The ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is currently meeting in Seoul, Korea in order to decide on whether or not the domain names should be opened to other alphabets. So far, websites could be in any language but their domain name (URL) would remain latin alphabet based. The only "internationalization" of the domain names remained in the extension (.cn for China or .jp for Japan for example) which is quite limited.
As more and more developping countries gain access to the Internet and because the majority of the 1.6 billion web users worldwide speak a native language that uses a different alphabet, it became urgent to take a decision and open a new era of the Internet. This decision is set to be made this Friday (30/10/2009) and will allow domain names in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Hindi, Hebrew and Cyrillic (Russian). This is a significant and crucial step forward as the World Wide Web will now be the WORLD Wide Web!
I couldn't agree more with the fact that there is no reason why one alphabet should remain the only one used in domain names. However, I am quite concerned about the consequences this could have for the following reasons:
- Adding new languages to the domain names might divide the Internet. For example, if someone does not speak Hindi, it is very likely they won't visit a website whose domain is in Hindi (in fact, they won't even be able to do a task as easy as typing the URL of the website!). Therefore, the Internet might be divided into different subcategories of Internet where people speaking one language might not interact as much as they used to with people speaking another language. This thought may seem a bit extreme but who knows how it will evolve.
- Most hacker attacks in the early 21st century are perpetrated from China and Russia, both at amateur and government levels. These two countries have been known to infiltrate other countries' military networks, governmental and embassy networks (Australia, Germany, India, UK, France, the list goes on...), national energy power systems, etc. With new domain names, it will become even more difficult to trace back to the origin of the attacks. I am certain thousands of new proxies sites will be created in the very first days. It is already a difficult task to trace them so imagine if the cyberpolice need to speak 7 new languages!
- Online scams will become even more popular than they already are. Internet has a lot to offer but it also hosts many ways to get ripped-off. If you are surfing the web, then you are at risk, as simple as that. For example, most international brands will open a new domain name in the language they are targeting locally. But what happens if someone with bad intentions buys a domain name which is the exact translation in Chinese of a world famous bank, builds an exact replica of the official site and attracts thousands of visitors onto a page that could be requesting customer information or logins? There again, confusion, mess.
Of course, these are just some very early thoughts on the topic and I may have dramatized it a bit too much! I am certain the ICANN has already thought about all this and if the decision to open the domain world is taken, that probably means they have also weighted the pros and the cons and came to the conclusion that it was still a good idea to proceed with this historic change.
I unfortunately speak only Latin based languages (I wasn't too successful with my Mandarin classes!) and therefore won't be able to take advantage of that very last point:
New domain names = Gold rush!
Many people, I am sure, will each buy dozens, if not hundreds of new domain names of popular brands in other languages in the hope of reselling them to the official brands at a higher price. Generic keywords with high search volumes will also be a goldmine, either to be placed as parked domains for advertising revenue, either to sell them in the same case as the brands.
One thing is for sure, no one really knows at this stage how this will go. Let's just hope it will all roll out smoothly.
[30/10/2009 UPDATE: The decision has been taken, ICANN Allows Non-Latin Domain Names set to be opened for sale on November 16th. On top of other alphabets being used in domain names, the ICANN is going one step further by authorizing new generic top level domains (gTLDs)... This means that anyone can create their own extension and not remain blocked to a .com .net .org etc or any other classic extension.
I wasn't too enthusiastic about the previous decision but this one is even worst. Imagine, soon I'll be able to buy domains such as www.구글.com or www.goo.gle! I hope the ICANN has reviewed this closely and will submit some sort of guideline because this could be an infinite source of confusion.
What do you think of this?]
Read also: "International Domain Names and its impact on Search" - Outrider blog