- The company that maintains the master database of internet domain names says that more than 700,000 multilingual web addresses have already been registered since it began testing the viability of using non-English characters in website addresses in November.
But VeriSign Global Registry Services (GRS), a Mountain View, California-based unit of VeriSign that manages the back-end piece of the domain name registration process, adds that it's still talking with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and other standards bodies about the best approach for developing a global standard for registering multilingual domain names.
VeriSign GRS reiterated that it plans to comply with a standards process being carried out by the IETF, and the company said multilingual domain names registered as part of its test-bed programshould remain functional after the testing is completed. But, it cautioned, the "external representation" of multilingual web addresses could change depending on what the IETF decides.
Proponents of multilingual domain names hope they will help open up the internet to more users around the world. But critics such as the Internet Society - a nonprofit group in Reston, Virgini., that acts as the "organisation home" for the IETF and the Internet Architecture Board - have says the commercial testing being done by VeriSign GRS is premature without an agreed-upon standard for registering non-English domain names.
So far, VeriSign GRS is accepting registrations of domain names with Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters under the .com, .net and .org top-level domains. The company says that about 275,000 Chinese domain names have been registered so far, along with about 250,000 Korean web addresses and 200,000 Japanese ones.
Registrations can be made through a group of 25 domain name registrars that have been certified by VeriSign GRS to take part in the testing process. Support for registrations in other languages, including Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, is due to be added later.
A VeriSign GRS spokesman says the test bed will be used until a workable, secure and scaleable standard for multilingual domain names is formalised by the IETF. The 700,000 registrations received to date are in line with VeriSign's estimates, although the initial response was larger than expected, he says.
Mark Fernandes, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York, estimates that multilingual domain name registrations could eventually reach a level of 1 million per quarter -- far larger than an earlier VeriSign GRS prediction of about 300,000.
Demand for domain names in languages other than English could explode as more companies jump on board, Fernandes says. "There's going to be this huge demand up front for the domain names," he predicts.
At this point, VeriSign GRS is only supporting registration of the multilingual domain names. The "resolution" stage of assigning actual IP addresses to the domain names will become available at an unspecified time later, although the company said it has begun preparatory work on that process.