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Will Chinese IDN domains become widely used?

So far, Chinese IDN top level domains have struggled.

Image of lanterns with the words "Chinese IDNs"

Just a few days ago the Internet Society of China announced the formation of a working group to promote the use of Chinese domains. Is it the trigger we need to see Chinese IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) flourish?

As the organization is supported by the Ministry of Information Industry, this also suggests a strong desire from the Chinese government to see the widespread use of Chinese domains. The working group aims to resolve technical issues so that Chinese domains can work nicely with browsers, email systems, search engines, and other aspects of the internet. It will also promote innovation and application of Chinese domains to enable their popular use.

Let’s look at the current situation. Below is a list of Chinese IDN top level domains with registrations of more than 1,000. The data is taken from Namestat.org.

Ranking Extension Domains Registered
23 .网址 (web address) 176,133
60 .公司 (company) 37,364
66 .手机 (mobile phone) 32,741
80 .商标 (trademark) 27,498
81 .在线 (online) 27,375
104 .商城 (mall) 21,700
140 .我爱你 (i love you) 15,979
297 .网店 (web shop) 4,706
356 .中文网 (Chinese web) 2,917
372 .集团 (group) 2,560
383 .信息 (information) 2,349
387 .购物 (shopping) 2,310
410 .企业 (corporation) 1,794
447 .移动 (mobile) 1,046

As you can see, the numbers are quite dismal. For example, No. 1 .网址 (web address) was launched in 2014. It peaked at 380,000 domains and then remained stagnant at about 200,000. Currently, it sits at 176,000. No. 2 .公司 (company) was also launched in 2014. It grew to 53,000 and has remained stagnant over the years. Currently, it sits at 37,000.

Apart from these new extensions, there is also a Chinese IDN extension which has been available since 2006: .中国 (.china). For many years, this IDN extension never exceeded 500,000 registrations. Then, it suddenly shot up to 1.9 million in 2018 then down to 1.8 million last year. The cause of this surge is unknown and so further observation is required.

Consumers may prefer Chinese content on corporate websites but do not necessarily demand the corresponding domains to be in Chinese characters. This is evident in the 2019 Top 100 Chinese Internet Companies Report where none of the leading companies use a Chinese IDN as their corporate domain.

So, Chinese IDN domains are still tiny when compared with mainstream extensions .com and .cn. Their impacts are yet to be felt.

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  1. Charles says

    Thank you Kassey.

    I feel this goes back to an unanswered question I had asked in one of your other posts. The cause and effect of Chinese companies chosing to use non-native domains, english character set or otherwise, or not.

    It might even be worth pointing out possible protectionism of .ORG and .COM price cap removal and this helping their TLD base grow as the US Gov has done in the past using ICANN as a tool for .COM and .ORG.

    Recall it was China’s root split of “.COM” and “.NET” that finally got ICANN to address IDN’s, and now we have them. Is was a significant kick to ICANN’s pants to address this issue, and they did jump to it!

      • Kassey Lee says

        Hi Charles, you are a very knowledgeable person and definitely you know more about the IDN issue than I do. What I do know is that theory and reality sometimes do not match. Theoretically, Chinese character-based domains should be best for Chinese consumers. As mentioned in this article, .china (IDN) was launched in 2006 but over the years the response was terrible (except the last two years for reason I don’t know yet).

        In terms of input, Pinyin is much faster and easier to enter than Chinese characters which require conversion from Pinyin anyway. For example, this is what I get when I enter Amazon.company in Chinese: 亚马逊。公司. It does not resolve. I have to switch keyboard (input method to be exact) and replace the Chinese period (。) with ASCII period (.) to get 亚马逊.公司 then it resolves. So, why bother with conversion if you can just enter Pinyin yamaxun.cn (“amazon”) directly and get the job done.

        • Charles says

          >except the last two years for
          >reason I don’t know yet

          There might be your answer.

          “Nothing new under the sun”
          – Solomon

          The “internet” is no different than the Library of Alexandria which was the internet of its time. And both are the same as a tribal Shaman who ALWAYS TRUTHFULLY answer any question you asked .. They just don’t tell you what you should ask.

          Each country has commerce it wants to foster and protect, no matter the tool it uses to do that. Its been that when since the beginning of humanity.

