Saturday, November 7, 2009
International Internet . . .or not?
Since the dawn of the internet,domain names have been dominated by Latin characters. This has severely restricted internet accessibility to those that are not familiar with and did not know how to convert their domain names into Latin characters. Recently, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has made a decision to allow domain names to be registered with non-Latin characters. It is generally believed that when Latin characters dominated domain names, that it restricted non-English speakers' access to the internet. Many are hailing ICANN's decision as an internationalization of the internet. Domain names will soon be allowed in Arabic, Chinese and Russian characters. Andrey Vorobiev, the RU-Center public relations department manager, is quoted as saying : "Now that all countries can write their URL addresses in their own languages, this decision is an important step for the internationalization of the Internet. The days have passed when people who don't understand Latin alphabet cannot use the Internet"(Tong, X. 2009). Currently, these changes are affecting local country codes (.ru for Russia), and over time top level domain names (.com, .net, .org) will be affected as well. China and Thailand are beginning to introduce workarounds that will allow people to access websites in their own language (BBC News). I think the main question becomes: how will this affect internet accessibility for webpages in different countries? How will this affect people that do not speak Russian, Chinese, and Arabic, and do not have keyboards with these characters?
I think it is ironic that this change is coming after the US government loosened its control over ICANN a month ago. ICANN was initially developed by the US government as a non-profit corporation to oversee a large variety of Internet related tasks. Last month, ICANN signed an agreement that gives it autonomy and puts it under the scrutiny of the "internet community" (BBC News). It seems interesting that now that ICANN is not dominated by English speakers and is taking the needs of the internet community into account, that it is choosing to make the internet more accessible for non-English speakers.
Internet Addresses Set for Change (2009, October 30). Retrieved November 7, 2009, from http://news.bbc.co.uk
Tong, X. (2009, November 5). Russian expert: Non-Latin character names key to Internet internationalization. Retrieved November 7, 2009, from http://news.xinhuanet.com
Whitney, L. (2009, October 30). ICANN approves non-Latin domain Names. Retrieved November 7, 2009, from http://news.cnet.com