Internet set for change with non-English addresses

Oct 26, 2009 By KELLY OLSEN , AP Business Writer
Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of ICANN's 36th International Public Meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

(AP) -- The Internet is set to undergo one of the biggest changes in its four-decade history with the expected approval this week of international domain names - or addresses - that can be written in languages other than English, an official said Monday.

The , or ICANN - the non-profit group that oversees domain names - is holding a meeting this week in Seoul. Domain names are the monikers behind every Web site, e-mail address and Twitter post, such as ".com" and other suffixes.

One of the key issues to be taken up by ICANN's board at this week's gathering is whether to allow for the first time entire Internet addresses to be in scripts that are not based on Latin letters. That could potentially open up the Web to more people around the world as addresses could be in characters as diverse as Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Hindi and Cyrillic - in which Russian is written.

"This is the biggest change technically to the Internet since it was invented 40 years ago," Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the ICANN board, told reporters, calling it a "fantastically complicated technical feature." He said he expects the board to grant approval on Friday, the conference's final day.

The Internet's roots are traced to experiments at a U.S. university in 1969 but it wasn't until the early 1990s that its use began expanding beyond academia and research institutions to the public.

Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's new president and CEO, said that if the change is approved, ICANN would begin accepting applications for non-English domain names and that the first entries into the system would likely come sometime in mid 2010.

Enabling the change, Thrush said, is the creation of a translation system that allows multiple scripts to be converted to the right address.

"We're confident that it works because we've been testing it now for a couple of years," he said. "And so we're really ready to start rolling it out."

Of the 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide, Beckstrom - a former chief of U.S. cybersecurity - said that more than half use languages that have scripts based on alphabets other than .

"So this change is very much necessary for not only half the world's Internet users today, but more than half of probably the future users as the use of the Internet continues to spread," he said.

Beckstrom, in earlier remarks to conference participants, recalled that many people had said just three to five years ago that using non-Latin scripts for would be impossible to achieve.

"But you the community and the policy groups and staff and board have worked through them, which is absolutely incredible," he said.

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User comments : 31

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Bob_Kob
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 26, 2009
No don't do it, make English the universal language!
ShotmanMaslo
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 26, 2009
Yeah, I agree, altough I am not a native speaker. This could cause more confusion than good. Make latin the universal alphabet and english the universal language!
Royale
4.3 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2009
I'm very interested to hear why a non-native speaker would want English to be the main language. If you could humor me Shotman, that would be great.
I would be OK with that decision as well, but I think forcing it on web servers in other countries goes a little far. Sure, it would be easier all around, but honestly as more and more electronics get 'plugged in' it will get more and more difficult to enforce.
gopher65
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 26, 2009
I do not like this idea. There are too many languages out there for any single person to learn, so this will cause nothing but confusion. I want one language, and that's it.

I don't care *what* the universal language is (English, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi... whatever), but fraking assign one already! Pick one and I'll learn it.

This multi-lingual crap has gone on long enough. It's detrimental to society as a whole.
Bob_Kob
4.3 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2009
The internet is supposed to break down barriers of language, culture and race.
iknow
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 26, 2009
Rubbish! ... has anyone seen a keyboard that isn't for English speakers? What if it was a lab in India who spawned internet? Would be all learn Hindu (or Punjab or someother dialect)? Doubtful.

There are no physical constraints to making web addresses based on whatever language... all gets translated into 1 & 0s ... and if a webpage can display all languages .. why shouldn't address bar?

As for confusion ... how many english speakers go to Chinese sites? and when you do what do you see? Chinese ... if you can read, you prob have fonts etc already.

As for the "The internet is supposed to break down barriers of language, culture and race" -- I really dont think Tim Berners-Lee had this in mind .. so what gives you that idea? .. all it does is breakdown communication borders .. nothing else.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (5) Oct 26, 2009
I think non technical people are missing the point here. What is going on is that instead of typing google.com if you live in different country yes you are automatically routed to the proper google for your country but what is now possible is to say go to physorg.com but if you are in say russia the domain name the .com we all know and love can be changed to something not in english that may make more sense in that country. - this is only the beginning but it is a huge leap -if domain names can be resolved quickly then the rest of the URL can be changed as well in the future. You are right there is no good reason to force english down everyones throat except it made creating DNS servers a heck of a lot easier 35 years ago. Now that computing power has increased and unicode(unicode is a way of encoding every character of every language on the planet) has been widely excepted for about 10 years we can start moving forward on issues that would have been impossible to surmount 10yrs ago
kale
5 / 5 (2) Oct 26, 2009
How is this different than i18n domain names that have been in use since 1998? http://en.wikiped...ain_name

In the end, with machine translation getting significantly better over time, it doesn't matter what language a site or domain name is.
WhiteJim
2.3 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2009
Different languages are a bad thing. The fewer languages in the world the better the world will be. This move to make the internet more complex than it needs to be is anti-social and is a fall back towards the dark ages. Nothing good can come from this and preventing people from having full access to world information is the objective. Let language that are not needed die. The sooner the dying languages die the better for humanity going forward.

