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Tackling the Web's language barrier

Industry Standard

July 14, 2000
Web posted at: 10:51 a.m. EDT (1451 GMT)

(IDG) -- ICANN, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, has so many issues to resolve that the official language of domain names might seem marginal. But for millions of non-English speaking Net surfers around the world, ICANN's summit in Yokohama, Japan, could pave the way for native-language alternatives to the ubiquitous .com, .gov and .net.

During ICANN's five-day meeting, which began Thursday, the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium (MINC) will discuss ways to implement non-English-based domain names on the Web.

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Today, the Internet's Domain Name System only supports numbers, hyphens and Roman letters from what is called ASCII code. The system does not respond to languages that are not based on Roman characters. But thanks to new technologies that allow for more flexible coding, groups such as MINC have high hopes of introducing multilingual domain names.

"The Internet has always been controlled by Western people," says Byung-Kyu Kim, director of address management at the Korea Network Information Center. "We have to prove that there's no problem in introducing a multilingual domain name system at the ICANN meeting."

The number of available domains is shrinking each day, but proponents of multilingual domain names say the new technologies can help meet the growing demand.

Companies such as California-based i-DNS.net International have developed technologies that would allow the system to recognize non-Roman characters. The company expects to register 100,000 domain names entirely in Japanese during the next 12 months, and many more in other languages.

Proponents of multilingual domain names also argue that a multilingual domain name system would help Internet companies strengthen their brands, by using their own languages in their Internet addresses.

In November, a company called Internet One Japan began exploring how it might register partially Japanese domain names. It received about 8,000 registration requests. The Japan Network Information Center has also been studying the creation of Japanese domain names, and it hopes to start registering local-language domain names by the end of the year.

But MINC and others pushing for multilingual domain names still have many technical and administrative issues to resolve before they can implement a stable system.

Some companies have raised the concern that trademark holders would be forced to spend significant amounts of money to protect the names of their patented products from speculators rushing to register domains with those names, only to resell them later at a premium. But a victory for proponents of a multilingual system could adjust the political balance within the Internet community.

"The feeling would be different," Kim says.




RELATED STORIES:
Cybersquatters face Olympic-sized lawsuit
July 13, 2000
Australia calls for domain name protection
June 28, 2000
New domains at last
June 27, 2000
ICANN releases plan for adding Internet domains
June 19, 2000
Island at the center of the domain-name storm
May 8, 2000

RELATED IDG.net STORIES:
Cybersquatters face Olympic-sized lawsuit
(The Industry Standard)
New top-level domains up for discussion this week
(Computerworld)
Nonprofits help ICANN get out the vote
(The Industry Standard)
GAO clears ICANN's legal underbrush
(The Industry Standard)
UN agency broadens attack on cybersquatting
(IDG.net)

RELATED SITES:
ICANN official site

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