International Domains in Languages Other Than English on the Way

After four decades, the Internet heads for the biggest change in its history. Participants in a meeting in Seoul, Korea, are expected to approve the use of international domain names written in languages other than English. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization that monitors domain names around the world, is considering allowing Internet addresses in characters other than Latin letters. In the not too distant future, it may be a common sight to see URLs expressed in lettering as diverse as Greek, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and other languages on advertising in sports stadiums and other common advertising outlets.

“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 expected the board to grant approval for the change on the conference’s final day.

The birth of the Internet began with a transmission of data from UCLA to Stanford University in 1969. In the early 1990s, its availability and purpose grew from military, scientific and academic applications to the boundless purposes it serves today. If the changes are approved as expected, a spokesperson for ICANN said that the organization would begin accepting applications for non-English domain names very soon, and the first entries of the new URLs would probably be implemented sometime in mid-2010.

Thrush said that the creation of a translation system that allows conversion of multiple scripts to the correct address was the single largest development that enables this change.

“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.”

More than 1.6 billion people around the world currently use the Internet and Rod Beckstrom, former chief of U.S. cyber security and now ICANN’s new president and CEO, said that more than half of these users write in scripts not based on the Latin alphabet.

“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 recalled that as recently as three to five years ago, people in the industry said that the use of non-Latin scripts for domain names would be impossible to achieve and a myriad of problems would make it impractical.

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

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is headquartered in Marina del Rey, CA.

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