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Monday, October 26, 2009

Web addresses to speak all languages

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, has set the ball rolling for web addresses in scripts other than Latin. This will allow uniform resource locators, as web addresses are called in virtual parlance, in languages other than English, including Hindi, Tamil or Bhojpuri.

About half of the world's 1.6 billion Internet users use languages based on scripts other than Latin and may cheer the move. India, which has 50 million Internet users, speaks hundreds of languages.

Icann, the non-profit group that oversees domain names, is meeting representatives from all over the world this week in Seoul to decide on this change, which will be one of the biggest in the 40 years of Internet. If it is cleared, Icann will begin accepting applications for non-Latin domain names and the first entries into the system are expected in the middle of next year.

Icann is also to decide whether it can give users freedom on global top-level domain names.

"If this happens, it will definitely increase the number of internet users. Why should users type in English if they could time in Tamil or Hindi," says Kiruba Shankar, founder chief executive officer of Business Blogging.

At present, web addresses are limited to 21 suffixes, such as, .com (80 per cent), .net and .info, and country-specific ones like .in for India. With this change, companies and individuals can have unlimited choices such as .indian, .delhi, .paris, .gabbarsingh or .whateveryouwant.

Corporate houses like the Tatas, Birlas or Reliance [ Get Quote ] could apply for .tata, .birla or .reliance and could, in turn, give each employee a .tata, .birla or .reliance email identity.

Like all good things, these will come at a price: Rs 40 lakh (Rs 4 million) to Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million).

Jasjit Sawhney, managing director and chief executive officer of Net4India, an Internet service provider that offers domain registration services, says the move to open up web addresses is good "but will take time to trickle down in India because of technicalities".

Currently, names on the Internet can be typed in local scripts. For instance, you can type dukaan (shop) in Devnagari, the script for Hindi, but not .com.

Icann is in talks with information technology departments of countries to get the exact meaning of .com in local languages, say, Hindi or Tamil. "What do you call .com in Hindi? One has to decide on such issues," says Sawhney.

Naresh Ajwani, president-government affairs, Sify Technologies, who is attending the Icann meeting in Seoul, points out that the Department of Information Technology in India already has fonts for 22 local languages. "This, and the fact that GLTDs may be opened up to more domains, will witness a sea change in the way the Internet is structured," says Ajwani.

Leslie D Monte in New Delhi
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