The Internet’s claim to be a worldwide web are now a little more credible, as domain names written in three major Asian languages are starting to be registered.
Domain names will also soon start appearing in many other languages, perhaps signalling the end of the English language’s dominance of the Net. Controversy, however, remains over which technology should be used to support the Asian language domain names and who should administer the whole system.
Every day, the Internet extends its reach across the globe but as it does so it retains its western character because, until now, most domain names have been formed using English language characters. A domain name, such as CRM-Forum.com, is simply a location on the Internet.
Dotted around the world are 13 computers holding a big list of which domains are where. Your computer consults these on your behalf whenever you go surfing.
Although many webpages are written in languages other than English, the domain name for the sites has always been written with English characters. The standards which define how domain names work say that only 37 characters can be used for domain names. This total includes the 26 letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and the hyphen. Nothing else is allowed.
Now, all this is being changed as organisations find ways to use characters from languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Arabic. Some companies have been conducting trials of Asian language domain names since late last year.
But companies could only officially register Asian language domain names now that US-based Network Solutions (NSI), which administers the list of domain names ending .com, .net and .org, has announced it is happy to take bookings for domains written with Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters.
NSI is letting a dozen companies register domains using these characters. Thousands of people have snapped up the domain names but they will not be able to use them for at least a month as NSI refines the technology behind them.
Registrars that look after country code domains such as .jp, .cn and .kr are expected to follow suit soon.
NSI is keen to point out that the standards which dictate how multilingual domains should be handled have yet to be finalised. The adoption of multilingual domains expands the number of characters possible in a domain name from 37 to over 40,000.
It is also expected to fuel the expansion of the Internet in Asian countries where a minority have a command of English.
The announcement by NSI is likely to bring the company into conflict with others, such as Singapore’s I-DNS, which have been offering Asian language domain names since late last year.
I-DNS set up its system outside the global domain name organisation. Instead I-DNS locally translates into English the Asian language domains to which people want to surf. The domains are then passed on to the master name servers.
Conflicts over domain names in other languages are already being fought. Registrars in Thailand are currently scrapping over who owns the rights to domains written in Thai registered and recognised using different technologies.