The introduction of hundreds of new gTLDs is going to have a major impact on the internet. But none more so than the launch of شبكة. (.shabaka, which translates to .web in English).
The impact of .shabaka across the Middle East and North Africa is going to be huge with Arabic speakers online, and in particular those who have never experienced a Latin language such as English.
Trying to type a web address in itself is difficult. And if you know no English or any other Latin-based language, the characters themselves may be meaningless. For internet users from western countries with no experience with Arabic or one of the Asian languages, for example, try typing on a keyboard for one of those languages. So now imagine seeing an advertisement in Arabic. The accompanying domain name might be meaningless if the internet user is not familiar with a Latin-based language.
Not only will a fully Arabic TLD allow Arabic speaking users access to email addresses and websites entirely in their own language, .shabaka will be a TLD that speaks for the entire Arabic-speaking world. More or less the equivalent of an Arabic .com.
"Arabic language internet users have been second class internet users for a long time," said Yasmin Omer, General Manager of the dotShabaka Registry. "We now believe .shabaka gives Arabic internet users what they need to facilitate easier internet access. The huge growth in Arabic internet content has been sadly held back due to the lack of Arabic language domain names. Any question we wait any longer is insulting. Why should they wait any longer?"
The launch of .shabaka also comes at an opportune time where the Arabic world is growing in size and importance. Further, countries such as the United Arab Emirates are pushing to reinstate Arabic as the dominant language.
Arabic is the fifth most spoken language across the globe with 380 million speakers across the Middle East and North Africa and is one of only three languages that cut across many countries – the others being English and Spanish. It is also the fastest growing language online, growing 2,500 percent in the ten years to 2011.
So the potential for .shabaka is enormous. It is "almost the perfect time to launch" said Omer. And the "reception has been fantastic" from within Arabic countries. "Owning a .shabaka domain name is investing into an Arabic internet and we would expect to see the proudest Arabic brands take the first step, those that really want to make a difference."
And this potential has the support of the world's largest registrar GoDaddy. Earlier this year GoDaddy partnered with dotShabaka and they will be a key partner in helping to promote the TLD. GoDaddy’s support is also important as registrars have expressed reservations about selling domains for the hundreds of new TLDs that are expected to become available for business and people over the next couple of years.
The registry has commenced the Sunrise period for the TLD on 31 October for 60 days, however there are only around two dozen Arabic labels that have registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse, meaning there will be few Sunrise registrations.
Following on from the Sunrise, dotShabaka has engaged partners and ambassadors from across the region to help with promotion, and they are keen to recruit more. Launch partners and ambassadors will be given priority during the launch phase and become pioneers of the cause. General availability is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2014.
Written by David Goldstein, Online Researcher and Consultant.