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October 31, 2009

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Internet addresses can drop the English

THE nonprofit body that oversees Internet addresses yesterday approved the use of Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and other scripts not based on the Latin alphabet in a decision that could make the Web dramatically more inclusive.

The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - or ICANN - voted at the conclusion of a week-long meeting in Seoul.

The decision follows years of debate and testing.

The decision clears the way for governments or their designees to submit requests for specific names, likely beginning on November 16.

Internet users could start seeing them in use early next year, particularly in Chinese, Arabic and other scripts in which demand has been among the highest.

"This represents one small step for ICANN, but one big step for half of mankind who use non-Latin scripts, such as those in Korea, China and the Arabic speaking world, as well as across Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world," said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's CEO.

Domain names - the Internet addresses that end in ".com" and other suffixes - are the key monikers behind every Website and E-mail address.

Since their creation in the 1980s, domain names have been limited to the 26 characters in the Latin alphabet used in English - A-Z - as well as 10 numerals and the hyphen.

Technical tricks have allowed other scripts in portions of the Internet address, but the suffix had to use those 37 characters.

"This is absolutely delightful news," said Edward Yu, CEO of Analysys International, an Internet research and consulting firm in Beijing.

But while lauding the strides toward diversity, researcher Guo Liang questioned whether all Chinese will embrace the new domains.

"For some users it might even be easier to type domains in Latin alphabets than Chinese characters," said Guo, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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