The New Scientist on the Coming of the Polyglot Web

by Chris Borgen

Britain’s New Scientist has a short piece on the arrival of non-Latin script Internet addresses in 2010. They explain:

Net regulator ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – conceded in October that more than half of the 1.6 billion people online use languages with scripts not fully compatible with the Latin alphabet. It is now accepting applications for the first non-Latin top level domains (TLDs) – the part of an address after the final “dot”. The first national domains, counterparts of .uk or .au, should go live in early 2010. So far, 12 nations, using six different scripts, have applied and some have proudly revealed their desired TLD and given a preview of what the future web will look like.

The first Arabic domain is likely to be Egypt’s and in Russia orders are already being taken for the country’s hoped-for new TLD. The address HOBЫЙyЧеНЫЙ.pф – a rough translation of “newscientist” with the Cyrillic domain that stands for Russian Federation – can be registered today.

Though they will be invisible to many of today’s users, these changes are a bellwether for the web’s future. Today Latin-script languages predominate. But before long Chinese will overtake English as the most used language, and web use in other places with scripts of their own, such as India and Russia, is growing fast. The Middle East is spawning new users faster than any other region.

On the one hand, the use of non-Lain script will likely make the web accessible to many more people who will not have to learn a new script in order to navigate the web.  The New Scientist piece argues that this is a step towards making the web truly worldwide. Others have reached a different conclusion, based on concerns that injecting non-Latin  scripts into the URLs  will cause  the World Wide Web to be less worldwide rather more regional, national, or linguistic. These subwebs may have deeper interconnectivity within themselves but there will only be lighter connections from one linguistic web to another.

Time will tell whether 2010 will mark a sea change of the Internet, or whether this is much ado about nothing.

Hat tip: io9

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