During a panel on the multilingual Internet at this year’s Domain Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, Deputy Head of Information Department for the IDN ccTLD .PΦ Mikhail Anisimov argued that the reason Russia’s Cyrillic TLD (launched on November 11, 2010) is such a success is because it’s first and foremost aimed at users rather than businesses.
“It was planned and designed for Russians,” Anisimov explained. “We had support from our government to do major awareness campaigns so that when .PΦ launched, most prospective registrants in Russia had actually heard of it. We really used every possible marketing tool at our disposal to get the word out.”
Actual usage of the TLD is also key. “The ability for people to use their own language has been a major driving force,” Anisimov said. “It may sound obvious, but it really is a landmark change. Take local advertising as an example. Outside of Moscow where people might not be so used to reading Latin characters. If you put a web address on a billboard, drivers going by only have seconds to read and recognise it. So it’s much easier for Russian drivers to do so if that web address is in Cyrillic.”
Despite having a strong user base that’s hungry for the ability to use its own alphabet when browsing the Internet, .PΦ has had to deal with similar issues to other IDN TLDs. There’s a knowledge gap between end-users who have grown accustomed to not being able to browse in their native alphabet and a domain industry that’s pushing for more IDN possibilities. “A huge challenge for us was actually getting people to understand that they could use these web addresses in Cyrillic, because that’s never been possible before,” Anisimov reminded Domain Forum attendees. “Another major issue is the lack of email support for these Cyrillic addresses. It’s taken more than a year for the major browser manufacturers to actually include .PΦ in the list of domains they handle. Today, even Apple’s iOS does so in Russia but that’s a very new thing. We think it happened because we actually contacted all the manufacturers to push them to do so.”
Browsing in Cyrillic is no doubt helping .PΦ grow. But email use would be a major driver for even greater adoption of the Cyrillic domain. “Google has announced that Gmail will become IDN-able in 2015,” Anisimov concluded. “We’ll see, but right now, using IDN domains for email is beyond most users’ abilities because it’s simply not seamlessly integrated into the software they use.”