A man browses through Yahoo!'s Arabic website Image Credit: Javed Nawab/Gulf News

Dubai: Arabic businesses and internet users are set for a paradigm shift in their online behaviour as Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global regulator of web addresses, has officially approved شبكة. (.shabaka in Arabic - translates to .web in English).

The approval makes it one of the first cross border new Top-Level Domains, beating around 1,900 other applicants globally. Moving away from non-Arabic internet namespaces such as .com, .net and .org, will provide the Arabic speaking world with a uniquely Arabic-orientated corner of the internet.

The new Top-Level Domain will be operational in the middle of this year.

“The new domain will become the centre of all things Arabic on the internet. It is set to totally redefine the way businesses and users approach the internet in the global Arabic speaking community and, at the same time, bridge the gap between Arabic content and Arabic-speaking internet users,” Yasmin Omer, General Manager of International Domain Registry — the internet technology company behind *شبكة. * told Gulf News.

The domain namespace will only operate in Arabic script on the internet and end users will only be able to use it by typing in Arabic. For example, Al Jazeera.shabaka or CNN.shabaka.

“There are many people who speak only Arabic. It will also hold great entrepreneurial potential for Arabic businesses by providing them with a targeted online channel to Arabic internet users. Soon Arabic users will not need to search the sites in Google and don’t need to rely on Google search,” she said.

The next billion users “will not come from English-speaking countries.” The next 90 million Arabic internet users “should expect to navigate the internet in Arabic,” she said.

Fastest growing language

According to Abbas Jaffar Ali, publisher of tBreak Media, Arabic is gaining importance regionally and it is one of the fastest growing languages and fastest growing on Twitter. This process is part of expansion and I don’t think .sabaka is going to complicate the internet addresses.

“It is going to make it easier for users and index the data. It will simplify the process,” Abbas said.

He said buying a website address is easy and not costly and many companies will opt for .shabaka.

“.shabaka will be a game-changer for the Arabic community and It will open a channel to intuitively connect Arabic speakers to Arabic content and provide an end-to-end Arabic online experience,” Omer said.

Brands will be able to apply for .shabaka domain names in the middle of this year. Now that *شبكة. * has passed ICANN’s evaluation process, she said, and added that there are only a few more policy, technical and regulatory steps to be completed before the namespace is opened live on the internet in mid 2013 for public registrations.