script and multiscript confusable, whole script confusable, bidirectional spoofing, syntax spoofing, which enable phishing attacks, and so on. Mr Kulkarni also explained the Indian Domain Name Policy to address these challenges and stages of UA compliance.

In the end, Prof Rajat Moona, Director, IITGN, and a leading Computer Scientist, discussed “Empowering Local Communities through Internet and Vernacular Language” and how multilingual internet can augment country and local community’s growth journey in various ways. Sharing an anecdote about how a Hariyanvi taxi driver could easily find map-based navigation using voice-enabled search, Prof Moona said, “Indian languages are largely phonetic in nature and not pictorial, most of them are written the way they are spoken. So, speech input, if done phonetically gives accurate results. With increased use of smartphones, people have realised the strength of spoken words and this can be multiplied to empower people in using the internet in their languages. It can open up a plethora of possibilities for people and prove to be a powerful mechanism to do things, business online in this way. Even vegetable sellers, autorickshaw drivers, small shop owners etc. can benefit from this inclusive network.”

Concluding his talk, Prof Moona said, “The current challenges can be solved with certain kinds of standardisations, but what empowerment and confidence a person and our community can gain might be one of the most enabling factors of multilingual internet. I wish Indian language-based content will become much more popular in future for the empowerment of people.”