.what? Non-Roman URL Suffix Trial Begins Today

October 15, 2007 at 11:09 am | Posted in Attention Management, Globalization, usability, User experience | 5 Comments

According to ICANN:

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers will launch an evaluation of Internationalized Domain Names next week that will allow Internet users to test top-level domains in 11 languages.

“This evaluation represents ICANN’s most important step so far towards the full implementation of Internationalized Domain Names. This will be one of the biggest changes to the Internet since it was created,” said Dr Paul Twomey, ICANN’s President and CEO. “ICANN needs the assistance of users and application developers to make this evaluation a success. When the evaluation pages come online next week, 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 evaluation is made possible by today’s insertion into the root of the 11 versions of .test, which means they are alongside other top-level domains like .net, .com, .info, .uk, and .de at the core of the Internet.

Next Monday, 15 October 2007, Internet users around the globe will be able to access wiki pages with the domain name example.test in 11 test languages — Arabic, Persian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese and Tamil.

While it may seem like knowing just enough English to type “.com” is not a problem, the issue is twofold. First, writers of languages with non-Roman alphabets may not have an English keyboard that can type “.com”. They could always copy and paste it from other content when needed, but that brings me to the second point: they shouldn’t have to. The content on the Internet is not owned by the U.S. (even if ICANN is) and being able to use addresses in other alphabets has a great deal of symbolic meaning.

I’m currently researching and writing a paper on globalization due out around January. You’d have to be living under a rock to not understand the impact that globalization is having on the demographics of Internet usage and, accordingly, the web technologies, processes, and cultural sensitivity needed to support them. But the recent statistics were still surprising.

The fall of the Iron Curtain (generally considered to be 1989) began a change in market forces that is still being felt in global businesses. For machine translation, SDL reports that Eastern bloc countries account for seven out of the top 10 fastest growing languages for its translation modules in 2007 (Source: http://www.sdl.com/en/events/news-PR/Eastern- Europe-and-China-dominate-2007-translation- trends.asp). Internet World Stats reports that English is by far the most common language on the Internet (with 365 million users versus 184 million for #2 Chinese), but there has been massive growth between 2000 and 2007 for Arabic (+941%), Portuguese (+525%), and Chinese (+470%). The rest of the world’s languages (outside the top 10) still represent 15% of all internet users and had 440% growth from 2000 to 2007.

In terms of usage, Internet usage outside of North America dwarfs usage within it (see table below), although North America has the highest Internet penetration (69%).

Why ICANN picked Yiddish as one of the 11 languages though baffles me a bit. Couldn’t they have picked something more common, like Hebrew? Oh vey.



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