The New “Private” Internet

Many times I have said that I am not Nostradamus, but certain things make it possible to get a good idea about what will happen.

When ICANN became more of a true international body, it was bound to happen that non-English characters would find their way into web addresses. Though there will be some sort of translation scheme in place, imagine the hijinx that will occur when pages start coming in characters not in our alphabet. (Windows has the Character Map, but it better get much faster doing lookups, otherwise we might all be shafted)

Looking at a story on Download Squad, I see that their name might look quite different after being put into Cyrillic (though I don’t think we have a distinct letter for letter translation shown) -

There are web pages written in virtually every living language. If you read Japanese, Korean, Arabic, or Hebrew, odds are you can find web sites written in your native tongue. But in order to find them, you’ll probably have to enter a string of Western characters into your browser’s address bar.

That’s because up until now, the organization that oversees domain names has only accepted URLs with Latin characters. But this week the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is expected to approve a new rule allowing addresses to be written in different scripts, including Arabic, Greek, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and Cyrillic (Russian).

While the change might not affect English speakers reading this web site all that much, this is huge news for the 1.6 billion internet users who speak languages that don’t use Latin characters. So while we have no plans to change the web address for Download Squad, I did consult with Google Translate today to learn that the site would be called something like загрузка Сборная in Russian. Because, you never know.

The new rule could be adopted as soon as Friday, although we probably wouldn’t see the new Internationaliised Domain names (IDNs) until mid 2010.

ICANN has been looking at the change for a few years. But there have been technical kinks to work out. Essentially, under the new system, users will be able to enter URLs in a variety of different scripts and the domain name system will apply some new translation techniques in order to ensure that users are taken to the correct web page.

This will not keep these ‘private’ internet addresses that way for long, but there will be some time before everything is worked out. We may be told that it will be all worked out – but it won’t be. These things are never really as smooth as we want them to be.

I wonder at what level the translation will take place. Will DNS software have to become language aware? Just think about the fun that can be had with TinyURL.

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