Asian characters to be added to Internet Web site addresses

by Melinda Rogers

Already accessing information from thousands of Internet Web sites around the world, University students equipped with the right technology will now be able to expand their horizons even more.
Last week VeriSign Global Registry Services, the Internet giant that issues domain names ending in .com, .net and .org, decided to add Asian characters to its Web site addresses, allowing University students and the rest of the world to experience an even more global World Wide Web.
“I think it’s a great idea. It’s never a bad idea to diversify in any aspect of life,” said Amber Heckert, president of the Asian-American Student Cultural Center.
“Globally, I think it would be effective, especially for those who would prefer to use domain names in their own language,” added Allen Malicsi, an educational specialist in the Asian-American Learning Resource Center.
Right now, Web site addresses are limited to letters in the English language as well as numbers and a hyphen — a total of 37 characters altogether. Adding Asian characters will boost that character number to 40,282, creating more possibilities of Internet exploration abroad.
While some see the additional characters as a gateway to a more diverse Internet, others see the idea as a premature move.
“The direction (of the idea) is fine, but the infrastructure isn’t in place yet. You can’t promote something when an infrastructure is not in place,” said Shih-Pau Yen, director of the Office of Information Technology.
“There’s no question that there will be change, but you have to make change at the right time,” Yen said.
Language barriers between users and a lack of computer ability to interpret non-English characters were concerns voiced after VeriSign’s announcement.
“You want a common denominator. If people don’t understand a language, all they see is a graphic,” Yen said.
“How many different languages will you make a keyboard in? This is something the industry will have to address, and unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon,” Malicsi added.
“English just happens to be the way to communicate through technology right now,” he said.
In order to use non-English characters, Internet users will need to modify their English computer settings to read non-English characters. Specific equipment, such as a keyboard with proper characters, will be necessary to utilize non-English Web sites.
Along with reconstructing computers, many search engines will need to be revamped, as they are programmed to only interpret English commands.
“Some Web sites could become exclusive because of the characters,” Heckert said.
“They’ll probably have some kinks to work out initially,” Malicsi added. “When studying global issues of technology you have to look at the pros and cons and not just one side.”
While Malicsi and Heckert are both aware of possible problems that might go along with the addition of Asian characters to Internet domain names, both are optimistic about the outcome.
“The way we communicate, there are a lot of problems but a lot of positives too,” Malicsi said.
“I think (the University) could attract more global companies interested in investing in them,” he said.
Heckert agrees with the international impact the change might have.
“There are a lot of international students that come here that could find it useful. All-around I think it’s a good idea,” Heckert concluded.

— Wire reports contributed to this story.
Melinda Rogers covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]