Headquartered in the suburbs of Boston, the FreshAddress staff is well versed in the story of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to warn of the impending British invasion. While the date of April 18, 1775 may be ingrained in our minds, there is another date of a new foreign invasion that may later resonate for us as email marketers: May 5, 2010.

On May 5, 2010, for the first time in the history of the internet, non-latin characters were allowed within a domain name. This was the culmination of a massive, many-year effort to fix all the technical plumbing of the internet to accommodate character sets other than the A-Z letters that this article was written in.

“This isn’t just a minor change for the Internet, it’s a seismic shift that will forever change the online landscape,” said Rod Beckstrom, President and CEO of ICANN, which is the international authority that manages all domain addresses. In other words, over 50% of internet users weren’t born using latin letters, and this technological improvement means they can finally participate in the Internet in their native language and native scripts.

The first three countries to take advantage of this improvement were Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And on June 25th, Chinese language characters were added, opening up native language URLs and email addresses to roughly a billion people.

The fancy word for this change is “Internationalized Domain Names” or IDN. And the list of approved IDNs keeps growing and growing. Right now, only the ‘domain’ (the part of the email address after the @-sign) can support other character sets, but there are already proposals to open up the change to handles as well.

So what?

If you are a marketer focused primarily on customers who were born and raised using the letters A to Z (the tech guys call that ASCII), you might feel you don’t have anything to worry about. Yet.

But I’m sure you know people who weren’t born speaking English – if they could get an email address in their own character set, don’t you think some of them will? And think about your future markets, population trends, and your own growth plans. Trust me – we’re at the very beginning of a revolution.

Recognizing Internationalized Domain Names

Here are some examples provided by ICANN of the email address ‘mailtest@example.test’ in some of the recently approved character sets:

blog-10-11-08-img1

And if your system can’t handle the characters internally, there is a way to convert them to ASCII. Here’s the first three of those email addresses again, converted:

mailtest@xn--mgbh0fb.xn--kgbechtv

mailtest@xn--fsqu00a.xn--0zwm56d

mailtest@xn--fsqu00a.xn--g6w251d

And thus you can immediately see the challenge…. You can no longer trust your eye or your brain to recognize ‘valid’ email addresses, as all three of those examples are just as good as something at Hotmail.com. In fact, they could be the working email addresses of your best three customers!

Next steps

  • Rethink your own preconceptions about the appearance and structure of valid email addresses. Don’t just delete addresses that ‘look funny’ – they may be simply in other character sets.
  • Reach out to your tech team and service providers. Are you systems ready for Internationalized Domain Names? Have you seen any yet? Can your website signup form handle IDNs?
  • Be excited! During the new few years we are going to witness a revolution, and having read this article, you can now be ready and waiting.

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