The Multilingual Development of the Internet
At a technical level, the Internet was not adept at supporting multiple languages initially, but the rapid growth of languages on the Internet has paved the way for a truly multilingual web. The increased use of languages online is being facilitated by swift changes that allow the use of language specific characters in all technical aspects of a website. The launch of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs), which are domain names in local languages, was a major step forward that enabled the Internet to become truly multilingual.
Historically, domain names contained American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters. This restricted the use of language specific characters and the domains had to be created in English even when the content was available in a different language. However, two years ago, domain name addresses in local language scripts were launched by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to facilitate the growth of a number of various languages on the web.
The introduction of IDNs is significant in expanding the user base of the Internet globally. The non-English speaking web population will continue to grow considerably over the next 10 years and unavailability of the Internet in local languages will hinder their regular use of the web. Countries like India and China, amongst others, have ambitious plans in place to provide online access to a large percent of its population, where the majority of their populations are non-English speakers and can only communicate in local languages. India is undergoing the process of acquiring IDN’s in seven Indian languages including Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu and Tamil while a number of other countries have already acquired the IDNs that they had requested.
An internalized web population has paved the way for the on-going development of the web. IDNs will allow users to type domain names in languages that they are familiar with, and this will continue to enhance the localization of the web. For the business world, this means that it is more important than ever to research and provide localized sites, even on a technical level for higher success. The increased use of IDNs in the future will have a profound impact that reaches beyond the system that it is created for. Emerging economies are already discussing the social and economic possibilities with the use of IDNs and how it can initiate an internet-led boom on a local level.