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November 10, 2009

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Chinese characters to go cyber

THE use of non-Latin characters from start to finish for Internet domain names could create a massive expansion of Internet use and commerce in China, experts predict.

The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit body that oversees Internet addresses, announced recently that it will allow the use of non-Latin characters in more than 20 languages, including Chinese.

The China Internet Network Information Center, which will oversee Chinese-character domain names, will submit requests for top-level names with the suffix ".Zhongguo" (China) in all Chinese characters as soon as ICANN allows non-Latin-character applications starting on November 16.

Any organization or individual in China will be able to apply for a domain name in Chinese characters to 43 domestic Website companies authorized by CNNIC.

Foreign organizations and individuals who want Chinese-character domain names can apply to CNNIC's two overseas agents in Singapore and Malaysia.

The annual fee for a domain name in Chinese characters from start to finish would be 280 yuan (US$41).

"This represents one small step for ICANN but one big step for half of mankind who use non-Latin scripts," said Rod Beckstrom, the organization's chief executive officer.

Chinese experts said the move would provide more convenient access to the Internet for many elderly Chinese who are unfamiliar with Latin characters and greatly improve the efficiency of online business for Chinese companies and for foreign firms wanting to do business with Chinese customers.

Qian Hualin, chief scientist at CNNIC, said it would take some time for Chinese companies and organizations to acquire addresses entirely in Chinese characters.

Domain names in Latin characters, such as for e-mail addresses, were confusing for many Chinese users, said Qian, a key advocate of creating Internet domain names in Chinese and a board member of ICANN.

Many Chinese had difficulty distinguishing between the pronunciations of certain letters, which often led to mistakes in their daily communication, Qian said. If they could use domain names in Chinese, there would be no confusion or ambiguity.

Chinese addresses would also prevent addresses designed to mislead Chinese Internet users with Latin characters very similar to frequently visited sites, the scientist said.


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