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Internet domain names en route to localisation

Online, CMPNetAsia.com, 15 September 2000 -- Despite the lack of open standards for multilingual domain names, many organisations and individuals have started to stake their claim on multilingual domain names.

Currently, a Chinese who accesses a Chinese language site will type the URL in English, but the technology, Internationalized Domain Name (iDN), promises to give users the ability to use Web URLs, email addresses, and FTP in their native language.

"This is significant not only for Web branding, but also as a way to make the Internet more natural and intuitive for millions of Chinese users worldwide," said John Huang, CEO of C-DN.

While 80% of Internet users in the world are in North America, English is not the primary language for 95% of the people in the world, noted Michael Ng, CEO of i-DNS.net.

"It is less evident in a country like Singapore, but when you go to North Asia, India, the Middle East, none use English as their predominant language. They would prefer not to use English, but their native tongue," said Ng.

A leader in the area of multilingual domain names is Singapore’s i-DNS.net (www.i-dns.net), the company that is promoting their version of multilingual domain name technology, i-DNS. The company is a spin-off based on R&D started at the National University of Singapore, conducted under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Networking Group (APNG).

Today i-DNS.net supports 55 languages, and has over 100,000 names in its registry.

Another such service provider is Chinese Domain Name Corp. (C-DN) (www.c-dn.com), a Hong Kong-based company who in early August launched its Chinese domain name registration service, together with a strategic partnership with NSI, and Microsoft. It is a reseller of Chinese Internet Network Information Center’s (CNNIC) Chinese language domain name services.

In fact, early adoption of technology prior to established standards is commonplace in this Internet age, according to Martin Dürst, Internationalisation Activity Lead at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

"Technology implementations predating the setting of standards is something that has happened over and over on the Internet. Once a standard is defined, implementations converge to it," said Dürst.

The W3C is a standards body working to ensure that its formats and protocols are usable worldwide in all languages and in all writing systems. Thus far, the consortium has stressed the role of Unicode as the basis of the internationalisation of the Web.

Work specifically for multilingual domain names is the work of another standards body, the Internationalized Domain Name (idn) Charter of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) whose aim is to specify the requirements for multilingual domain names, and to specify a standards track protocol based on the requirements.

Companies like i-DNS.net appear to be tailoring their multilingual implementations in accordance to set standards. In late August this year, the company announced the development of a Unicode-based technology that supports Row-based ASCII Compatible Encoding (RACE), UTF-5, UTF-8, and all common local encoding. The company has also agreed to comply with all the technical requirements set down by the Internationalised Domain Names Working Group at the IETF.

Whether the names that have been registered now will be usable in the future will really depend on name owners and the registrar of the domain name, said Dürst.

He explained that "Most registrations are done as subdomains of existing top-level domains. Whether these will continue to be usable in the future is a matter between the name owners, and the registrar(s) for that domain (assuming that internationalised domain names get standardised."

In the final analysis, as Dürst put it, "it’s still too early to say what will become the final standard," and who knows when domain names will finally be standardised.

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