ICANN approves domain names we can't type

It's goodbye to English as the Internet's language as ICANN sets the stage for domain names in non-Latin character sets.

This is a bad day for the English language, after ICANN approved non-Latin characters for use in Internet domain names. Having invented the Internet--40 years ago yesterday--the U.S. has given away whatever advantage it offers English-speakers.

This was bound to happen after the U.S. recently recanted on its "ownership" of the Internet in a new agreement with ICANN, the Internet's primary governing body. At one level, I am happy that Internet users around the world will soon have domain names in their own character sets.

"The coming introduction of non-Latin characters represents the biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago," ICANN Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said in a statement.

"Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters--A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names."

The first phase of the Internationalized Domain Names program begins Nov. 16 when countries can apply to ICANN for country codes, such as .us for the United States and .ru for Russia, in their own character sets.

Over time, expect to see other domains, such as .com, .org, and .net, become available in other character sets, as well as domain names themselves.

"This is a culmination of years of work, tests, study and discussion by the ICANN community," Thrush said. "To see this finally start to unfold is to see the beginning of an historic change in the Internet and who uses it."

Is this a change for the better?

Perhaps, but is there any doubt that if another country had "invented" the Internet--say the Russians--that we'd all have had to learn to type Cyrillic characters by now? Moreover, do you think they or the Chinese or Japanese would have changed the Internet just to suit English-speakers.

Indeed, had the Internet been developed around a non-Latin character set, would it even exist today? Has the success of the Internet not been linked to the role of English as the global language of business and popular culture?

On another level, I also am concerned about all the potential for duplicated domains that will be created as non-Latin characters roll out across the Internet. How many new domains will be needed to protect international brands?

Will cybercriminals some how be able to take advantage of this change? Will there be hidden domains that cannot be displayed on some computers or typed on many keyboards?

Practically, I am not looking forward to perhaps someday having to learn how to type potentially 100,000 non-Latin characters that ICANN has embraced. Is there an easy way to do this? How many keys will keyboards need to have?

I am guessing this is a problem Google will help solve, but still have concerns.

It also worries me that the Internet, which once brought people together, may start to fracture along character-set lines.

Like I said, this is a bad day for the English language, but a good day for the billions of people who do not speak my mother tongue. They have rights, too, even if I am not always happy about what that means.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

PC World (US online)
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