May 7, 2010
Posted: 10:51 AM ET
If English is your first language, you probably take it for granted that all website suffixes - the .com's, .org's, .gov's and the like - come nicely packaged in Western characters, like the ones you're reading now.
But what if you spoke only Arabic? Or Chinese? Or Russian?
All of those languages make use of a completely different alphabet. And, until this week, none of those alphabets could be used in place of the ".com" portion of an internet address.
Now they can. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced this week that the first sites with all-Arabic Web addresses are now online.
“This isn’t just a minor change for the Internet, it’s a seismic shift that will forever change the online landscape,” Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN, said in a written statement issued Thursday.
“This is the beginning of a transition that will make the Internet more accessible and user friendly to millions around the globe, regardless of where they live or what language they speak.”
The first of these internationalized suffixes is the Arabic form of ".masr," which means "Egypt."
Egypt's internet suffix now will look like this: .eg or .مصر
The Arabic characters read right to left.
This may not sound like a big deal from a Western perspective, but when you flip this scenario around, it's easier to understand, said Brad White, a spokesman for ICANN. Say you wanted to type in the Web address for Google.com, but, instead of .com, you had to type in equivalent letters from the Cyrillic alphabet.
"You may not have Russian characters on your keyboard," he said.
White said the switch is part of a long, technical transition to include non-Western characters. The foreign letters first showed up in the main piece of a Web address - so the "CNN" rather than the ".com." But completing the transition is important, he said.
So far, Chinese and Russian characters haven't been included. But 21 countries have applied to have domain name suffixes in 11 different languages. So you'll likely see more of these popping up online soon.
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