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The Net Widens: Non-Latin Domain Names Introduced


Egypt first to request web address in Arabic script.

In a move that will make the Internet more accessible to millions of users, Egypt today became the first country to apply for an officially registered domain name using non-Latin script.

Information Technology Minister Tarek Kamel said the country had filed an application to use the domain, ".masr" written entirely in Arabic. The word translates as ".egypt".

Today was the first day the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an Internet oversight agency, opened its doors to applications for domains written in non-Latin languages. According to ICANN Chief Executive Rod Beckstrom, six countries have so far lined up for domains using three scripts.

The shift to allow native language domain names has been heralded as the most significant change to the Internet in its 40-year history. Of the 1.6 billion people who use the Internet, more than half speak a language that doesn't use Latin characters.

Some countries, including China, have already introduced software workarounds that allow local computers to recognize web addresses written in non-Latin script. Since these fixes weren't internationally approved, however, they don't always work on all computers.

Major websites and international Web-based retailers also already offer native language services, of course. Google (GOOG) runs its search engine in myriad scripts, including Arabic, but uses domain names created with the Latin alphabet. (For example, is the domain name for Google's United Arab Emirates site.) In September, Google launched a "Google News" page fluent in Arabic, reaching 40 million Arabic-speaking Internet users. Amazon (AMZN) runs large subsidiaries in China and Japan.

Copyright 2009 Minyanville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.

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