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ICANN Approve International Domain Suffixes

By Craig Buckler

International domainsSitePoint is fortunate to receive visitors from all over the world. However, the vast majority are from the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. As native English speakers, it’s easy to forget the billions of Russian, Chinese, Arabic and other computer users who do not speak the language. OS manufacturers make considerable efforts to internationalize their systems, yet entering a web address requires everyone to use the same 26-letter Latin alphabet for domain name suffixes such as .com, .org and .net.

All that will change on 16 November 2009. The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has agreed a proposal that allows governments to apply for a domain name suffix using their own language and character set. The proposal was unopposed by the 15 voting members and received a standing ovation at the summit in Seoul, South Korea.

ICANN CEO Rod Beckstorm stated:

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.

The Chinese government are expected to be one of the first applicants and ICANN expect the new addresses to be available in early 2010. Several rules will apply:

  1. Countries may only apply for one domain name suffix.
  2. The suffix must represent the name of the country or an abbreviation.
  3. Non-Latin versions of .com and .org will not be permitted yet, but ICANN is considering the implications further.

How long will it be before someone applies for a Klingon suffix?

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  • Sojan80

    I want the Klingon suffix!

  • Mark Ford

    So.. countries may only apply for one domain name suffix.. how-on-earth do you enforce what a country does or does not do with it’s DNS?? I mean, if the Chinese government decide they want a zillion extensions in utf-billion characters, who is going to stop them??

    Crazy world.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    Non-latin domains is just a bad idea. It fractures the web. People will stick to little microcosms where all the sites are named in the alphabet of their native language, rather than the current global spread of information we have today. Nobody from the western world will be reading カタカナ.com simply because they can’t type the name.

  • Stevie D

    Non-latin domains is just a bad idea. It fractures the web. People will stick to little microcosms where all the sites are named in the alphabet of their native language, rather than the current global spread of information we have today. Nobody from the western world will be reading カタカナ.com simply because they can’t type the name.

    Sure, but if they can’t type カタカナ.com then the chances are that they won’t be able to read what’s on there either.

    I know that I might get by visiting a .fr or .es website, but I’m not going to stand a chance on a .jp or .cn site. Having the domain in non-latin characters makes it easier for me to decide that that is a website I can quite happily walk past without stopping to look.

    No-one is suggesting that if I want to visit an English website like toyota.co.uk I will have to type it in as トヨタ – what is happening is that, eg Japanese language websites (which may be local sites or may be one translation of an international site) can be accessed by Japanese people using the Japanese alphabet.

    Why should Japanese people visiting a Japanese language website have to type it in the latin alphabet? It’s a discriminatory practice that has been allowed to continue for too long, and I am delighted that ICANN have finally taken the step to end it.

  • http://www.arwebdesign.net samanime

    I’m kind of mixed in my opinion of the idea, though overall I think it is a good one for the reasons Stevie just spelled out.

    Does anyone remember the articles about advertisers in Japan and such advertising keywords they should search, instead of the domain itself? That may very well have been a result of the fact that it could be harder to remember it in foreign letters than it is for them to remember two words.

  • goutham

    surely internet will become virtually private with the domain names in foreign languages.

    god save us.

  • Tim

    I think particularly in Asia, the usage of these domains will follow their business practices. There are many stories of business deals only being done with people that speak their tongue even though they are quite capable of speaking ours. When you have that many people in one area, and also when they realise they now have the capability for economic growth the rest of the world wants, they have the ability to dictate terms to the rest of the world. Relate this back to their domains and I wonder how long it will be before they try and establish their own “Internet” in the realm of these domains. This is the fracturing that Dan refers to. I’m all for people being able to speak, read and write in their own native tongue, but not at the detriment of fracturing a global information economy. If it can be accomplished without the fracturing, then I’ll support it, but you can’t reverse it once it starts.

  • Benji+

    I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t language equality on the web. There’s no good reason why people shouldn’t be able to use the internet in their native language completely. Even for other latin-based languages, the current scheme doesn’t allow them to use accented characters if they wanted to.
    I think the only bad thing about this proposal is that countries are limited to one domain name suffix. Some countries have not just more than one language, but more than one script. Who, you might wonder? Well, the good ol’ U.S. for one, and Canada for another. Why shouldn’t Cherokee or Inuit people be allowed to type a web address in their own characters just because the rest of the people in their country use the Latin alphabet? Maybe they don’t make up a large contingent of internet users, but nonetheless, I think it should be a right.

  • nick y

    I disagree with you Stevie. I visit japanese sites quite often because I can read some of it. But I use an american keyboard so if they change this then I would no longer be able to access them unless I have the language pack installed so I can type in the address? I just don’t think that would be a good idea. Like a previous poster said (sorry can’t remember the name) the internet is for a worldwide purpose and I think this would limit that. A lot of other countries already know english and plus if people have been doing it this way for years why change it now?

  • http://www.arwebdesign.net samanime

    For years we had slavery and women couldn’t vote… my response to the “we’ve been doing it for years, why change it now” statement.

    However, you do make a valid point about the language packs. However, I think that’s being biased towards one language. Just because you (a non-native) don’t use a keyboard that has native keyboards, why shouldn’t a native be able to type in their native language?

    Not to mention, it’s likely that there will be places where you can go to get it switched to the native language, or even just search for it. It’s a valid point, but not one that’s strong enough to put this down.

    Besides, language packs aren’t that difficult to install, and if you frequent sites of a different language you should have them installed anyways.

  • jspa

    and one day web might be i18n in a total …
    this is a step, in that way.

    if everything its reduced to a little set of chars,
    richness of different cultures is reduced.

    it might take time to i18n all, but things are going faster =).

  • nick y

    samanime I do agree with you somewhat with both of your statements. My question is this: would I be able to type in an american equivalent to get to the page? I do agree that people should be able to type in a url in their native language, but if it gives up access to those who don’t know the language then we are just simply changing which way it is biased but not the problem itself. I hope what I’m trying to say makes sense to you.

  • nick y

    I understand what#you are saying Stevie. But also heres what else I think:
    If by changing it to be this way I can no longer visit the sites because I can’t type in their native language then is this really solving the bias problem or are the tables just turning and ir being biased toward non-native people?

  • Stevie D

    @nick y

    If by changing it to be this way I can no longer visit the sites because I can’t type in their native language then is this really solving the bias problem or are the tables just turning and ir being biased toward non-native people?

    I would imagine that most sites would keep the latin and local versions of the domains, so you would be able to access it either way.

    But even if not, I think that a system that allows the 100 million people of Japan to enter a URL in their own language and where the handful of non-native Japanese speakers have to use some other method is far better than one where the 100 million people of Japan can’t type the URL for a Japanese website in their own language.

    At the end of the day, non-native visitors will still be able to find the website through search engines – the priority must be to allow native people, particularly the less well educated, who may not be able to read and write in latin script well, to access their own country’s websites. Continuing with the current system of latin-only URLs is unacceptably discriminatory against the billions of people whose first language uses a non-latin script.

  • nick y

    @Stevie

    You make a valid point and I am now in agreement with this concept.

  • http://blog.thenetgen.com agentforte

    I wonder how this will effect web browsing security software and/or spam filter software.

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