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Can You Read that Web Address? Yes, ICANN -- or at Least Most of It
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on November 4, 2009  in the following blogs: Global Marketing, Web Globalization
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Finding that many of the visitors to Barnum's American Museum in New York City would stay longer than they were wanted and thus keep new customers from entering (and paying), P.T. Barnum famously posted signs "This way to the egress." His less sophisticated visitors would go in search of the exotic creature, only to find themselves back on the streets of Manhattan. Websites similarly redirect foreign visitors to the exit through a combination of bad design, little or no localization, and too much English. Last week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) introduced a process to globalize web navigation by allowing users to create the core of URLs and e-mail addresses using non-Latin characters. ICANN will accept applications for non-Latin addresses starting on 16 November 2009.

The "Internationalized Domain Name Fast Track Process" intends to make the internet more accessible to those not accustomed to or uncomfortable dealing with Latin characters, on the web or on mobile devices. The "name" part of a website could be expressed in other character sets, such as Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Japanese, and until this change takes effect, visitors to the Russian newspaper Pravda would see http://www.pravda.ru or http://www.??????.ru (in case your browser settings aren't cooperating, this URL should be written in Latin characters for everything except the "Pravda," which is in Cyrillic). Switching between character sets would still send some people looking for the egress. The new approach allows http://??????.?? (still can't seem to get rid of that http)." Try it out at ICANN's IDN test site (for example, the Russian test wiki is at http://??????.?????????, Hangul at http://??.???, and Tamil at http://???????.???????.

ICANN Chairman chairman Peter Dengate Thrush says that "Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters – A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names." According to ICANN, the Process will begin with support for a limited number of "IDN ccTLDs associated with the ISO 3166-1 two-letter codes." In other words, country codes like .co.jp, .cn, and .cz will gain non-Latin script support before .com and .org. This move could push companies to register sites with their country codes rather than (or in addition to) trending toward the more favored .com suffix. That's just one of the findings we discovered in the research for our latest report on the Top 40 global online brands and the practices they employed in optimizing their websites for international visitors.

ICANN's president Rod Beckstrom told the BBC that "It may not be that important to you and me because we grew up in Latin-based languages, but for other people who grew up in China, India or Korea, or many other places using different scripts, not only is it an issue of convenience, but it's an issue of what's right, the right to express their names in their own cultural language." Slowly but surely, the foundations of the worldwide web are becoming much more global in reality.


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Keywords: International domain naming and registration, Language and market selection, Online customer experience, Online gross domestic product (e-GDP), World online wallet (WOW) factor

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