It does not matter which language is universal... English is already there so it might as well be English. Who care where English came from.
ealex
3.9 / 5 (8) Oct 26, 2009
There actually are plenty of keyboards for non-english people, particularly that I know of, for German and French speakers.

This however might cause more confusion that good, and I am positive that this change is going to be exploited to hell and back by phishers and spammers.

Not to say it shouldn't be implemented, just that it will entail quite a number of problems as well.

As far as the universal language goes, I don't see anything wrong with there being one. I actually see a lot of things right with there being one and a campaign for one, because that would bridge a lot of gaps. Anti-globalization zealots are going to comment that this destroys culture, but i big to differ. Having one universal common language does by no means entail having no other or not speaking your native language in your native country.

I am Romanian, and incidentally, if I wouldn't have learned and loved English, I would be half the man I am today, financially, socially, mentally and any other llys.
theonion
3 / 5 (3) Oct 26, 2009
As many of the world's languages don't have hard and fast rules regarding latin character correspondence of their phonetic sounds, this is going to create a great deal of confusion and mislead a lot of companies wanting to carry out global commerce, and for those companies in countries who already allow patent and copyright infringement, it will only make it easier to scam people with their slightly-off version of the phonetic spelling of a multi-national company. The poor people who have to live in those countries will be at the mercy of the many people who are trying to fool others for personal gain!
WhiteJim
2 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2009
The internet should be English only because it is mostly in English already now. There is no better choice for a simple, fast and flexible language.
brianweymes
4 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2009
El Nose is correct. This is a step in the right direction for 80% of the world which doesn't speak english. It sounds confusing but it really isn't. As the technology for machine translation improves, the problems should evaporate.
WhiteJim
3.5 / 5 (4) Oct 26, 2009
Why is English particulraly good for internet and text messaging?...

f u can understd this line of tex ... then u no wat I mean...

few other languages are this flexible for understanding them quickly and without unecessary rules for the sake of rules alone to make them complex ... like most other languages (say like French which is full of unecessary rules and complexity).

The people that talk about English not being spoken by 80% of the planet is like saying we should not have any language... because 99.99999% of life on earth does not speak any language at all.
donavanbadboy
3 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
What about all the software that handles domain names? Sure, if these new ones are encoded using UTF-8 then there's not much hastle. But I'm sure there will be no end of problems caused by it, mainly due to the inevatable bugs introduced by software writers frantically trying to make their web server/proxy server/browser etc...etc... fully compatible.

If non-latin alphabet using people have managed so far, why rock the boat? My guess is that the standard will be ratified and allowed, but it will take years (if ever) for all the software vendors to catch up, i.e. nobody will ever bother using it, just like what happened to IPv6.
vanderMerwe
not rated yet Oct 26, 2009
Cool! It's way past time they did that. I wonder if they are going to use Unicode? :-)
frajo
3 / 5 (2) Oct 26, 2009
It's quite impressive how afraid a certain group of human beings is if non-members of the group are going to gain some degree of freedom they didn't have before.
It's a pattern we find throughout history.
maxcypher
5 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
I say mix it up. If you include second-language speakers, Standard Mandarin is slightly ahead of English in number of speakers worldwide. My guess is that this policy change will just speed up the research in textual translation already in development.
ShotmanMaslo
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 26, 2009
I'm very interested to hear why a non-native speaker would want English to be the main language. If you could humor me Shotman, that would be great.
I would be OK with that decision as well, but I think forcing it on web servers in other countries goes a little far. Sure, it would be easier all around, but honestly as more and more electronics get 'plugged in' it will get more and more difficult to enforce.


Simply because in an ideal society (at least in my opinion) there should be one (or some very small number max) standard world language everyone would know, or learn in addition to their native language. English, being quite simple and widespread, is the logical choice.

As for the article, it is not about english or languages, but about other symbols than latin being allowed for domain names, so the headline is wrong.
Sean_W
2 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
Most people or companies who are publishing for a general audience will not choose an Uzbek or Mandarin web adress. Only people publishing Uzbek community events or Chinese weather forecasts or what will choose such adress and most of the world won't need to type them. Any company wanting to reach people in neighboring countries or second generation ex-pats will use non-English addresses except as mirror sites.

OT, People who tend to blog about political or controversial issues across the planet tend to use English to: a) keep anyone who knows them from finding and recognizing their writings and b) to reach the widest possible audience for their thoughts. Saudis who blog in English tend to be far more liberal than Arabic blogging Saudis and when Russia invaded Georgia many Georgians started posting in English to get their side of the issue out. In addition to business, science, pop culture, tourism and most other fields, English is also the language of politics and debate.
Arikin
3 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2009
As the article has mentioned this has been tested by them and those of us who run DNS servers. It is doable and really doesn't affect those who can't read that foreign language.

