ICANN OKs International Domains: The Pros and Cons
By Paul Suarez
PCWorldNov 1, 2009 8:53 am PST
ICANN’s approval of non-Latin character domains undoubtedly is a game-changing decision in the history of the World Wide Web. With scheduled to start popping up in the middle of next year, many people are debating if this digital support for more distinctly international sites balances with potential security threats and fragmentation of the Internet.
Here are a few pros and cons to consider as we move away from the traditional ASCII based-Web.
Pro: World Wide Web Supporting World Wide Language
Let’s face it; millions of Internet users speak languages that aren’t written using Roman characters. Allowing Web sites to have domains that use other characters will make Web addresses more recognizable to some and make the Web more accessible to millions of new users.
The transition will begin on November 16 when countries can apply for country codes in their own unique character sets.
“The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online — people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives,” ICANN CEO and President Rod Beckstrom said in a statement.
Con: Country Codes are Only the Beginning
Generic domains such as .com, .org and .net aren’t open to international characters yet, but could be in the next couple of years.
If ICANN decides to open generic domains without extending rights to existing URL holders, international companies and brands might find themselves purchasing URLs in multiple languages to protect the use of their name, points out PC World Tech Inciter writer Tech Inciter David Coursey.
Pro: Country Codes are Only the Beginning
If done properly, opening generic domains to international characters could be a good thing. If International corporations were granted rights to the .com URLs they already possess it could spell an end to selecting a region before entering the site. For instance, going to intel.com could lead to the English version of the site, while using a Japanese, Russian, or Korean suffix would take you to a version of the site with that language. It would also open doors for smaller Web sites that are just interested in serving a particular language group.
Con: A lesson from 1337 h4ck3r$
Expanding beyond Roman characters also increases potential for site rip-offs that use homoglyphs, characters with identical or indistinguishable shapes. This already occurs to some degree (for instance pointing your browser to google.com takes you to a different site than go0gle.com) but different languages might have characters that are identical to characters in other languages.
Con and Pro: No Latin Base Emphasis
Apparently homoglyphs are drawing some attention at ICANN. Languages that use accented Latin characters aren’t being supported at this time, The CBC Reports. They attribute the lack of support to security concerns that accented characters could lead to phishing scams because, “internet users might not at first see the difference between, for example, ‘google.com’ and ‘goógle.com.'”
This is bad news for French, Spanish, Turkish, and Vietnamese speakers — all four languages use accented characters.
But, if ICANN is aware of security concerns that would arise from including these languages, maybe they have some sort of anti-homoglyph trick up their sleeve for other languages, (here’s looking at you, Cyrillic.)
Con: Keyboards and Restrictive Access
Adding support for 100,000 international characters would make traditional keyboards insufficient input devices for accessing the entire Internet. As fellow PC World writer Jacqueline Emigh pointed out, it would be next to impossible to produce a keyboard that could support characters from every language under the sun. Virtual keyboards and language packs could possibly help alleviate the problem for some people, but there wouldn’t be an easy fix.
ICANN released this video with its announcement, hoping to encapsulate the potential for opening up international character domains.