ICANN makes net global with non-English script domains

User-testing is being conducted via a number of wiki pages that have been created with domain names in the 11 languages

ICANN has begun testing an internet facility for handling non-English character domain names.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has created 11 new top-level domains named with the suffix “.test” in them. These are in the 11 languages of those who have shown the most interest in internationalising domain names.

User-testing is being conducted via a number of wiki pages that have been created with domain names in the various languages. Users have been able to call up these pages since early last week, and work with them, establishing sub-pages with names in their own languages. The test’s aim is not only to show that the new names resolve correctly, but that the presence of non-English domains has no detrimental effect on the rest of the internet’s resolution system.

“Users will be able to have their name in their language, for their internet, when full IDN (international domain name) implementation makes available tens-of-thousands of characters from the languages of the world,” said ICANN president and CEO Paul Twomey, speaking earlier this month. He called the move “one of the biggest changes to the internet since it was created”.

The IDN system is based on Unicode, a long-established scheme for encoding non-English characters into bit-sequences equivalent to one or more English characters.

“ICANN needs the assistance of users and application-developers to make this evaluation a success,” Twomey added. “When the evaluation pages come online we need everyone to get in there and see how the addresses display, and see how links to IDNs work in their programs. In short, we need them to get in and push it to its limits.”

The 11 languages being tested are: Arabic, Persian, Chinese (both simplified and traditional characters), Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese and Tamil. Some of these, for example Arabic and the Hebrew script required for Yiddish, have the further complication of being written right to left.

There is no official deadline for ending the tests, says Tina Dam, head of the IDN effort. In fact, some may cut across smoothly from test to full operation

“There is no fixed deadline for the test and it is anticipated that each one of the 11 wikis will have different lifetimes,” she says.

“What it comes down to is the language community, and for how long they find it of value. My best personal guess would be that we, for example, would have the Greek wiki up-and-running until there is a Greek (character) TLD (top-level domain) available for… [people to make] domain-name registrations under. The transition/shutdown would, in such a case, be coordinated with the Greek TLD operator.

“We will evaluate the results (of the test) on a running basis,” Dam says. “We have moderators to assist with this work — one for each wiki — and they will assist ICANN staff with generating reports from time to time. The reports will be made publicly available.” Formal work on internationalised domain names has been going on since late 2002, when the first Requests for Comment (RFCs) were published.

The IDN initiative is seen as an essential part of recognising the rapid growth of the internet in countries which use non-English scripts. It will also combat the growing feeling that the internet is run for the benefit of English-speaking world alone.

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