Even though it's called the World Wide Web, Internet addresses have largely been confined to the Western languages. Now, various companies and regulatory bodies are working on standards to allow domain names in various languages ranging from Chinese to Hebrew to be applied to the Internet.
Doing so is a bit of a complicated task. While Americans and Europeans are accustomed to using computers with the standard set of 26 Roman letters and the 10 digits, software for years has allowed people from other countries to adapt the QWERTY keyboard to their native languages. For instance, typing a combination for two or three letters with the proper software to type the character for the "re" sound in Japanese.
While this system has worked out for word processing and other applications, translating such characters into WWW addresses has taken a bit longer.
Rob Gardos, chief technical officer at Manhattan-based Register.com, explains that the whole Internet is based on what's called "ASCII" characters, the standard keys you see on a keyboard.
"The key to the whole process is taking the native language and converting it into some ASCII format," Gardos said.
For instance, the domain name of www.Register.com, when typed using Japanese characters would translate it into RACE code (which stands for Row-based ASCII Compatible coding) that would read to a computer as bq-gdwlron77q.com.
VeriSign Inc., the California-based company that has been the main keeper of .com, .net and .org domain names, has been conducting tests since November to handle registrations for Web addresses using Japanese, Korean and Chinese characters. Already, 800,000 domain names have been registered in those languages, according to VeriSign. This month the company, including competitors such as Register.com, will be able to register domain names in 22 more language sets, including Hindi, Arabic, Vietnamese and others.
Signing up domain names in different languages is just part of the process. Web browsers, e-mail software and other programs also have to be programmed to recognize the various languages. Groups such as the Internet Engineering Task Force are setting up the protocols that will allow visitors using other languages to access such Web sites.
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