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Old 14th April 2006, 10:38 PM
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Net's Future: Beyond English

"Control of the network might not stay in the hands of its English-speaking creators.

At a little more than 30, the Internet is going through a mid-life crisis, and there is much hand-wringing over problems both real and imagined. A real one concerns the question of when the Internet will converse more in the language of its constituents.

Today, only 23 percent of people using the Internet are in North America. English-language users in the United Kingdom and Asia increase that percentage significantly, but the non-English-speaking population is where the serious growth lies, creating the potential for alternate online worlds to spring up.

This separateness could end up being built on web addresses written in non-Roman scripts like Chinese. With the U.S. government-linked Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) dragging its feet on the introduction of non-English top-level domain names, some fear that independent initiatives to establish them could balkanize the Internet, leaving different parts of it unable to connect to each other.

The third part, known as the root, is the big issue—the suffix signifying site category and country, including .com, .net, .org, and country codes like .cn for China. Right now, roots can only be in English. But increasingly, many non-English speakers are demanding that they be rendered in local languages.

Paul Vixie, founder of the Internet Systems Consortium, an Internet infrastructure support organization, says non-English users are tired of having foreign-language designations of .cn, .kr, and so on foisted on them. “They end up irritated or alienated.”

Moving Ahead
China, which is projected to have the largest Internet population within five years, has taken the lead, creating domain names in Chinese characters. In the Middle East, early movers are exploring with domain names in Arabic.

“The Internet has to be able to cater to that need and not force everyone to use the Roman character set,” argues Joao Damas, senior program manager at the Internet Systems Consortium.

The fear is that these independent spirits could split the Internet by establishing country codes that outsiders won’t be able to link to. “What we once called a global Internet is becoming, for many practical purposes, a collection of nation-state networks, still linked by the Internet protocol, but for many purposes, separate,” Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at StanfordUniversityLawSchool and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society, wrote in a recent blog.

To the frustration of many outside the United States, ICANN has been deciding when languages can by used as a communications tool by other nations. Formed in 1998, ICANN is under contract to the U.S. government to oversee the technical aspects of the Internet’s address system—and, hardly surprising, the arrangement does not sit well with a lot of people outside the U.S.

Sensitive to mounting criticism, ICANN said in March that it will start testing international domain names (IDNs), as web addresses written in local character sets are known, beginning in July.
Indeed, ICANN President Paul Twomey promises that ICANN will allow greater participation and representation of developing countries and by 2008 will be completely independent of any government.

That’s big of him, but it may be too late, some say. “What I am afraid will happen is that once having tasted freedom, the countries who are worried that the U.S. is in control of ICANN will say ‘we don’t have to keep working with them,’” says Paul Vixie of the Internet Systems Consortium, a nonprofit focusing on infrastructure issues.

Mr. Twomey deflects that contention, arguing that countries like China are committed to being part of the global Internet. Like others, he points out that advances in search diminish the relevance of domain names by making all addresses equal, whether written in Roman or other characters.

But advances in search are not likely to snuff out the determination of users around the globe to use an Internet that speaks their language."

http://www.redherring.com/article.aspx?a=16392




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Old 15th April 2006, 10:52 PM
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Re: Net's Future: Beyond English

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Originally Posted by sarcle
Sensitive to mounting criticism, ICANN said in March that it will start testing international domain names (IDNs), as web addresses written in local character sets are known, beginning in July.
News reporters don't do research. They have been around for a few years.
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