Yandex is Russia’s leading search engine and, following in Google’s footsteps, is eager to take over much of Russia’s Internet, which naturally includes the web browser.
Yandex is also in the process of expanding its reach beyond Russia.
But when I visited the web browser download web page I couldn’t help but notice a few problems with the global gateway.
Shown below is the only “English” option for me. The use of the UK flag signals to me that Yandex doesn’t yet have a web browser available for American web users. But perhaps Yandex is using the flag to simply indicate language, but I can’t be sure either way. What I am sure of is that flags are usually a bad idea in global gateways.
Flags often limit the reach of a language, so use them only if you’re focused on specific ecommerce/legal scenarios. If, for example, your goal is to reach the maximum number of English speakers around the world don’t use the flag of one English-speaking country.
Clicking on the Select Language link brings up the following menu. Take a quick look and see if anything looks a bit odd to you…
You might notice the use of Spain’s flag to indicate “Spanish.” Granted, the localization could be specific to Spain only, but I’d bet that Yandex would prefer that most Spanish speakers download the app and not just Spaniards.
I also didn’t realize that Brazil’s dominant language was known as Brazilian. Actually, it’s not. It’s supposed to be called Brazilian Portuguese. Another global gateway fail.
So I’d say at this point, based purely on the global gateway, that Yandex has a ways to go before world domination.
Imagine if, every time you wanted to visit a website, you were expected to type in letters from a foreign language, or worse, an entirely foreign script, such as Arabic, Cyrillic, or Chinese.
For more than a billion people, this is how they experience the Internet today.
The Internet was designed to be global, but it was not designed to be multilingual. For decades, this limitation was most evident in website and email addresses, which permitted only a small set of Latin characters.
Fortunately, over the past decade much work has been done to allow website addresses to support non-Latin characters, referred to as internationalized domain names (IDNs). More than 30 countries, ranging from Saudi Arabia to South Korea, now support country code domains in their native scripts.
For example, Russians no longer have to register a domain using the Latin (.ru) country code and may instead use the Cyrillic equivalent .Рф. And evidence of these new URLs are becoming more visible. Kremlin’s new Cyrillic URL is http://президент.рф. The leading Russian search engine Yandex can be located at http://Яндекс.рф, and the address of Russia’s largest mobile carrier is http://МТС.рф. These addresses are fully functional, and modern web browsers support them.
But what about a local-language equivalent of .com?
ICANN, the organization that manages the domain name system, is in the process of allowing not only local-language equivalents of .com, but an entirely new wave of top-level domains known as generic TLDs (gTLDs). More than a thousand applications have already been filed for these new domains, ranging from .apple (guess who applied for this one) to .book (yes, Amazon is hot for this domain, among others).
Much controversy has erupted over the value or need for all these new domains. Many people claim that .com is good enough, like Esther Dyson, who says “You are creating a business, like derivatives on Wall Street, that has no value.”
Dyson, I would assume, is speaking more about the introduction of Latin-based domain names, and I understand where she’s coming from. But her sentiment implies that the Internet naming system is largely fine as is.
She is wrong.
For more than a billion web users, .com has always been a foreign address.
Local-language domain names do have value. And they will improve the usability of the Internet.
VeriSign, the registry that manages .com, is now pursuing a Russian transliteration: .ком, as well as variations in Chinese and Hindi.
And a number of companies have applied for local-language equivalents of their brand names. Amazon has applied for the Japanese version of its name (アマゾン), and Philips has applied for the Chinese-language equivalent of its name (飞利浦). Both names were recently approved by ICANN and could be functional by the end of this year. You can peruse all gTLD applications and their status here.
The fact is, IDNs are here, and many more are coming. And the regions these IDNs span constitute more than 2.5 billion people, most of whom do not speak English as a native language. The regions also represent where most of the growth in Internet usage will occur over the next decade.
We’re inching closer to a linguistically local Internet, in which people no longer have to leave their native languages to get where they want to go.
This is a positive development for making the Internet truly accessible to the world.
Now that Yandex is a public company there is much speculation about which markets the search engine known as Russia’s Google plans to expand into next.
You don’t have to look further than the Yandex.com home page to see that Yandex does indeed have expansion plans:
The reports that I’ve read indicate that Turkey is the next market in line for expansion. It would certainly give Yandex employees a good excuse to do some in-market “research.” (Turkey is a hot destination for many Russians.)
Andy Atkins-Krüger has written a great post on how Yandex is doing in Russia and beyond. It’s a must read if you want to learn more about the Russian Google and where it’s headed.
This visual depicts about half of the currently approved internationalized domain names (IDNs), positioned over their respective regions.
Notice the wide range of scripts over India and the wide range of Arabic domains. I left off the Latin country code equivalents (in, cn, th, sa, etc.) to illustrate what the Internet is going to look like (at a very high level) in the years ahead.
This next revolution is a linguistically local revolution. In terms of local content, it is already happening. Right now, more than half of the content on the Internet is not in English. Ten years from now, the percentage of English content could easily drop below 25%.
But there are a few technical obstacles that have so far made the Internet not as user friendly as it should be for people in the regions highlighted above. They’ve been forced to enter Latin-based URLs to get to where they want to go. Their email addresses are also Latin-based. This will all change over the next two decades.
For those of us who are fluent only in Latin-based languages, this next wave of growth is going to be interesting, if not a bit challenging. In a Latin-based URL environment, you can still easily navigate to and around non-Latin web sites and brands. For example, if I want to find Baidu in China, I can enter www.baidu.cn. For Yandex in Russia, it’s yandex.ru.
But flash forward a few years and these Latin URLs (though they’ll still exist) may no longer function as the front doors into these markets.
Try Яндекс.рф. It currently redirects to Yandex.ru.
In a few years, I doubt this redirection will exist.
We’re getting close to a linguistically local Internet — from URL to email address. There are still significant technical obstacles to overcome. It will be exciting to see which companies take the lead in overcoming them — as these companies will be well positioned to be leaders in these emerging markets.
UPDATE: I’ve expanded on this topic in a recent article on IP Watch.
As someone who has long been bullish on the future of internationalized domain names (IDNs), I caught a fair amount of grief once this story broke.
So when I see this evening that 460,000 Cyrillic domains (.рф) have been registered in the first five days, I feel somewhat vindicated.
Somewhat, because I believe more than half of these registrations are from squatters. Maybe as many as 75%.
Still, even if we assume 350,000 registrations will just sit there awaiting a higher bid, that would leave another 100,000 destined to be put into use sooner than later. And that alone is a respectable number. Keep in mind that there are only 3 million .ru domains — in all — registered.
Could it be that Russians are excited about Cyrillic domains?