Tears and cheers greet ICANN's approval of internationalised domain names

ICANN logoThere were tears and cheers as the ICANN board unanimously voted to introduce internationalised domain names (IDNs) at the conclusion of their meeting in Seoul on Friday.
The board agreed to allow nations and territories to apply for internet extensions reflecting their name – and made up of characters from their national language. If the applications meet criteria that includes government and community support and a stability evaluation, the applicants will be approved to start accepting registrations.
Currently it is only possible for domain names to contain the letters A to Z, numbers 0 to 9 and a hyphen (-).
It is expected ICANN will begin accepting applications on 16 November with the first IDNs online in mid-2010. The introduction of IDNs will see domain names written in Chinese, Arabic, Korean and other languages using non-Latin alphabets.
“The coming introduction of non-Latin characters represents the biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago,” said ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, possibly overstating the importance of the change. But an important change it is.
“Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters – A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names.”
The introduction of IDNs was a long time coming. Consideration of security issues, technical testing, policy development and global co-operation were all key issues in preparation for what is being called the Fast Track process that will lead to their coming launch.
But it will make the internet much more accessible for those whose first language is in a non-Latin script.
Hong Jong-gil, an Internet industry analyst at Korea Investment and Securities in Seoul, told The New York Times the new names would help children and old people who had not learned the Latin alphabet. But he did not foresee any major increase in the number of Internet users because internet penetration has less to do with whether one has to type in English-alphabet domain names and more to do with “whether you can afford a PC and your community has broadband access.”
“This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalisation of the internet,” said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s President and CEO. “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.”
There are concerns by security experts who have warned that domain names in languages such as Russian, Arabic or Chinese will make it more difficult to fight cyberattacks, including malicious redirects and hacking.
However Mr Beckstrom says he does “not believe that there would be any appreciable difference,” in an interview with The New York Times. “Yes, maybe some additional potential but at the same time, some new security benefits may come too. If you look at the global set of cybersecurity issues, I don’t see this as any significant new threat if you look at it on an isolated basis.”
“Our work on IDNs has gone through numerous drafts, dozens of tests, and an incredible amount of development by volunteers since we started this project. Today is the first step in moving from planning and implementation to the real launch,” said Tina Dam, ICANN’s Senior Director for IDNs. “The launch of the Fast Track Process will be an amazing change to make the Internet an even more valuable tool, and for even more people around the globe.”