This is already being done in Japan for their local domains (domain.co.jp, domain.jp, etc).

All those who don't know how to write kanji characters for a particular site will never see it! Except for maybe a google search. But would you click on a link that you can't read? Most likely not.

And romanized version of a domain is difficult for a non-English speaker to remember. Bet you would have problems remembering the domain: google.com if it was written in Katakana? You don't know what katakana is? Well that makes my point...
frajo
3 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2009
Most people or companies who are publishing for a general audience will not choose an Uzbek or Mandarin web adress.

There are no Uzbek characters.
Mandarin uses Chinese characters. As do all the other languages/dialects spoken in China. A man from Shanghai usually doesn't understand the people in Hongkong - but they use the same Chinese characters with the same meaning. That's different from European languages which use the same Latin characters, but don't convey meaning with a single character.

when Russia invaded Georgia many Georgians started posting in English to get their side of the issue out.

When Georgia attacked South Ossetia, many South Ossetians started posting in Russian. You know why.
El_Nose
not rated yet Oct 29, 2009
I posted on this the first day it appeared and I stand by that post --

furthermore english while pervasive and widespread if you are speaking of number of people who speak a language then mandarin is the most used language in the world with over well over 1.5 billion speakers. English is less than half of this. And Spanish will out do english within 50 yrs. With Hindi as a close 4th.

Should we demand that english be the language of domainnames when it make no difference to anyone -- if you type with a russian alphabet use it the computer will translate thanks to a herd of programmers

and as for making programmers work more -- hey is a world wide RECESSION , we need the demand to go up so that IT can get paid and get a job if need be. Cut backs have been hard all over the world.
frogz
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009
This is nothing more than a pr stunt to encourage investments. mark my words, it will cause more headaches than anything else.
Damon_Hastings
2 / 5 (1) Nov 01, 2009
mark my words, it will cause more headaches than anything else.

Oh, it will cause more than headaches. This is a phisher's wet dream come true. Expect to see cybercrime skyrocket. It's all too easy to use Unicode to spoof English-looking letters. And that's not even counting all the nice bugs this change will create for criminals to exploit. Internationalization tends to be added to software as an afterthough, i.e. when it's forced upon the programmer by some outside force like ICANN, and it's notoriously buggy as a result. As a programmer, I can tell you that most of us shudder at the mention of internationalization. I wasted literally months of my life at Amazon.com trying to clean up messes caused by other programmers adding internationalization as an afterthought -- including some exploitable bugs (no, I won't tell you what they were. ;-)
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Nov 01, 2009
Internationalization tends to be added

I18N is not the same thing as a non-Latin FQDN. I18N is difficult, yes, but you need it if your non-English customers are supposed to buy your application.
when it's forced upon the programmer by some outside force like ICANN

ICANN isn't your boss. ICANN doesn't force anybody; ICANN gives degrees of freedom to people who want it.
Damon_Hastings
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
I18N is not the same thing as a non-Latin FQDN. I18N is difficult, yes, but you need it if your non-English customers are supposed to buy your application.

Software internationalization is defined as "adapting computer software to different languages and regional differences" -- see http://en.wikiped...ionalize

To modify Latin-only software to accept FQDNs of any language is to internationalize it. Basically, any time you dig around in the code adding calls to UTF functions (or whatever), you're internationalizing. And it's tricky, tedious, and dangerous. And, as you pointed out, it's often necessary.

ICANN isn't your boss. ICANN doesn't force anybody; ICANN gives degrees of freedom to people who want it.

No, they're not holding a gun up to my head forcing me to adhere to the standard. But if I want my software to sell, or to be interoperable, then I'd darn well better make it standards-compliant!
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Nov 01, 2009
But if I want my software to sell, or to be interoperable, then I'd darn well better make it standards-compliant!

I do agree. But MS obviously not - for the sake of their profits.
Damon_Hastings
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
Yeah, it should be interesting to see how that plays out. ;-)
Yelmurc
not rated yet Nov 01, 2009
As interesting as it is to have the world contribute to the internet. I don't believe this is the best solution. By not giving people a incentive to learn one language of trade you are just keeping everyone fragmented.

The story of The Tower of Babel comes to mind.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2009
The story of The Tower of Babel comes to mind.

Not really. Most of the 6000 languages and dialects on this planet are doomed as new generations prefer to speak a dominant language. Australia: 90 percent of the 250 languages will vanish. English is a death angel for these languages. Spanish and Portuguese are killing 20 percent of the South American languages. Are there still people speaking Mandan? Eyak? Ubykh? Iowa?
Is it really progress if the diversity of cultural identities is dwindling?