The Latin alphabet’s lock on the Internet’s top-level domains (TLDs) has officially been broken: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved the first four internationalized top-level domain names for Egypt, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The approval means those countries non-Latin top-level domains can now be included in the Internet-wide domain names system, and Internet users will be able to access Internet sites and services in those countries using domains expresses in non-Latin character sets. The internationalized domains are expected to go live in the Internet domain names root system by mid-2010.
“These international names will now allow people to type entire domain names in their own language. This marks a pivotal moment in the history of Internet domain names,” said ICANN president and CEO Rod Beckstrom, in a statement.
These first four internationalized domains are expected to just be the first in a swatch of non-Latin domain names to be approved for use in the global domain system: ICANN has already received sixteen applications in eight languages, and expects more are on the way.
ICANN approved a process for supporting internationalized domain names at its annual meeting last October, and began receiving requests for internationalized domains within weeks. Support for non-Latin domain names has been described by some as one of the most significant shifts in the way the Internet’s top-level domain technology works since it was first rolled out some 40 years ago. The most is seen as a major step towards making the Internet more accessible to the broader population of the world: ICANN estimates that more than half of the world’s current 1.6 billion Internet users speak have primary languages with writing systems that aren’t based on the Latin alphabet: common examples would include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Devanagari, Hebrew, Korean, and Cyrillic.