          Here is another application of that Solomon quote. Do you know why Native Americans have no written language? You’ll likely not find it on the internet. I have two native american friends who don’t know each other and are from different tribes, the first one told me and when I checked it with the second he was stunned that I knew the answer.

          When issues of great division came up, the tribe would split. They would then discard their previous language and discard all oral knowledge and history of their previous tribe (totally wiped from history). If you have a written language you can’t do that … We call writing “history” and ignore time without it, in this context native amercians see writing as a restraint / burden.

          China is an ancient culture, their leaders know the roll of language. That they are now trying to promote their TLDs may be about the tool of language not IDN’s.

          Something I just realized we’ve not talked about. In poor countries, how much is a 10% .ORG price increase to them? We’re spoiled, some in other countries will be far more hurt by .COM and .ORG price cap removal than we in the US will. That will likely also push ccTLD and IDN usage in those countries as they try to protect their commerce. So others may well soon try to support use of their ccTLDs and IDNs, lets watch and see …

          With concern for making people mad with a politcal statement, Trump has worked hard to bring back jobs that were sent to China. Its hurt them, but helps them as they stop relying on us for their money, and we rely less on them for their goods. It forces them to build their internal economy independent of us. Part of that might express as IDN domain registrations as well.

          I always thought the staggering delay of ICANN to release IDNs had to be intentional to retard economic growth outside the US. Which is why so many countries implemented root splitting to deal with ICANN’s rejecting their needs. But China was too much for ICANN to toy with, they HAD to follow China’s request and implement IDN’s.

          The power of language.

          • Kassey Lee says

            I won’t be surprised to see the internet in the future becoming a loose network of national intranets for the purpose of sovereign control. Then, country extensions become paramount.

  2. Rubens Kuhl says

    While I like the idea of local language scripts, one thing that has to be reckoned is that it doesn’t serve much as mechanism to interact with countries / regions with other languages. So if you are setting a Chinese website focused on Chinese people, it could be on an IDN ; but if you want to send/receive e-mail with purchase orders, ASCII is your best choice. That’s why – I believe – Japanese, even though having a majority of non-English speakers, prefer ASCII domains.

    • Kassey Lee says

      Rubens, I look at this issue from the perspective of a consumer. Entering Japanese or Chinese characters into the browser address bar requires conversion from ascii to Kanji/-Kana/Chinese characters. In other words, I’ll type Romanji or Pinyin and then hit the convert/select key to get the Japanese/Chinese characters. I also need to switch the keyboard (input method) to enter the dot (.). Entering ascii characters saves that tedious step and is much faster. Therefore, I don’t see Japanese and Chinese IDN domains becoming very popular until the input method can be simplified. After all, the internet is global so why not stick to ascii?

      • Charles says

        This stunned me.

        I manage a database of most all registered domains and looked at the character sets in IDNs. Its not perfect given how unicode is layed out. Its stunning how many domains use multiple languages (more than 2!), espicially when you get into asia. What a nightmare to type in!

        What roll do book marks make?

        That is, if I type it in once, or find the link in a search, does the result READ well? So while a pain to type in, once I have it bookmarked, or read it elsewhere on a link, does the resulting chars make good sense?

  3. jeffreywilliams900616042 says

    Neither Chinese nor foreigners trust China’s own NGTLD,CCTLD so it is likely that IDN will only succeed, if at all, with the likes of .com..cc etc.

    • Steve says

      If you are a dotcom, and you have a Chinese pinyin for a name, you should also have the matching IDN.com regardless or whether or not it is ever used by the consumer. If you have a Non-Chinese name, you should also have the pinyin translation, and also the corresponding Chinese IDN.com to pair. It is all about marketing and cohesion.

      Just because the majority of Chinese companies are too short sighted to do or recognize this does not make them right. The smart ones catch on and get it.

      Look at Disney, Louis Vuitton, HP etc. They all have their Chinese IDN’s forward to their sites. Does anybody really use them? No. But neither does a competitor and it allows them to market their name in Chinese authoritatively.

      Last two major published sales of Chinese IDNs were $45,000 and $25,000.

