Emoji. Love them or hate them, you definitely can’t ignore them.
Just ask ICANN, the organization that essentially manages the various addresses and names we all use to get around the Internet. As emoji usage normalizes and the colorful characters work themselves deeper and deeper into our everyday lexicon, ICANN faces increased pressure to explore the possibility of modifying current regulations restricting most domain names from allowing emoji characters. (Currently, only the country-affiliated .WS domain extension allows them.)
The Security and Stability Advisory Committee, an ICANN-appointed body that advises the ICANN board on matters related to the security of the Internet’s naming systems, has just released a report evaluating the possible risks of expanding the names to allow emoji.
In the parlance of our times, the report’s findings for emoji domain feasibility are best summarized as 👎❌🔥. (Or, if you are emoji-averse, just imagine the report as a really long version of the loud buzz that follows incorrect Family Feud answers.)
This was not entirely unexpected; many of the SSAC’s warnings are based on longstanding and oft-raised compatibility and security concerns emoji domain names have always faced.
The complete details can be found in the full report. Essentially, though, the SSAC’s main concerns revolve around issues of compatibility, security, and recognizability of emoji characters, such as the following:
- Not all devices or applications can read or display emoji. So universal acceptance seems a distant possibility. SSAC also raises the problem that the emoji themselves are rendered by the application displaying them, and can therefore widely vary in appearance — and therefore, in signified meaning — from application to application, and from viewer to viewer.
- The variants available for certain emojis can be difficult to distinguish; for example, there are a number of skintone variants for most emoji that depict a person or human body part. In addition to undermining the idea that domain names should be unambiguous identifiers, the SSAC fears that scammers could easily exploit emoji ambiguity by, for example, registering an emoji domain name that resembles one used by a reputable website.
- Emoji present a problem for people with visual disabilities. While alphanumeric characters can be transliterated into more accommodating character sets, emoji do not bridge this gap so easily.
The report concludes by recommending that ICANN reject any domain registry’s request to allow that registry to offer emoji domain names. It also cautions registrants of existing emoji domains that those domains may not work as reliably or widely as those registrants hope.
Despite the SSAC’s warnings, proponents of emoji domain names in extensions other than .WS are not giving up the dream. In a blog post responding to the SSAC’s report, emoji domain purveyor i❤domains claim that the issues the SSAC cites do not condemn the idea of emoji domains outright, but rather present valid challenges that can be tackled as a community. They argue that emoji domains can be made more feasible by simplifying emoji interpretation, “whitelist(ing) a clear, unambiguous, universally acceptable set of emoji” for domain name eligibility, and eliminating skin color modifiers.
The fate of emoji domain names is not yet decided. Bear in mind that the SSAC doesn’t vote on the decisions that determine ICANN policy, and their report does not represent a final decision one way or the other. Plus, as long as emoji maintain their cultural relevance, it seems doubtful to expect that arguments for ICANN to consider permitting emoji domains will die down anytime soon. So, while SSAC’s report doesn’t inspire optimism at the idea of widespread emoji domain names in the near future, for now at least, the dream still endures.