Enabling a more inclusive web with support for email addresses in Indian languages
The internet is a truly global network. Designed from the onset to be borderless, the network has helped connect people from all corners of the world. However, this egalitarian and universal network remains dominated by one language - English.
Recent changes in the scripts that can be used for domain names has allowed our team at Microsoft to integrate local Indian languages across our products. On International Mother Language Day, we are excited to announce Email Address Internationalization (EAI) for 15 Indian languages: Hindi, Bodo, Dogri, Konkani, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali, Sindhi, Bengali, Gujarati, Manipuri, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu, across most of our email products.
Here’s how we’re enabling local language email addresses across our products:
Breaking the digital language barrier
According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), there were 2.9 billion internet users worldwide in 2014. This number is expected to grow past 5 billion by 2020. It’s not just the number, but the demographics of internet users that are shifting over time. In 2000, nearly a third of all internet users were American. Now, Chinese users are the largest group, making up 22% of the world’s internet user base. While, American users are still the second largest group online, Indians are soon catching up – 8% of all internet users are Indian, and that number is rapidly expanding.
Currently, Indian languages are underrepresented online. Of the 447 different languages spoken in India, none make it to the list of top 50 digital languages. An English dominated web experience is less than ideal for these users.
The tech behind EAI support for local languages
ICANN’s ongoing efforts over the past decade have helped make the internet more multilingual. ICANN introduced Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) in 2010, which are based on the Unicode standard. Punycode syntax is used to convert Unicode to ASCII, which has a smaller set of restricted characters. This allows for the conversion of domain names to multiple languages in IDN. It also allows for email address in local languages – Email Address Internationalization (EAI). This protocol allows users in different parts of the world to use domain names in local languages and non-Latin scripts. Our team has used this protocol to integrate local-language email addresses in all our applications.
Our team is an integral part of the Unicode Consortium making significant contributions to the development of IDN and EAI specifications over the years. While developing these standards, teams at Microsoft have independently integrated the specifications into the .NET Framework, Windows, and various server products across our platforms. Moreover, to create an end-to-end solution, we adopted a unified approach to development with close collaboration between the Outlook and Exchange teams.
EAI in the Microsoft products ecosystem goes beyond any other. Our team continues to work closely with ICANN to track developments on IDNs, EAI, generic top-level domains (gTLDs), and country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs). We also continue our partnership with the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) whilst contributing to create definitive standards for universal acceptance of domain names and email addresses.
With the launch of EAI today, we have completed the first phase of our efforts to make the internet more inclusive for everyone.
Integrating local language email addresses
Our team at Microsoft pioneered regional language integration with Project Bhasha in 1998. We then enabled Unicode based text input support for 3 local languages on Windows XP in 2000. Working closely with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, we have supported government initiatives such as Digital India and BharatNet. Making the web more accessible through devices is a core tenet of our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. With this in mind, the team has gone further to integrate local language email addresses across our email platforms.
Not only can our products send and receive emails from local language email addresses, users can also use IMAP and SMTP protocols to sync with mail servers and set these email addresses as their default addresses in Outlook. This end-to-end integration closes the loop of a user’s online experience with local languages so that a user can interact with the web without the need to know English. This level of integration is unique to Microsoft’s products.
Setting up a local language email address in Outlook
Microsoft products are compatible with 22 Indian languages. However, email addresses and top-level domain names (TLDs) are based on international protocols which support 15 Indian languages at present. Internationalized domain names (IDNs) in Indian languages are given by NIXI (National Internet Exchange of India). Indian users can register their local language email address with a third-party providers such as XgenPlus, a Microsoft partner. Here’s an example of an email address in Hindi: भाषा@माइक्रोसॉफ्ट.भारत
Such email addresses in the Devanagari script are now fully integrated with most of our platforms, including Office 365, Outlook 2016 client, Outlook apps on Android and iOS, Outlook.com, Exchange Online, and Exchange Online Protection (EOP).
Creating a more inclusive web
Integrating local language email addresses in all our popular products help us make the web experience more inclusive for everyone. Billions of new users are expected to join the internet over the next few years. Many of these users will struggle to fully utilize a web if it continues to be dominated by English.
ICANN’s recent efforts to internationalize domain names and email addresses are aimed at addressing this concern. Our engineers are helping close the loop entirely and help users experience the web entirely in their own language. By setting local language email addresses as their default online identity and making all our platforms compatible with different local languages, we are enabling people at the grassroots to comfortably experience the real power of the web.