He looks curiously after the little boy down the road as the latter waltzes twice a day into the near-by Internet browsing centre and spends an hour or so before emerging into daylight again. Intrigued, Raghu queries the chap who runs the centre as to what goes on in there. Even after the obvious advantages of the Internet are explained to him, he returns to his shop convinced that the Internet won't make a difference to his life and to his business. The reason? The Internet is a bastion of those who are comfortable with English.
Imagine the possibilities in store if the neighbourhood Lala can access the Net to send e-mail to his daughter settled in the US or to log on to his dealer's Web site to order the next batch of Colgate toothpaste boxes. He can't do it now, for he is more comfortable chatting in Hindi - over the phone - to the dealer before placing his order for the week.
To try and fill this gap across the digital divide, work is on by proponents of respective languages across the world. For instance, the Tamil Nadu government, with the aid of experts in the Tamil language, had decided on a standard font and a standard keyboard in early 1999. This has helped the spread Tamil use on the Net. Similarly, efforts are on to standardise fonts and keyboards for Hindi and other Indian languages.
This presents a business opportunity for domain name registrars in multiple languages. i-DNS.net and vishwabharat.com are two such. According to S Maniam, director, business development, i-DNS.net International, "The Pune-based centre for development of advanced computing (C-DAC) has developed fonts for various Indian languages. For now, we have taken C-DAC's fonts and software as the default choice for Hindi, while in the case of Kannada, the Karnataka government is developing its own standards. Tamil is the only language that is sure of its ground on the Internet."
He also says that governments and exponents of languages would do well to adopt the C-DAC standard in the absence of earlier decisions since it's a government organisation that is already vending software for a mere Rs 300.
The company is in the business of providing domain name services in languages ranging across countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, China, Malaysia and Japan.
And, here's an example of how the Internet experience will be with Indian languages. If you want the neighbourhood Lala to access your company site on the Net, all he has to do is log on and say "yourcompanynameinhindi.vaan" in Hindi. "Vaan" is the Hindi word for "commerce". Similarly, "yourcompanynameintamil.vani" in Tamil is the way to go for Tamil
enthusiasts, for whom "vani" is the Tamil word for "commerce". Similarly, "inai" for .net in Tamil and "amai" for .org in Tamil are the appendages required.
Interestingly, "www" is not a required suffix anymore. So, issues of what to jab into the computer for the "world wide web" in the local language are out of the way.
Finally, the two companies mentioned in this story each have an interesting thing to say about the need to bridge the digital divide. Says the Web site of i-DNS.net, "The existing Domain name system has become an anachronism in a multilingual Internet world." With more harmless irreverence, Vishwabharat.com says, "Assert your cultural identity. Suffer no more the indignity of deliberately misspelling your name or domain name to fit the lexicon strictures of an alien language." And who knows, with the nebulous middle class logging on to the Net, dreams of advertising revenues for dot.coms may actually come true.
Sites to watch out for in this evolving scene of internationalised domain names are: icann.org, minc.org, aptld.org and apricot.org.