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Techonomics: Outside ASCII

Online, CMPNetAsia.com, 1 September 2000 -- Using ASCII characters means no non-english capabilities. Australia may gain very little if this monoculture is maintained within the internet.

Among the things that make Australia interesting, is that it is not uncommon in any crowd to hear several languages, aside from English. While English remains Australia's official language, the country is no longer a mono-culture. Instead, it is something of an ethnic mix, which means we have an interesting variety of foods and cultural events.

It also means that companies can find staff for call centres, help desks and so forth who can speak just about any language. Companies in Australia are finally waking up to the fact that they should employ staff who can best present the company overseas.

Regrettably, the Internet is still a mono-culture; it uses the ASCII character set and that means, for all practical purposes, English. This helps explain why the Internet, while almost pervasive in the US and places like Australia, has not had anywhere near the same level of take up in non-English speaking countries. More than 10% of the Australian population regularly use the Internet; they use it to keep in touch with distant friends and family, banking, paying bills, buying shares of stock and hundreds of other mundane, non-IT related things.

Recently Australia's Melbourne IT, which is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) accredited registry for the .com.au name space, added DNS support for non-ASCII characters. Through a deal with Singapore's i-DNS International, the Internet registrar now offers Chinese Internet addresses.

Provided that multilingual Web sites are built, the i-DNS deal means that non-native English speakers in Australia will have a similar Internet experience to that enjoyed by native English speakers. I say "similar" because a lot of Internet-related components that English speakers take for granted-for example, media players and utilities for file management and display-are still English only: That represents an opportunity.

The typical ISP offers Internet access to its clients, along with rudimentary services like set-up scripts, utilities and Web site hosting. These companies live in fear that some large company like AOL will come along, start a price war and rip their market right out from under them. When a larger ISP does arrive on the scene, the best way for any smaller ISP to defend itself, is to provide a service that the large ISP isn't set up to provide. Multi-lingual products and support is one such service.

How about offering users support for their Web sites in both Chinese and English? Or writing set up scripts in multiple languages, and working with companies that provide non-English versions of utilities that can be delivered to users? In whichever part of Asia a commercial Internet site might choose to set up shop, there will be millions of people whose first language is not English. Just a tiny fraction of these people are on the Internet at present, but there's still a large potential market.

If the Internet adds support for native languages, then the market will grow. It follows that those who supply non-English services first best stand to make good profits. This is one reason i-DNS International is pushing its technology so hard in the Internet standards forums: They want the high ground before a request for comment (RFC) comes out, and some University student working on a thesis writes an implementation of the RFC and puts it in the public domain.

As soon as an RFC comes out, the likes of Microsoft would naturally support it. But when that happens, i-DNS will already have had time to establish its standard by default. The ISPs and registries don't care where the standard implementation of the technology comes from, as long as they can support the standard and provide the service.

Whether i-DNS takes over the multi-lingual Internet or not, with any luck the days of the ASCII Internet are numbered. That means cyberspace might become as interesting a place as Australia, China, India, Japan, Europe, South America, or any place else that isn't ASCII-only.


-- i-DNS.net shall not be held liable for the views and opinions of the authors expressed herein.

죄송합니다. 이 페이지는 아직 한글화되지 않았습니다.

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