Companies and individuals will soon be able to obtain domain names in multiple languages with a single registration. Domain Registrar Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) and Singapore's Internationalized Domain Name System (i-DNS) have announced plans to make available domain names in 55 languages by year's end.
"We believe that having (domain names in multiple languages) is something the world requires in the long term," said Michael Ng, i-DNS chief executive officer. "(It is in) the interest for both parties (i-DNS and NSI) to ensure that the people registered for .com (domain names) will now have the opportunity to register (those domain names) in the different languages of the world, bringing them one step closer to the market."
Ng added that the introduction of domain names in multiple languages has been done conservatively because the impact for such a step is dramatic, requiring NSI and i-DNS to coordinate their approaches.
"The implications of support (requirements) and getting the market ready takes time," Ng said. "If we were to announce something for .hk, the impact might not be too large (because) it might only be localized in Hong Kong. But this is (for all) .com (domain names)."
According to Ng, the presence of multilingual domain names will lower language barriers and is an incentive for non-English-speaking nations to get on the Internet.
"It bridges the digital divide because it means you don't need to know English to get the Web's wealth of information," he said. "This is a great plus for Third World countries and we would like to be a part of that (initial introduction to the Internet)."
Although there is no de facto standard for multilingual domain names at present, Ng said that both NSI and i-DNS are working to create an international standard.
"Right now, there are individual language standards, but what we are trying to do is to get an international standard," Ng said. "(For example), if there is, let's say, a Chinese standard, that Chinese standard has to be a part of the international Internet community."
However, attaining a worldwide standard should include a mechanism for the protection of intellectual property rights, said Ng. "(Since) the .com domain space is close to saturation, we would like to apply the rules such that the intellectual property rights of a consumer or companies are protected not only in the English domain names, but (so that protection can) also apply to the multilingual versions as well," he explained.
Ng highlighted Hong Kong as a showcase market for multilingual names. "Since 1997, there has been a proliferation of the Chinese language (in Hong Kong). Everywhere you go, there is a bilingual requirement, so this is a good market for multilingual names," Ng said.
More homogenous markets such as Japan and South Korea will also be on the list for multilingual domain names since the "likelihood for people registering Japanese or Korean names (in those places) are higher," Ng said.
Ng said that i-DNS would work with local registrars to provide multilingual domain names because the biggest registries usually belong to the local players.
According to company officials, i-DNS has so far invested close to US$10 million in its multilingual technology and in R&D.
"We will continue to be investing to improve the technology and provide value-added services including multilingual e-mail addresses, directory searches and multilingual translation, (also) available in the last quarter," Ng said.