Ever since their creation in the 1980’s, domain names and their resultant website addresses have been limited to the Latin alphabet, from A – Z, used by English speaking nations. In a ground-breaking decision on Friday however, Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, (a non-profit body that oversees web addresses and domain names), approved the use of non-Latin alphabets for domain names.
After a week long meeting in Seoul, (and years of debate and testing), Icann voted to allow alphabets such as Hebrew, Hindi, Korean, Arabic and Chinese to be used for the naming and registration of domains.
The decision clears the way for governments or those they designate to submit requests for specific names, a process that could well begin this month. In fact, according to Icann officials, users could start seeing the new addresses as early as the beginning of next year, especially in the scripts for which demand is highest, like Chinese and Arabic.
An Inclusive Internet
According to Rod Beckstrom, CEO of Icann, “This represents one small step for Icann, but one big step for half of mankind who use non-Latin scripts, such as those in Korea, China and the Arabic speaking world as well as across Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world.”
Although portions of URLs have, in the past, been allowed to be in other scripts through a variety of technical workarounds, the domain suffix, (e.g. .com, .org, etc.) has always had to be in Latin characters, and they have always had to be included, even in foreign language adverts or documentation.
With the extension of those technical fixes to the domain suffix, Icann has taken an all-important step toward making the internet truly multilingual.
Edward Yu, CEO of Analysys International, said, “This is absolutely delightful news,” explaining that this decision would make the internet would more accessible to users with lower incomes and education.
Restrictions To Start
There will be some restrictions to begin with. Countries may only request a single, country specific suffix for each official language, and the suffix must reflect either the country name, or the abbreviation thereof.
In addition, non-Latin versions of .com and .org will not be permitted for now, while Icann decides whether the operator of such a domain should automatically get an language-specific version, or whether the language specific version should be limited to the government.
Latin suffixes will still be limited to the 37 accepted characters, and won’t be able to include special characters.
There will also need to be some work on the part of software developers, who will need to ensure that their applications are compatible with the new domain suffixes. Although major web browsers support non-Latin scripts, not all email clients, for example, do.
It is expected that around 50 new domain suffixes will be approved in the next few years.