Domain Names with a Local Flavor | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 25.11.2003
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Domain Names with a Local Flavor

Starting in March, Internet domain names will be able to include words with diacritical marks such as umlauts and accents. Proponents of the new naming standard say it will help preserve local culture and identity.


Domain names are about to go native.

Until now, the Internet has not been very friendly to languages that use diacritics on some letters. Umlauts and acute accents, cedillas and circumflexes fall outside the 37 characters of the ASCII character set which all domain names have been restricted to.

That means Germans who want domain names containing umlauts have to be satisfied with adding an unwieldy 'e' after the vowel in question. For example, the Müllers or Schröders who want their own Web sites must register them as or

Other languages, such as French, which doesn't have a transcription system for its own diacritical marks, just have to leave them off.

But that will soon change. Starting March 1, 2004, users wishing to register names in their own languages -- diacritics and all -- will be able to do so thanks to a new Internet standard that will go into effect. The new IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) standard will allow 92 letters with many kinds of accents, dots, hooks and squiggles to be part of a URL.

"For a long time users from non-English-speaking countries have requested that letters from their own languages be allowed," Klaus Herzig, spokesman for the German domain name administrator DENIC, told DW-WORLD. "That's important as the Internet becomes more global. People will be able to use the names they use in their real lives."

Truly global

The final decision on the new standard was made in February by the Internet Engineering Task Force, an organization of network designers, operators, vendors and researchers that work on issues of Internet architecture and operation.

According to Herzig, the group decided that expanding the possibilities of domain names was overdue, given the growth of the Internet. There are now over 500 million Internet users in the world and more and more of them prefer using a language other than English. For about 60 percent of Internet users worldwide, English is a foreign language.

Domain names in the local language will be able to reach people more effectively, since they will have more meaning for users and enjoy more acceptance locally. For businesses with an Internet presence, according to DENIC, the value of their brand name will increase if it is identical to the domain name. Customers will less likely be confused if they can type the same name into their Web browser as they see on the store sign or product package.

A barrier to access?

However, due to the international nature of the Internet itself, the new system could throw up barriers to Web site access if, for example, a user in Canada wants to access a German site, but has no key for 'ä' or 'ü' on the North American keyboard. Creators of the new standard have assumed that most of those entering a name with special German characters would have the appropriate keyboard.

"About 80 percent of people using the Internet are private individuals, and most of them are creating sites in their own language, for others who speak that language," said Herzig. "If they use the new system, they'll have to accept the fact that it will be more difficult for foreigners to accept their sites."

But it won't be impossible. There are ways of typing foreign characters on most computers by entering three-digit ASCII codes on the keyboard's numeric pad. But Herzig admits many users aren't familiar with that option and would be less likely to access sites with characters they don't see on their own keyboard. International companies with diacritical marks in their names won't find the IDN system attractive for that reason.

"It's not an ideal system, but it's the best we have now," Herzig said, "and it will be appreciated by a lot of people around the globe."

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