Internationalizing The Internet: Domain Names To Use Non-Latin Scripts

(CNN) -- The group that controls top-level domain codes for Internet addresses voted Friday to permit non-Latin language codes for the first time in its history.

"It's the single biggest change in 10 or 15 years," said Rod Beckstrom, CEO of the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

The board of directors of the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved the protocol for internationalized domain names (IDNs) -- those represented by local language characters -- at its meeting in Seoul, South Korea.

The change, which has a target implementation date of November 16, will allow Web addresses in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Hindi and other languages.

"This is one of the most exciting developments for the users of the Internet globally in years," Beckstrom said. "IDNs will enable the people the world over to use domain name addresses in their own language."

With the vote, Web surfing is about to get easier for about half of the world's 1.6 billion Internet users.

"Coming from a country where we have 22 languages, this is definitely a welcome move," said board member Rajasekhar Ramaraj. I "really look forward to the impact on the Internet community in India."

"There are over 40 million users in the Arab world," said Wael Ghanim, Google's product and marketing manager for the Middle East and Africa. "And this number is expected to increase in the coming days, which in turn, makes the Arabic language one of the strategic languages through which a lot of companies, for instance Google, are interested in."

But some worry that the change could lead to more miscommunication.

"If Korean is used during the international communication, foreigners won't be able to understand and won't be able to read it well enough, so there could be some problems in communication," said South Korean Internet user Chang Yong-woong.

But others see the IDNs opening the Internet to a much broader population.

"If they can make this technology work, and people can use their own language to enter in addresses, I think that that would really expand the practical applications of the Internet," said Chinese Internet cafe owner Zhang Zhiming. "People from different walks of life and different age groups could get more engaged with it."

ICANN Vice Chairman Roberto Gaetano said the vote marks a profound shift in the Internet.

"This is bringing some change that will be even a cultural change, a complete different way in which ... certain countries will then see the Internet -- the possibility to open to new users that have been on the other side of the digital divide," Gaetano said.

One question that has not been resolved: how people in countries that use the Latin script will be able to access Web sites with Arabic, Hindi or Korean domain names. ICANN doesn't have an answer to that, but is confident a new technology will fill that gap soon.

-- CNN's Errol Barnett contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire/Atlanta
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