Multilingual web address system approved

Oct 30, 2009
An Afghan man is seen using a computer at an internet cafe in Kabul. A global regulatory body Friday approved a new multilingual address system which it said would open up the Internet to millions more people worldwide. In future it will be possible to write an entire website address in any of the world's language scripts, including Arabic.

The nonprofit body that oversees Internet addresses approved Friday the use of Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and other scripts not based on Latin characters in a decision that could make the Web dramatically more inclusive.

The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - or ICANN - voted to allow such scripts in so-called domain names at the conclusion of a weeklong meeting in Seoul, South Korea's capital.

The decision by the board's 15 voting members was unopposed and welcomed by applause and a standing ovation. It followed years of debate and testing.

The result clears the way for governments or their designees to submit requests for specific names, likely beginning Nov. 16. Internet users could start seeing them in use early next year, particularly in Arabic, Chinese and other scripts in which demand has been among the highest, ICANN officials say.

"This represents one small step for ICANN, but one big step for half of mankind who use non-Latin scripts, such as those in Korea, China and the Arabic speaking world as well as across Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world," Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's CEO, said ahead of the vote.

Domain names - the Internet addresses that end in ".com" and other suffixes - are the key monikers behind every Web site, e-mail address and Twitter post.

Since their creation in the 1980s, domain names have been limited to the 26 characters in the Latin alphabet used in English - A-Z - as well as 10 numerals and the hyphen. Technical tricks have been used to allow portions of the Internet address to use other scripts, but until now, the suffix had to use those 37 characters.

That has meant Internet users with little or no knowledge of English might still have to type in Latin characters to access Web pages in Chinese or Arabic. Although search engines can sometimes help users reach those sites, companies still need to include Latin characters on billboards and other advertisements.

Now, ICANN is allowing those same technical tricks to apply to the suffix as well, allowing the Internet to be truly multilingual.

Many of the estimated 1.5 billion people online use languages such as Chinese, Thai, Arabic and Japanese, which have writing systems entirely different from English, French, German, Indonesian, Swahili and others that use Latin characters.

"This is absolutely delightful news," said Edward Yu, CEO of Analysys International, an Internet research and consulting firm in Beijing.

The Internet would become more accessible to users with lower incomes and education, said Yu, who was speaking before the widely expected decision.

Countries can only request one suffix for each of their official languages, and the suffix must somehow reflect the name of the country or its abbreviation.

Non-Latin versions of ".com" and ".org" won't be permitted for at least a few more years as ICANN considers broader policy questions such as whether the incumbent operator of ".com" should automatically get a Chinese version, or whether that more properly goes to China, as its government insists.

ICANN also is initially prohibiting Latin suffixes that go beyond the 37 already-permitted characters. That means suffixes won't be able to include tildes, accent marks and other special characters.

And software developers still have to make sure their applications work with the non-Latin scripts. Major Web browsers already support them, but not all e-mail programs do.

In China, Guo Liang, a researcher who studies Internet use for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the government's top think tank, questioned whether all Chinese will embrace the new domains.

Although the move will reflect linguistic and cultural diversity, Guo said, "for some users it might even be easier to type domains in Latin alphabets than Chinese characters."

China has already set up its own ".com" in Chinese within its borders, using techniques that aren't compatible with Internet systems around the world.

Most Chinese and Japanese computer users write characters in their native scripts by typing phonetic versions on a standard English keyboard.

China is among a handful of countries that has pushed hardest for official non-Latin suffixes and could be one of the first to make one available, said Tina Dam, the ICANN senior director for internationalized domain names. The other countries, she said, are Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

About 50 such names are likely to be approved in the first few years.

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

The U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet's early development, selected ICANN in 1998 to oversee policies on domain names. ICANN, which has headquarters in the United States in Marina del Rey, California, was set up as a nonprofit with board members from around the world.

Beckstrom said Friday's approval is not simply aimed at enhancing convenience for Internet users using different scripts.

"It's also an issue of pride of people and their own culture and their own language, and a recognition that the Internet belongs to everyone," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "It's a shared resource. So I think it's a really exciting step for all of us."

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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WhiteJim
not rated yet Oct 30, 2009
This is a very bad idea. It makes the internet MUCH LESS inclusive by making it MUCH MORE fragmented and complicated than it needs to be.

"This is one giant leap backwards for mankind ... back to the Tower of Babble which the internet was demolishing."

The pride of people in their own culture and language is a "bad thing" and nothing good has ever come from that ... and will be even more so for something created to be shared by all humanity equally without the separation and discrimination and resulting "exclusion" by creating pigeon holes for different "cultures and languages".
Royale
not rated yet Oct 30, 2009
The one flaw that I see is from a security standpoint. People on the internet now obviously know enough English to get around. When this idea goes live, everyone using the new standard will have access to everything; but those of us with knowledge of only English and standard keyboards will have access to English domains only. This is going to mean more tax dollars to the NSA since they'll need more computer experts and more translators.

Other than that, though, who are we to say that only our language can be used to address web servers? The tons of people that don't know a lick of English will now be able to access sites in their non-Latin characters. This opens up access truly to the masses.

This will obviously be debated for some time, until people here realize that it's not affecting them.
Just as Chinese sites now don't affect us, non-Latin addresses will not affect us either. (At least not in the direct, "hey that site is offensive", kind of way).
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
Once again this article is a repeat. but to explain

This will not effect anyone typing in an address. when you go to a web page say google.com your computer does not 'know' where that server is located. So it asks a DNS server where to go to get to that web page. The DNS servers keep this info. So even if you type it in a different language it is the DNS server / name lookup sever that will have a database of where to go.
This will not effect anyone who speaks english. If you don't speak english this will allow you to to have a domain name that translates to com used locally.

This is a very good thing. English is not even the most used language... the US military happened to invent the net so having it in english was defacto. If Spain had invented the net it would be in Spanish. Now with Unicode that is no longer necessary.

the iphone now has an app for realtime voice translation to other languages.

This is not the beginning of the Tower of Babel it is the Rosetta Stone.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2009
@Royale

Everyone will have access to all domain names. You can type in swahili if you lookup the unicode section for that language. Just as people with keyboards in China do not have the qwerty standard they had to come up with work arounds -- but it is in knowing the IP address that you get anywhere. THis process sounds like it will limit people but it WILL NOT prevent you from looking at anything on the web.

This will not change Ip addresses. This will not incur any intellegence agency to get more people... The web pages in Russian will still be in Russian but the NSA isn't looking at web pages.. maybe blogs but satellite signals and tapped phone conversations.
hessimoto
not rated yet Oct 30, 2009
I think its about time this was approved. It was only a matter of "when" it would have happened. The only caveat to this decision is that we will see a new spate of "squatters" for a while until they are resolved either by local laws or through buyouts. Let's see what happens.
ZenaV
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009
As long as all the sites have a 'block' button I don't give a rat's btt. But I WON'T EVER go to a website where the illegal aliens slap me around and I can't block them!
Royale
not rated yet Nov 02, 2009
That's a good point, el nose. Web pages aren't too static for their interests. I'm just one of those damn Americans that won't learn another language. So I'm cranky about these people who'll be able to multi-surf. You guys are right though, there are pages now written in other languages so it doesn't make much difference.