  4. Anthony Mitchell says

    Not hosting one’s landing pages limits the type of data that can be collected, which raises questions on how to account for the significant Chinese (simplified) and Japanese IDN.com traffic I’m seeing with a handful of test domains. Knowing how much effort is being made to address syntax issues with Lex, the engine behind Alexa, within two or three years, it could be that VUIs will solve some of the string-input issues discussed above. Improved VUIs could switch seamlessly between ASCII and non-ASCII character sets within the same string. Third-party “skills” lag native ones, but browser addressing, as a native skill, should be ripe for continuing improvements, beginning but not limited to handling IDNs on one or both sides of the dot.

    Until test domains show an order-of-magnitude increase in traffic, investing whole-hog in East Asian IDNs would be premature, IMO. Over the long term, i.e., more than a decade from now, we could see that keyboards were transition devices, on the way toward voice user interfaces. This won’t make domain names go away, but it will change how we use them.

    • Steve says

      Nobody can predict the future, but a voice control future is very real possibility. At that point jt doesn’t matter what domain you have as the assistant will send you to where it wants you to go. The site might be banned outright for whatever reason and an alternative given. There would be an economic incentive for the voice assistant company to direct traffic to companies that pay for that positioning.

      It is more likely though that traffic sanctioned, blocked off, limited by region, country, state, county, municipality etc. i.e. a Chinese exclusive internet.

      Assuming that world is not here yet…

      IDN’s would solve the problem of how single or multiple pinyin combinations have multiple meanings and are composed of various Chinese characters. That is where IDN’s can shine because pinyin in and of itself is vague without the Chinese characters to back it up. IDN can provide the distinction. If the Chinese company had Chinese characters for their name on their website, they should have the matching IDN.

  5. Mo says

    In many countries there are keyboards with more than one language. I assume some Chinese type in simplified Chinese(?) Dont kids need to do homework in Chinese? Arent there ads on billboards in Chinese? If so -then it should be a no brainer that IDNs are great as far as branding internally within China.

    • Steve says

      Hi Mo,

      The issue is that to type Chinese you need to enter the pinyin (Roman characters i.e. alphabet) first, then a list of potential characters appear on the screen and you select the appropriate one. So to type Chinese is a two part process.

      Also, if you have hopes of being international, how is anyone that doesn’t write or understand Chinese going to type in your website?

      IDN’s are for internal only or to act as a compliment to your main website. If you were to launch an IDN you must have the pinyin.com to back it up.

      • Mo says

        @Kassey Lee- Thanks! Now I do have some hope for Chinese IDN’s.
        However, didnt the Chinese government already try and promote them in the last 3 years? Why would it be any different this time?

        @Steve- IDN’s would be for ones own country.
        No need for any English on the right or left of the dot.
        Hybrid IDNS’s will not be successful. Its just not comfortable to switch back and from a branding point its best to keep it all in one language.

        For the international site/they would have a different domain/landing page.

  6. André Schappo says

    Interestingly, there are many Chinese Domain Names of the form “Chinese Historical Figure”.网址 Each resolves to a single page site with information about that person. Here are some of these domains:

    http://杜甫.网址
    http://杜审言.网址
    http://唐肃宗.网址
    http://舜.网址
    http://高适.网址
    http://陈陶.网址
    http://于忠.网址
    http://韩愈.网址
    http://元稹.网址
    http://白起.网址

    André Schappo

      • André Schappo says

        The only information that https://whois.icann.org provides about the registrant is “北京, CN”. I assume, perhaps mistakenly, that the “Chinese Historical Figure”.网址’s are owned by the registry.

        I believe that the “Chinese Historical Figure”.网址’s’ are part of a marketing strategy to:

        ① Promote .网址. The “Chinese Historical Figure”.网址’s certainly attracted my attention as I think it is a really impressive initiative. I do not know how many “Chinese Historical Figure”.网址’s there are but I would guess there are many hundreds.
        ② Encourage individuals to register “their name.网址”. On https://n.knetreg.cn/RJS-lsmr you are invited to enter your name. I entered the invented Chinese name 王好好.The system informed me that there are 4 individuals with the same name. It then invites me to register 王好好.网址 to become the “unique you”. If I enter 白起 (one of the previously mentioned Chinese Historical Figures) the system informs me that there are 3 individuals with the same name but unfortunately 白起.网址 is already registered.

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