Language shake-up for the Internet

18:32, October 27, 2009      

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Internet regulator Icann says the web is about to experience the "biggest change ... since it was invented 40 years ago" as it finalizes plans to introduce web addresses using non-Latin characters. The proposal, initially approved in 2008, will allow domain names written in Asian, Arabic or other scripts. If approved on October 30, Icann says it will accept the first applications by November 16.

The first Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) could be up and running by "mid 2010" said the president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann). "Of the 1.6 billion Internet users today worldwide, more than half use languages that have scripts that are not Latin-based," said Rod Beckstrom at the opening of Icann's conference in Seoul, South Korea. "So this change is very much necessary for not only half the world's Internet users today but more than half, probably, of the future users as the Internet continues to spread."

Although plans for new IDNs were approved in June 2008, testing of the system has been going on for much longer according to Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the board in charge of reviewing the change. "You have to appreciate what a fantastically complicated technical feature this is," he said. "What we have created is a different translation system."

The changes will be applied to the net's Domain Name System (DNS). Acting like a phone book, it translates easily understood domain names such as www.xinhua.net into strings of computer readable numbers known as IP addresses. "We are confident that it works because we have been testing it for a couple of years," said Mr Dengate Thrush. "We're really ready to start rolling it out."

Some countries, including China and Thailand, have already introduced workarounds that allow computer users to enter web addresses in their own language. However, these were not internationally approved and do not necessarily work on all computers. Icann, set up by the U.S. government, was founded in 1998 to oversee the development of the Internet. After years of criticism, the U.S. government eased its control over the non-profit body last month and passed a new agreement that gave Icann autonomy for the first time. The agreement came into effect on October 1 and puts it under the scrutiny of the global "Internet community".

Source: Xinhuanet/Agencies
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