Domain-name registration gets 64 more languages

Three months after VeriSign Global Registry Services (GRS) began registering Web site addresses in four languages other than English as part of a test process, the company has added 64 new site registration languages to directly bring the Internet to a larger number of native speakers around the globe.

The added language support will allow Internet users who speak Greek, Western European languages, including French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, or Eastern European languages such as Armenian, Russian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Georgian to register Web sites in their native tongues, according to VeriSign GRS. The unit of VeriSign Inc. maintains the master database of Internet domain names.

The 64 new languages are being added to a multilingual domain names test-bed program that VeriSign GRS launched last November. The company had said last month that an expansion of the test process to include more languages was in the works.

Cheryl Regan, a spokeswoman for VeriSign, said the new languages join the first four that were initiated at the test-bed's launch, when registrations were begun in Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and a simpler version of the latter language that uses fewer characters. So far, more than 800,000 Web sites have been registered in those languages, according to VeriSign GRS.

Regan said the testing began with languages used by large numbers of people, with plans calling for more languages to be added as the project continues. "We're just trying to accommodate the world's population, and we're doing it in a staggered approach," she said.

Registrations can be made through a group of 25 domain name registrars that have been certified by VeriSign GRS. The support for additional languages will allow sites to be registered under second-level domain names in the .com, .net and .org top-level domains, the company said.

Several other languages are expected to be added next month, including Asian languages such as Lao, Thai and Tibetan. In late April, support is expected for several Middle Eastern languages, including Arabic and Hebrew.

But the test-bed project has some critics, including Don Heath, the president and CEO of the Internet Society, a nonprofit group that serves as the "organization home" for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board.

The IETF and other standards bodies are working to develop global standards for registering multilingual domain names in an attempt to help promote the use of the Internet around the world, and Heath said he worries that conducting the test-bed project ahead of agreed-upon standards is dangerous.

"There is this fear it could fragment the Internet," Heath said. "If it's done properly, there shouldn't be any concern. It's just that we're not there yet."

Heath said the IETF expects to have standards in place by late summer. "What they're really trying to do is get a jump on the market," Heath said of VeriSign GRS.

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