2010 preview: The polyglot web

Imagine what browsing the web would be like if you had to type out addresses in characters you don't recognise, from a language you don't speak. It's a nightmare that will end for hundreds of millions of people in 2010, when the first web addresses written entirely in non-Latin characters come online.

Mapping the internet as it goes truly global

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.

The image below, portraying links between blogs, represents just one facet of the ever-changing shape of the internet. More corrections like the arrival of non-Latin domain names are sure to come as the network underlying everyday life starts to properly live up to its "worldwide" monicker.

by Tom Simonite


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