Here comes IDNs


I recently came across an article I wrote way back in late 2001 about the need for internationalized domain names (IDNs).

You can download the article here.

Back then, I had no idea I would be sitting here in 2007 and there would still be no formal IDN solution available to Web users around the world. I knew it would take some time, but 5 years?

Fortunately, ICANN has “prioritized” IDNs for the year ahead. And not a moment too late.

They recently posted their strategic plan for the next three years (download here). Excerpted from this report, here are some of the key issues and themes related to IDNs:

All commentators who mentioned IDNs were supportive of the introduction of IDNs into the root. Some saw it as an important step in internationalizing the Internet. Many saw it as one of the most important activities that ICANN was undertaking.

The introduction of IDNs will make the Internet more accessible and useful for billions of people around the globe. A number of comments suggested that these people (individuals, businesses, civil society groups and governments) should and hopefully will become stakeholders in the ICANN process. ICANN needs to educate these people about ICANN’s role, encourage them to participate in the ICANN process and ensure that ICANN processes allow and encourage their full participation. If this is done successfully, in a few years the ICANN community might be much more geographically, culturally and linguistically diverse than it is today.

The introduction of IDNs will bring about a significant increase in the number of registrars and registrants from non-English speaking markets. ICANN’s business processes will need to continue to move to a more international framework, reaching beyond the translation of documents to the acceptance of a broad range of business cultures and practices to ensure a level playing field for people across the globe.

The introduction of IDNs will increase the number of domain names and might therefore increase the number of disputes about rights to particular domain names. This would create greater demand for dispute resolution processes.Another implication of IDNs suggested by some respondents was that the increased size of the root zone would mean that management of the root zone would become more complex. There was also the suggestion that this increased complexity could mean increased security risks.

I suspect that security could be the major obstacle to successful IDN implementation, but it’s just going to be one of those things we have to figure out as we go. Because, in the end, IDNs have to become a reality. Either ICANN does it or we’ll see countries doing it on their own (some already are).

Later this year, ICANN begins testing IDNs and next year, if all goes well, we could see ICANN-approved IDNs in action.

Update: Here’s a good article on where ICANN stands on IDNs — they official test is underway…

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