BEIJING, July 17 -- Chinese-speaking Internet users are increasingly able to type the address of a website into a browser using Chinese characters rather than the Latin alphabet.
On Thursday, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC)formally launched two top-level domain names using Chinese characters, the Chinese parallels to ".com" and ".net."
The Chinese domain names were approved in January by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit, Los Angeles-based organization that operates the root DNS zones.
The new domain names have been open for application and subsequent use by organizations and individuals at home and abroad since July 1, said Li Xiaodong, executive director of the CNNIC, at an event to kick off a promotional campaign for the new domains on Thursday.
The first top-level domain name using Chinese characters was adopted in 2010 using two Chinese characters meaning "China" as the Chinese parallel to ".cn."
"These three Chinese domains cover almost all the needs of applicants, from government departments to companies and individuals," said Li.
China's population of 1.3 billion, including 618 million Internet users, can support the development of Chinese domains, he said.
The CCNIC is in charge of taking in and registering the application of the three Chinese domains and managing them.
About 300,000 owners have registered for the first Chinese domain name.
"I expect fast growth in owners of the latest two. All those with '.cn' domains are potential applicants. The number could reach millions," Li said.
According to the CNNIC, all mainstream browsers, including Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari, support the Chinese domains, which means users can simply type in Chinese characters to visit websites.
The CNNIC's next priority is to help push e-mail service providers and search engines to join in, Li said.
Internet service firm Qihoo 360 has designed its search engine to support Chinese domains, confirmed Qu Bing, the company's vice president, at Thursday's promotional event.
"We will continue working with the CNNIC and give full support to promote Chinese domains," she said.
Although other major search engines have not joined in, Li said it is only a matter of time before they do.
NetEase Inc., a leading Chinese e-mail service provider having 650 million users, is also updating its system to support Chinese domains.
"The new Chinese domains are good news for us. NetEase has introduced e-mail addresses using Chinese characters but a company is limited in what it can do [without Chinese domain names]," said Ma Xiaoguang, a senior executive of NetEase.
Chinese domains are considered easier for Chinese speakers to remember and recognize. Japanese and Koreans, who use some Chinese characters in their language, may also prefer these domains, according to the CNNIC.
"Language is a carrier of culture. Introducing Chinese domains is a way of promoting Chinese culture in the age of the Internet," Li said. "Although English may remain dominant, a certain group of people, especially billions of Chinese, can have another option."