Big changes are afoot in the world of domain names. By the middle of 2010, the first domains in non-Latin scripts should be up and running.

This will make domain names written in Chinese, Cyrillic and Arabic a reality – up till now, domains have only been able to contain Latin characters.

This means we’ll start to see domain names containing all sorts of unfamiliar characters – well, unfamiliar to those of us who don’t understand those languages, at least.

What’s the point?

Billions of people across the world never use the Latin alphabet in their lives. This is a key step in making the internet more accessible and understandable to those people. That’s what makes it important.

The whole point of the changes is to create a universal address system that will work anywhere and everywhere – so every computer in the world can connect with every other.

But first things first: to begin with, the change will only apply to country code top level domains (like .uk) which are controlled by national governments.

In time, we should see the new scripts rolled out across the board. However, as they represent significant technical changes to the system that underpins the way domain names work, it’s one step at a time.

What does it mean?

We’re still getting to grips with what these changes might mean for the internet. They’re being introduced gradually, so don’t expect to see a revolution overnight. However, here are some of the things that might happen:

  • The internet should become more accessible to people all around the world. So we’d expect to see lots more websites in languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet – like Russian, Chinese, Arabic and Korean.
  • Other domain extensions might become less valuable. For instance, once there’s an extension for China in Chinese, the .cn extension might become less-relevant. That could affect demand for them – and their value.
  • But don’t feel too sorry for domainers. On the flipside, all these new alphabets should expand the number of possible domain names too. So there might be whole new markets for them to exploit.
  • We might see more security issues. Some experts have expressed concerns that all the changes will increase security problems – making it easier for fraudsters to set up phishing websites and the like.

There are a couple of downsides here – and the question mark over security is the biggest. However, these issues can be solved, so despite them, we can’t help but think moving towards having domain names in every language is a good thing. After all, it’s the only way to create a truly global internet that anyone can access.

For the full story, check these articles on the BBC and The Guardian – or search ICANN’s confusing website for the full lowdown. Search Engine Journal looks at the implications for brands and online marketing too.

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