Come year-end and India could be among the first few countries in the world to have internationalized, or multilingual, Internet domain names represented by local language characters such as those from the Devanagari script on which Hindi is based instead of widely used Latin characters such as in English.
Currently, while Hindi words can be used as domain names, they are usually spelt out in English.
The need for IDNs, as internationalized domain names are also referred to, stems from demand from businesses, registrars, users of the Internet and governments for top-level domains in characters other from English. At present, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, or ASCII, which is the standard for writing code based on the English alphabet, dominates domain names. It has around 37 characters and is used by computers to display letters, digits and special characters.
Once IDNs are allowed, domain names such as www.rediff.in can be spelt out in Hindi and other local languages, helping increase their reach.
“There is a process being discussed among our communities about whether there could be a fast track for a group of countries that have a need for IDNs earlier than the others. India is making that case and is clearly one of those countries that is appearing inside of that discussion. But that has not been finalized yet,” Paul Twomey, president and chief executive officer of ICANN, short for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, had told Mint in an interview last week. The normal course for the IDN application process is two years.
Once ICANN, a not-for-profit global body responsible for domain names and allocating space for Internet protocol addresses, is done with IDNs, there will be hundreds and thousands of characters and the likelihood of the combination of those characters overlapping and causing confusion. “This is a very complex new environment technically. And policy, technical and linguistic issues are all being discussed,” Twomey said.
ICANN manages around 250,000 networks and works with around 120 governments worldwide.
With local language IDNs and vernacular content, the reach of the Internet in a country such as India could grow several-fold given that just 80 million in the country read English, said one domain expert. “IDNs will first come as website addresses, then email accounts in that language, followed by content. There is a huge gap which can be addres-sed with IDNs” said Ram Mohan, chief technology officer at Afilias Ltd, an Internet registry firm that operates domain names such as .info and .in.
Twomey cautioned that local language content would be required to ensure widespread use of the Internet.
Since last summer, IDNs in around 11 languages, including Hindi, Tamil and Chinese, have been tested on an ICANN website: http://idn.icann.org/.
Around half a million people have evaluated these IDNs and left messages, Twomey said. “At the moment, the great interest is from China with 40% people testing this, followed by Arabic and Cyrillic. In the Indian languages Hindi and Tamil, we have had just 2-3% people because maybe people do not know about this here.”
ICANN is also working towards new generic top-level domains or gTDLs, which is the term that comes after the dot in a domain name such as .com. There are currently 22 gTLDs from .asia to .travel. The new gTLDs will enable anyone to apply for any string in any language.
“We hope that by the end of the year, we will be able to move towards a liberalized regime of people being able to apply for any strings not only in the Roman script but in IDN characters too,” Twomey said, adding that both the IDNs in fast-track countries and the new gTLDs should happen at the same time before the end of this year.
The first come, first served basis on which domain names are currently allotted will work well for gTLDs too, said Pawan Duggal, a lawyer in the Supreme Court and cyber law specialist. “New gTLDs will add more diversity to the existing bouquets. More stakeholders will have more names to register and different avenues to register,” he said.