The nonprofit body that oversees Internet addresses approved Friday the use of Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and other scripts not based on the Latin alphabet in a decision that could make the Web dramatically more inclusive.
The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - or ICANN - voted to allow such scripts in so-called domain names at the conclusion of a weeklong meeting in Seoul, South Korea's capital. The decision follows years of debate and testing.
The decision clears the way for governments or their designees to submit requests for specific names, likely beginning Nov. 16. Internet users could start seeing them in use early next year, particularly in Arabic, Chinese and other scripts in which demand has been among the highest, ICANN officials say.
"This is absolutely delightful news," said Edward Yu, CEO of Analysys International, an Internet research and consulting firm in Beijing, emphasizing that the Internet would become more accessible to users with lower incomes and education. Yu spoke ahead of the approval, which had been widely expected.
Domain names - the Internet addresses that end in ".com" and other suffixes - are the key monikers behind every Web site, e-mail address and Twitter post.
Since their creation in the 1980s, domain names have been limited to the 26 characters in the Latin alphabet used in English
A-Z - as well as 10 numerals and the hyphen. Technical tricks have been used to allow portions of the Internet address to use other scripts, but until now, the suffix had to use those 37 characters.
That has meant Internet users with little or no knowledge of English might still have to type in Latin characters to access Web pages in Chinese or Arabic. Although search engines can sometimes help users reach those sites, companies still need to include Latin characters on billboards and other advertisements.
Now, ICANN is allowing those same technical tricks to apply to the suffix as well, allowing the Internet to be truly multilingual.
Many of the estimated 1.5 billion people online use languages such as Chinese, Thai, Arabic and Japanese, which have writing systems entirely different from English, French, German, Indonesian, Swahili and others that use Latin characters.