The Internet is largely an American invention. With its humble beginnings as part of the National Defense System paid for by the US government, and the rise of personal computing almost exclusively spearheaded by American corporations (IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Dell, you name it!), the conception of the Web has traditionally been dominated by an English-speaking worldview.
47 years later, the rest of the world has joined the party. Accessibility has become a hot issue. For a rapidly increasing majority, the online experience can be alienating and frustrating. The problem is generally not content — advances in built-in OS support for international character-set encoding and translation services make short work of ensuring there’s plenty of content accessible online in any language.
The fly in the ointment is surprisingly non-virtual and quite physical: keyboard layouts that don’t natively support the Latin character-set necessary to type the English-centric part of website addresses known as Top Level Domains (TDL).
Well, no more.
On November 16, 2009, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the Internet’s naming and numbering systems, announced a big win for TLD accessibility.
Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) expand the acceptable range of domain characters from the currently available set of the English alphanumeric set (26 letters “a-z”, numbers 0-9, and hyphens) to “close to 100,000 characters”.
ICANN President Rod Beckstrom estimates that roughly half of all Internet users use non-Latin based scripts by default. This means the move toward IDN ccTLD will open the virtual doors for potentially billions of non-English speakers across the world.
President Rob Beckstrom passionately describes the exciting culmination of this project as “making the promise of one world, one Internet, with everyone connected, come true”.
For the better part of a decade, ICANN has been working with software engineers, IT architects and international representatives to resolve the incredibly complex technical and political challenges of redesigning the core of the Internet’s addressing system for a truly global reach.
“This is the biggest technical change to the Internet’s addressing system – the Domain Name System – in many years,” explains Tina Dam, Senior Director of Internationalized Domain Names at ICANN. “Right now, it’s not possible to get a domain name entirely in for example Chinese characters or Arabic characters. This is about to change.”
The IDN ccTLD Fast Track program is available immediately online for owners of current (Latin-based) domains that wish to translate their property address into another language. Requests are currently being evaluated and approved by ICANN. IDN ccTLDs are expected to be accessible online in early 2010.
Information on how to apply, a list of Frequently Asked questions, and the online request form are available at: http://www.icann.org/en/topics/idn/fast-track/
For more information on the good ICANN is doing, please visit: http://www.icann.org