ICANN to Allow Chinese, Arabic, Russian Domain Names

Web sites written in Russian, Korean and other non-ASCII characters soon will be able to have their addresses displayed in the same language.

Testing on 11 pilot sites with internationalized domain names (IDN) could be completed by the end of the year, according to Kim Davies, spokesman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The URLs being tested in Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Russian and a handful of other major world languages don't cover all possible character sets, but broadly represent most countries, Davies told The Standard. Only http://, which is automatically added by browsers, is displayed in English.

"Web sites are already written in Arabic, Chinese and other languages [that use non-ASCII characters]," said Davies. "The stumbling block for visitors to these sites is having to type the Web site addresses themselves and e-mail addresses in English. IDNs will make the Internet easier for them to use."

For instance, visitors to Russian sites written in Cyrillic typically have to type in an English-character site name, including the two-letter country-code extension of .ru. Such sites can opt to have their entire URL displayed in Cyrillic, too. Currently most of the top-level domains in existence today -- 248 out of 280 -- are ASCII-character country codes.

Davies spoke to The Standard from an ICANN meeting in Mexico City, where this week the organization is listening to proposals for a slew of brand-new top-level domains. "A lot of major cities want their own domains," he said. Soon joining such stalwarts as .com, .org and .biz likely will be .paris, .nyc and .berlin.

Another one: .bank, expected to attract financial institutions, which are often plagued by phishers.

The next 12 months will be "very interesting" for domain names, said Davies. "I think there will be a sea change" in the number and types of extensions users will be able to register. As many as 50 to 100 could be added, he said.

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