Opinion: Developers can bring millions online with a routine fix

It’s been a lively week in Redmond, WA at the annual Microsoft Build conference, where the world’s brightest developer talent has been exploring the future of cloud, blockchain, artificial intelligence and other innovations that make it an exciting time to be a developer. But, I’d like to call your attention to another, lesser known issue where developers have an opportunity to add significant value for their organizations: Universal Acceptance (UA).

UA is a technical compliance best practice that ensures all domain names and all email addresses can be used by all internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems.

UA is an issue because there are now hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs) being used by people all over the world. These new TLDs give people greater freedom in their choice of internet identity. UA also provides a gateway to the next billion internet users, most of whom will likely not speak or understand English or recognize the ASCII characters which are used by English-speakers. It enables organizations to better serve communities through their new domain identities, including language-specific domains in Arabic, Hindi and many other languages.

The business case for Universal Acceptance

Understanding UA starts by acknowledging that the internet’s technologies, including its naming components, are under continual evolution and change. The TLD space has experienced explosive growth since 2010, with the introduction of hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs) that speak to interests (e.g., .COLLEGE) or are in writing systems not used in English (e.g., .世界). These new TLDs give people choice and ensure competition in the domain name world. No longer should applications assume that the list of valid TLDs is fixed, or that a TLD will be just two or three ASCII characters. Likewise, email mailbox names can contain non-ASCII characters through the Email Address Internationalization (EAI) standards.

But while the domain name system (DNS) has changed, the rules used by many applications are from 20 years ago. Many systems do not recognize or appropriately process new domain names, and not all online portals are primed for the opening of a user account with one of these new email addresses. While filling out online forms, new TLDs and email addresses containing Unicode are not always accepted.

This lack of acceptance creates problems for organizations and frustration for users who now are locked out of the organization’s offering. When systems do not recognize / process the new domains and associated email addresses, users will experience a denial of service, and companies that do business online will leave revenue on the table.

In fact, a study commissioned by the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) conservatively estimates $9.8 billion USD annual boost in worldwide economic activity from both existing users using the new domain names, as well as new internet users coming online in their native languages. Online spending from new users (predominantly Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Indic language speakers) could start at $6.2 billion USD per year.

The role developers play

Clearly, UA readiness is a business opportunity, one where developers play a critical role. Long-term success in today’s digital world requires that businesses ensure their systems work with the common infrastructure of the internet – email services and the DNS, which today are diverse and multi-lingual.

When businesses are UA-ready, it means that their systems and services will work seamlessly with the continuously expanding domain name space. This harmony will help set those organizations up for future opportunities and success by supporting their customers using their customers’ chosen identities.

The good news is that for many sites and services, UA is considered a “bug fix,” deliverable by a routine update to online systems. The efforts for software and application owners to implement UA are not particularly complex and are outweighed by the benefits that could be realized by doing so. Updates to make systems UA-ready can be integrated into regular system updates.

While many developers tend to prioritize working on top-secret, cutting-edge innovations, UA is an area where they can – with relatively minimal effort – make a significant impact not just on their organization’s bottom line, but on the user experience for millions of internet users worldwide.

Resources for becoming UA-ready

To help raise awareness of UA and provide support, stakeholders and industry leaders such as Apple, GoDaddy, Google, ICANN, Microsoft and Verisign created the UASG. The UASG exists to help organizations ensure their systems are UA-ready and able to accept all domain names and email addresses in any valid script.

The UASG has developed a number of helpful guides and resources which are available at https://uasg.tech/documents. Of particular note are the Quick Guide to Universal Acceptance and an in-depth, technical guide for developers who want to test whether their systems are UA-ready.

Customer satisfaction, ability to engage with new audiences, and new growth and revenue opportunities are all among the benefits of UA-readiness. Developers and other IT professionals have an opportunity and a mandate to educate themselves on this important issue and start building UA compliance into their application roadmaps.

What are your thoughts on Universal Acceptance? Let us know in the comments.

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