Birth of a Domain: Non-Latin Characters Now Supported

May 11, 2010 by Ana Yoerg
Category: Website Translation Services

The regulation agency that oversees domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has finally created a system that will support web addresses made of entirely of non-Latin characters, the BBC reported last week. 

Country-code domains, or suffixes, such as .de for Germany and .fr for France can now be written in the characters of that country's primary language (e.g., Chinese character, Arabic script).

It was declared a "historic" day by ICANN president Rod Beckstrom, the biggest change to the internet since it was "invented 40 years ago," according to the BBC.

Right now, Arabic script is the first supported language, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are the first countries where website owners can now ask for web addresses using the new country codes.

Here's what these first codes (via ICANN) in this new system look like:

  • Egypt: مصر
  • Saudi Arabia: السعودية
  • United Arab Emirates: امارات      

Twenty-one other countries have requested internationalized domain names (IDNs) in 11 different languages, including Chinese, Russian, Tamil, and Thai, the agency said.

They warned, however, that IDNs will not work on all PCs; they may see a "mangled string of letters and numbers [...] some percent signs or a couple of "xn--"s mixed into the address bar — or it may not work at all.

This is because computers rarely come with the complete set of fonts that allow it to show all possible characters. Still, recent versions of the major web browsers are fully compatible with the new system. (Read more about compatibility on the ICANN blog.)

It's an easy fix, though — you can download the language pack for the missing language, or find and install fonts that support those languages.

So what does this mean for website localization? Lots!

  • First, it's a big step in making the web more global — which is a step in the right direction. Over half of web users around the world don't use Latin-based script as their native language, ICANN had explained when they first announced the project. So, this is a nice move to recognize the international nature of the web and equalize the playing field a bit.
  • From a business perspective, this opens up your website translation project by not just steps, but leaps and bounds. We often recommend to clients that are translating their websites for foreign markets that rather than creating translated versions of the content on the same domain, that they consider using an IP host local to that country and adopting a local domain. Both of these are good tactics for achieving higher search engine ranking. (See more tips on global SEO.)
  • From a marketing and brand perspective, the new domain names means that you'll have to expand your social media monitoring and make sure that your brand is not being corrupted or hijacked. Even if you don't think you'll be expanding into those markets anytime soon, register that domain name anyway. Better to get ahead of the curve and avoid problems with cybersquatters and type-squatters down the line, an attorney told TechNewsWorld.

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Smart, fun and useful. Acclaro shares news and tips on translation, localization, language, global business and culture.


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