[AfrICANN-discuss] Speaking your language
annerachel at gmail.com
Tue Sep 25 10:30:45 SAST 2012
Yesterday, the Broadband Commission published its 2012
Top of the pops on its highlights
is the news that by 2015 Chinese will overtake English as the predominant
language of the web.
This is a big change. In 2010, UNESCO's Assistant Director General, Janis
"*The Internet needs to become more inclusive and diverse with regards to
languages. There are approximately 6,000 languages in the world, but 12
languages only accounted for 98 % of Internet webpages in 2008. English
with 72 % of webpages is the dominant language."*
* This year's report tells us that English now represents 27% of Internet
web pages, a huge swing towards multilingualism. There are 285 languages
recognised by Wikipedia; Facebook is available in 70 languages. Amazingly
fast progress on Internet content.
Broadband Commission Report 2012, page 63
That's content. What about addressing? As the web becomes more
linguistically diverse, can the Internet's navigation system remain
predominantly English speaking? Internationalised Domain Names (IDN),
which allow users to find their way around the web in their own language,
have developed from relatively slow beginnings, and are starting to become
more widely available.
Many challenges to widespread deployment of IDNs - they are still not
consistently handled in web browsers, in email, or in popular applications
(for example, you can't create a Facebook account with an IDN email), and
there is limited awareness by industry and end users alike. That said,
some countries have seen good uptake of IDNs already.
The World Report on Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) Deployment, a
collaboration between EURid <http://www.eurid.eu/> and UNESCO
<http://www.unesco.org/>will be published next month, and is summarised in
the Broadband Commission Report. As main author of the IDN study, I have
spent a lot of time this year trying to figure out why Internationalised
Domain Names have been so successful in some countries (eg Russian
Federation and Republic of Korea), and not in others.
Building on research by the Internet Society, UNESCO and the
which finds a remarkable correlation between the development of network
infrastructure and growth of local content, the World Report on IDNs
suggests that a combination of country factors on the one hand, and factors
relating to the way that the country's domain name registry is run on the
other, combine to give a score for "IDN readiness".
Broadband Commission Report 2012, page 64
(EURid, UNESCO World Report on IDN Deployment 2012)
Country factors look at cultural and linguistic homogeneity, the number of
language speakers in a country, the extent to which there are local
language versions of popular applications or sites (eg microblogging,
social networking, retail), and infrastructure. The link between
infrastructure and content is surprising at first, but thinking it through
- the faster your Internet connection, the more attractive it is to go
online, send emails, shop, watch videos, or create content.
The other factors which we think affect the uptake of IDNs in a country or
region relate to the way that the country's domain name registry (ccTLD) is
run. Factors such as price, and registration rules have their part to
play, but a crucial element is whether there is a network of local
registrars, who provide all sorts of Internet services to people in their
In this way, the country's domain name registry has an important role to
play in fostering the right environment for multilingual content.
It's in the nature of the Internet that fixing problems requires the
collaboration of multiple actors, and IDNs are no different. Policy
makers, industry and the technical community all have their part to play.
But looking at the growth in multilingual content, it makes sense to
suppose that there will be a market demand for multilingual web navigation
too, if it is user friendly, consistent and reliable.
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