Internationalization Breeds Discovery Concerns
The Internet as you know it is changing, as billions of non-English speaking users come online, and with them, numerous new top-level domains. This couples with the de-Americanization of the Internet to introduce non-Latin character sets that require careful handling by coders and marketers alike.
This is not just a matter of the extra dashes, dots and other assorted Non-English squiggles found in French, German, Spanish and other unique languages based on Latin characters, but of totally different alphabets, such as Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Russian and more.
According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), traditional web addresses are typically expressed using uniform resource identifiers or URIs, which are essentially restricted to a small number of characters — including upper and lower case letters of the English alphabet, European numerals and a small number of symbols.
The W3C’s Richard Ishida says the original reason for this was to aid transcribability and usability both in computer systems and in non-computer communications, to avoid clashes with characters used conventionally as delimiters around URLs, and to facilitate entry using those input facilities available to most Internet users.
“User’s expectations and use of the Internet have moved on since then, and there is now a growing need to enable use of characters from any language in Web addresses,” Ishida explains. “A web address in your own language and alphabet is easier to create, memorize, transcribe, interpret, guess, and relate to.”
“It is also important for brand recognition,” Ishida added. “This, in turn, is better for business, better for finding things, and better for communicating. In short, better for the Web.”
Branding plays several roles in the equation, including through the use of non-Latin characters as symbols or to draw out a logo or other graphical representation for example.
This practice will be akin to ASCII art taken to the next level, but using non-ASCII characters, with some particularly clever implementations no doubt waiting in the wings.
The W3C Internationalization initiative (www.w3.org/International) makes it possible to use various online technologies with different languages, scripts, and cultures; sharing information about the latest tools and techniques, while developing new standards.
This assistance is valuable for those trying to understand the impact of non-ASCII characters on items such as string matching and resolving file paths, crafting headers and phishing vulnerabilities.
Although the move to a more global Internet has been underway for quite some time, many sites, including those in the adult entertainment space, continue to target an English speaking audience.
Of course, others have stood apart by extending their offers to the rest of the world.
One example can be found in the new Arabic translations available on Cyprus-based WebcamWiz’ white label webcam sites. An alternative language on its white label sites, Arabic may also be set as the default language, increasing the accessibility of interactive live cam shows to an Arabic-speaking audience.
Recent emphasis on localization within search results may actually boost some of the new addresses over their more standard competitors, as being more relevant, so the story is not yet over on how this shift in syntax will play out.
One thing that is for certain, however, is that the days of an American dominated, English speaking Internet are over, and with this change arises new challenges and new opportunities for those willing to embrace a very wide world.