Coming soon: websites in Hindi, and the IPO too?

Come Monday, 16 November, 2009, ICANN’s internationalised domain names (IDNs) will go live. Touted as the “biggest technical change to the Internet ever”, there is still some cloud over whether TM ownerswho have registered domain names in non-IDN, i.e., Latin/Roman characters, will be given the first right of refusal when it comes to registering in other scripts. (ICANN’s been in the news for other things as well – read Prashant’s post some days ago on domain tasting)

Readers who’ve been around long enough may recall a post we’d done over two years ago on the National Internet Exchange of India’s (NIXI) announcement of the launch of IDNs in about half a dozen languages. (NIXI — a government agency that operates the official .IN registry and also serves as a meeting point of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in India.)

How is this announcement different from what happened two years ago?
Until now, the address endings for all internet addresses could only be in Latin characters. This change will introduce approximately 100,000 characters from multiple languages which can be used for web address endings. This will also make it the first time that entire internet addresses can contain non-Latin characters.

This is a Fast Track Process restricted to country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) which will be accessible only to nations and territories. These entities are eligible to apply for extensions based on their name, comprising of characters from national languages. Among the scripts included is Devanagari: so, we may soon see websites with endings like .इंडिया , .भारत, .हिंदुस्तान and so on, depending on what the authorities agree to zoom in on.

Time for India to get its act together

Business Standard has an interesting op-ed on this today, which I refer to tangentially. For long, the standard argument of non-native English users about the Internet has been its linguistic limitations. ICANN has flipped this around completely — from what I understand, no knowledge of Latin characters is required to key in a website address. Website content has already long been available in non-Latin languages. Gmail is available in a bunch of Indian languages, which I use often, and enjoy thoroughly. You already get really cheap keyboard skins on the market which allow users to slip on an alternate keyboard on the standard Qwerty plate — are we reaching beyond English, finally?

The IPO’s e-Patrika
As an endnote, and to tie the IP angle in — a recent visit to the IPO website showed up this: the fifth edition (but first electronic version?) of the IPO’s in-house magazine, the Boudhhik Sampada Sagar, an ePatrika (download link).

The 28-page long ePatrika – the first I have seen online, but do tell if earlier versions have been made available online previously – is entirely in Hindi, and comes, ironically enough, from the Mumbai office of the IPO. (The politics of Hindi is an entirely different story, even if you’re not a Mumbaikar, and I shan’t get into it. But do read Rajeev Dhawan’s excellent op-ed in the Express today).

In re ICANN’s Fast Track Process for IDNs for ccTLDs, India’s enthusiasm to introduce dual languages everywhere, and the ePatrika, will we see this next?: बौद्धिकसम्पदाविभाग.भारत/

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the creative aspect of the folks at the IPO, do give this a read. Nuggets include ‘the vanishing languages of this world’; the history of cricket in India; tips for succeeding in an interview; is Mumbai safe?; profiles of Baba Amte and Dr Kalam. I haven’t had time to read it through since chancing upon it earlier today. You must tell me what else you discover!

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