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Internationalizing the World Wide Web

A joint symposium hosted by ITU and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and supported by the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium (MINC) aimed to help give Internet access to a wider global audience. English has become the lingua franca of the information society, exacerbating the digital divide — between the haves and the have-nots of the digital age.

Fifty per cent of the content on the Web is in languages other than English. The aim of the Symposium on Multilingual Domain Names was to reflect this diversity by suggesting ways in which scripts other than the Latin-based ASCII means of accessing websites currently used can be built into the Web’s infrastructure. Currently, native speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tamil, Thai and other languages have no means of addressing the Web in their own language.

The Internet has become a global network of more than 230 connected economies and over 360 million users. It is estimated that, by 2003, two-thirds of all Internet users will be non-English speakers, with the greatest expansion coming from Asia and Latin America. It is further estimated that, by that same year, at least one-third of Web users will prefer to conduct their online activities in a language other than English, and that by 2005 only one-third of Internet businesses will use English for online communication. Some forecasters even predict that, by 2007, Chinese will be the primary language used on the World Wide Web.

A number of commercial and private organizations have proposed solutions that enable multilingual domain name use, but no de facto standards have emerged. The ITU and WIPO symposium concentrated on the technical, legal and policy issues relating to the enlargement of the domain name space to support scripts of languages other than English, as well as the intellectual property implications of such developments.

Equality of access to the valuable resources provided by the Internet is a key concern for ITU. And this symposium is just one of many ITU initiatives aimed at addressing the ‘digital divide’.



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Updated : 2002-10-09