Up until now, over half of the world's Internet-user population has had to put up with Latin script as the only way to access a URL. That's about to change as ICANN, the corporation that manages domain name administration, opens up applications to enter Arabic and Chinese script characters into the master root of the global Internet.
ICANN expects individual countries to apply for their own internationalized domain names in individual scripted characters rather than using dot.eg for Egypt or dot.ru for Russia, for example. The hope is that countries will gain greater control over their own Internet destiny and that the new domain names will draw in new users. Egypt got its application in first, followed by Saudi Arabia and Russia, although there has also been interest from the UAE.
However, ICANN has been keen to stress that it is the completeness of the application that drives how quickly a country can get set up for business in its own language. For its part, ICANN has demonstrated to the international business community that it is serious about broadening the Internet for a number of languages following criticism of the domination of Latin-based languages.
What will it all mean for business? Well, very little will change until the application process is completed and domain names allotted in the coming months. Even then, international companies that lack Arabic content will need to go through a creation exercise to ensure they are communicating as effectively with their customers as they can. Bahrain is spearheading the charge, courtesy of a new initiative to establish an e-content development center between Bahrain's eGovernment Authority (EGA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). According to Cabinet Affairs Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyatala Al Khalifa, Arabic content can currently be seen on only 1% of Web pages.
Although the decision by businesses to build out more Arabic content will surely be driven by the need for greater commerce, innovative firms that offer telecoms services to consumers, such as Skype, have got there already.
I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.