How to Get Started with International Domain Names

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue May 13 14:35:39 UTC 2008

How to Get Started with IDNs - 14 Tips, Techniques and Resources

by Jeff Behrendt
May 12, 2008


How does becoming wealthier than Frank Schilling sound? Schilling, the
most successful individual domainer in the world, has a portfolio of
about 300,000 names, estimated revenue of $20 million dollars per
year, and has received several 9-figures offers for his portfolio. Yet
according to long-time IDN investor and IDN expert David Wrixon,
"[t]here are IDN investors out there that will make Frank Schilling
look like an amateur."

When it comes to making money in domaining, there are many strategies.
But if you are looking to capitalize on one strategy that holds a lot
of potential, you should check out IDNs. Although you may never be as
successful as Schilling, the timing for getting into IDNs is good.

What is an IDN?

IDN stands for "International Domain Name." The normal domains that
you are used to using are all written with the standard ASCII
characters with which we are familiar - the letters A to Z, the
numbers 0 to 9, and the hyphen. That works well for English, but the
fact is that even though English is the language of international
commerce, the native tongue of most of the world is not English. Even
in many European languages, there are characters that aren't used in
English such as à â ç é è ê ë î ï ô û ù ü ÿ. Moving further afield,
Russian and other East European languages use a Cyrillic alphabet.
Then, of course, languages like Chinese and Japanese use characters
with which we aren't even familiar. And some languages - such as
Arabic and Hebrew - are further complicated by the fact that people
write them right to left.

To deal with all of these languages, a system has developed to
translate foreign characters into standard ASCII characters via an
algorithm known as Punycode. These characters are then preceded by the
prefix "xn--". This process can of course be reversed, and the name
can be recoded.

The driving idea behind IDNs is that people want to use their own
language on the internet, even if they know English. The basic
investment concept behind IDNs is that as more and more people in
non-English countries take to the internet, and as browsers support
IDNs better, IDNs will be adopted more and more. It's time to get in
early before the widespread adoption of IDNs, while the prices are
still cheap.

Here are some tips, tools and techniques so that you can get started
investing in international domain names. I have also interviewed David
Wrixon, one of the world's most knowledgeable IDN experts, who has
shared some of his wisdom.


1. IDNs are a conservative investment.

Unlike many types of domains that are claimed to have a lot of
potential (*cough* dotmobi *cough*), an investment in IDNs is actually
quite conservative. Even if you are a died in the wool dot-commer you
can get into buying IDN dot coms. Instead of buying domains like or similar premium domains, you are buying domains like in Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. The only difference is that
the IDN are a lot cheaper and have more appreciation
potential as IDN use is still in its infancy.

2. Have It Your Way

Just like in the Burger King commercial, people want to have it their
way. English is certainly the international language and to a large
extent, the language of the internet. That being said, even people who
can speak English fluently as a second language generally prefer to
use their own language whenever possible. By using IDNs, companies are
able to make their domains meaningful and memorable in their local

3. English Speakers Can Get Involved

Don't know any languages other than English? Although that certainly
makes things more difficult, it is not an absolute barrier to getting
started in IDNs. There are lots of free online dictionaries available
for all languages. As well, many websites offer basic instruction as
to how words are used in a particular language. Finally, many of the
tools that you normally use in domaining can help you with IDNs. You
can do things like check the Overture value of the word on the
relevant country's Overture tool, see how many results get returned in
a Google search, use Google image search, see how many Google Adword
results exists, and the like. As well, there are many native speakers
around in forums who are more than willing to help.

4. Browser Support for IDNs

One thing that has held up the adoption of IDNs across the globe is
the fact that in most countries virtually everyone uses Microsoft's
Internet Explorer. Up until the release of IE7, Internet Explorer did
not have support for IDNs. Now that IE7 has been released, it is
gradually being updated on computers across the globe, which is
expected to spur an increased use of IDNs. IE7 resolves IDNs to
punycode (an xn-- domain) by default unless you have added the
language to your list of languages in language preferences, in which
case the IDN will resolve to the native characters.

Firefox supports IDNs by default. Firefox displays IDNs in punycode
unless the registry of the domain's TLD has posted a policy on what
characters it permits and how it handles homographs - similar looking
characters from different character sets or scripts. You can see their
policy and the whitelisted TLDs here. You will note that .com and .net
are not on their whitelist. Not cool. Fortunately, outside English
speaking countries, which is where IDN is primarily aimed at, Firefox
does not have widespread adoption.

Opera resolves all IDNs to native character sets even when entered in
punycode form. It's a good browser, but not many people use it.

5. All I See Are Boxes

You should talk to your ophthalmologist about getting a stronger
prescription for your glasses! Seriously, if you are looking at an IDN
domain and all you see are boxes, you need to install international
language support on IE7. To do this, go to start --> control panel -->
regional and language options --> language tab --> click the boxes to
install the character sets you want. After that, you will need to
re-boot your computer.


6. Most popular IDN Languages

If you are new to IDNs, it is best to try to specialize in one or two
languages. If you already know the basics of a foreign language, that
may be a good one to choose. Chinese and Russian are generally
considered languages with a lot of IDN potential, because of their
large populations and the so far comparatively low internet
penetration in those countries. Japanese may also yield significant
benefits given the country's wealth and technology savvy.

I personally also like European language IDNs, such as French and
Spanish. This is because the languages and cultures are easier to
understand and the use of a few IDN characters is not really a big
switch for people in these countries. I also like them because the
words ".com" and ".net" make sense in those languages. As well, German
IDNs already have a pretty strong record of good sales.

However, the general thought in the IDN community is that people in
those countries really don't need IDNs as much, and are quite used to
seeing their words written without the appropriate accents on the
letters. For instance, writing the letter "e" is fine, even though it
should be "é". Therefore, the adoption of IDNs in those languages is
not as pressing as in languages that use a non-latin alphabet.

7. Monetizing Traffic

As for parking, the company that seems to offer the best support for
IDNs is NameDrive. NameDrive returns ads in every language around the
world, and you can input keywords in non-Latin characters. As well,
related searches are logged in all character sets. Sedo also offers
IDN parking.

For other monetization opportunities, check out IDN Affiliates, which
provides a directory of foreign language affiliate programs.

8. TLD availablility

By now, most of the gTLDs offer IDNs. You can get IDNs in any language
for .com and .net. .Org, .info and .biz support support a large
variety of IDNs, but not all languages. That being said, I recommend
sticking to .com and for very strong keywords, .net. Given the
somewhat speculative nature of IDNs, there is no need to add a second
speculative element - namely a weak TLD - to the mix.

IDNs are also available in most of the relevant ccTLDs - .cn, .jp, .de
and so forth. Many countries have strong nationalistic tendencies for
using their own ccTLDs, so some good opportunities exist here.


One of the largest wildcards on the horizon for IDN investors is the
possible introduction of what is known as IDN.IDN. So far, we have
been talking about the letters on the "left of the dot" being in a
non-English language. But what about the letters on the "right of the
dot"? Just as it's awkward for a native Chinese speaker to type "cars"
into their browser, it is also awkward to type ".com." Right now,
ICANN is testing the possibility of using IDN TLDs. What impact this
will have on the IDN market is hard to predict. That being said, given
the slow speed at which ICANN moves, even if ICANN approves the use of
IDN.IDN, it could well be 2 or 3 years before this is introduced in
practice. As well, the branding of .com is incredibly strong and
likely would remain strong despite the availability of IDN.IDN.

10. Show Me The Money

Although most of the reason to invest in IDNs is future potential,
there have already been a number of notable sales of IDNs, including
the sale of stä (city travel) for $104,325. To find a
fairly comprehensive list of public IDN sales, you should check out
the IDN Sales website.

Resource Websites

11. Forums

The IDN world is moving quickly. The best way to keep up to date is to
join and participate in a forum dedicated to IDNs, as most of the
traditional domainer forums tend to neglect this topic. Traditionally,
the recommended forum is IDN Forums. However, the absence of the
administrator in recent months has caused the forum to decline
somewhat. There is still good archival material. A newer forum that is
starting to take off is DN Local. Both forums are well worth joining.
I've found the level of discussion there quite high and there tends to
be a very collegial atmosphere.

12. Conversion Tools

One thing you will need when dealing with IDNs is that ability to
translate words into the punycode equivalent and back again. Verisign
has a good IDN conversion tool.

13. IDN News

You can keep up with the latest developments from ICANN concerning the
implementation of IDN on their feed. This is particularly important
for monitoring the development of IDN.IDN.

14. Registrars

The most popular registrar among IDNers is Dynadot, which offers an
extensive range of IDNs. Moniker and Godaddy also offer IDNs in .com
and .net.

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