Archive for the ‘i18n’ Category

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the people who manage domain names, yesterday announced that as of Monday 15th internet domain names would go international.

What this means is that rather than websites being forced to use Roman characters such as .com, .org, .net etc at the end of their domain, countries can now use their native alphabets. This is great news and highlights the importance of recognising the need for people to browse the internet in their native language without resorting to the use of the Roman alphabet. As ICANN themselves have stressed “the internationalization of the Internet’s domain name system must be accomplished through standards that are open, non-proprietary, and fully compatible with the Internet’s existing end-to-end model and that preserve globally unique naming in a universally resolvable public name space” .

This takes us a step closer to making the internet a truly global, accessible space although its no small irony that this will turn the browsing experience of those of us who do not read Arabic, Chinese or Tamil on its head. For example Chinese users write Chinese characters by typing a phonetic version of words in Roman letters called pinyin. Computer software programs then provide a list of associated characters that the user then chooses depending on the meaning of the word – a bit like predictive text on a mobile phone. Without that know how or software a non Chinese speaker isn’t going to be able to type Chinese domain names. Instead people are going to have to resort to using links from search engines and other sites to access websites with localised domain names.

ICANN is going cautiously though and is planning a set of test sites in eleven languages: Arabic, Persian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese, and Tamil. This is partly to ensure that the roll out is both secure and stable. Experts predict that while take up will be slow, ICANN doesn’t expect working addresses in the new languages to be available until the end of next year, this will have a huge impact on the estimated 5 billion people who are not on the Internet and who come up against the barrier of language – just one aspect of the digital divide. As Paul Hoffman, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based programmer who created the standards behind the internationalized domain names said the new names “are not for the current users, but for the next billion”. This has been echoed by an Egyptian Minister who says that in Egypt about seven million people, or 10% of the population, use the internet. Most of these users are well-educated and speak at least some English. To get the next 10% of the population online, however, having domain names in Arabic is critical.

As of Monday you can test the new domains yourself as ICANN will post links on its website to test sites in the 11 non-Roman languages. You’ll be able to test the sites, leave comments about them and create your own versions of web pages that use the non-Roman suffixes.

I love the fact that while the business world becomes ever more English-centric all this work is going on to make the web localised; the towers of babel are have long way to go before they get rebuilt yet!


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I’ve just published an article in the RNIB Web Access Centre called Beijing 2008 Part1: accessibility. It gives a snapshot overview of where the Beijing 2008 website is currently at in terms of accessibility and suggests steps for improvement.

This is the first or three articles about the current Beijing 2008 site. Next up in the series I’ll be looking at how the site is doing in terms of internationalisation. This final part will focus on mobile access.

All articles I have published elsewhere are listed on the Articles page.

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A while ago Webaim posted about Great accessibility blog roundup which listed various accessibility blogs that we have all referenced and fed off over the years. Inspired by this I thought I’d start compiling a list of i18n and global design blogs where I go for my daily fix. This is by no means a definitive list so if there’s something out there that I’ve missed then let me know. I’ll be updating the list so add it to your RSS, stick it on del.icio.us or bookmark the page if you want the updates.


Set up by 3 guys who feel that not enough translation happening on the web and want to encourage change. This covers translation on the web from Icelandic to Uyghur and is a gem for anyone working on multilingual web projects.

Design across cultures

Does what it says on the tin and has a strong and insightful focus on global design across cultures.

Global By Design

Web globalisation news and resources. Lots of interesting stuff here covering both the technical and non-technical aspects of internationalisation. The site also has a paid for monthly newsletter as well as free resources.

GALA on Technology

As they say themselves they are a “fully representative non-profit international industry association for the localization, internationalization and globalization industry”. Lots here on both web and software.

Richard Ishida

Heading up the W3C’s i18n Working Group, Richard’s blog looks at issues in i18n and offers practical advice and technical solutions – check out the Utilities page for some really useful coding techniques. It also points back to W3C related posts as well.

i18n Guy

Not quite a blog but a great resource when sourcing information about internationalisation, localisation and the web. Some links are a bit out of date but bare with it.

i18n G.A.L

An American expat in the UK, i18n Gal posts about “all things international, only some of them software”. There’s no tagging though which is a shame as it would make it easier to zone in on topics. She’s not a relation to 118n Guy though.

Planet i18n

Set up by the guys at the W3C’s i18n Working Group Planet 118n is a recently launched aggregator that pulls together posts from all over the web about i18n. A great resource if you’re not sure where to start.

Got any more to add? Leave a comment below with the URL and I’ll add it to the list.

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It’s been interesting to see over the last couple of years how internationalisation (i18n) has gained weight in the web community. Of course I may be wrong as it’s something that I’ve really only been following for that amount of time however previously if I raised it in conversation I would be met with a look of “I’ve got more than enough on my plate with this accessibility stuff thank you” and the conversation would politely be nixed.

But times they are a changing. In 2006 at London’s @Media well respected web standards advocate Molly Holzschlag presented on Awakening the Sleeping Giant which sowed the seed of i18n well and truly in the minds of many designers and developers that day…and never was there a better title for a presentation either.

This year at @Media Richard Ishida from the W3C Internationalisation Working Group presented on Designing for International users: Practical Tips. It was great to see a practical presentation pointing out the benefits of i18n, pitfalls of not considering it early on in the design process and pointers to what to do to incorporate it. People I spoke to after the session were pretty unanimous in their feedback in that they didn’t really know what to expect from the session and were left saying “I really hadn’t realised how important this is”. The world wide web is the world wide web after all. Even if you do design and build websites in one country for one audience there is nothing to say that you wont have users from elsewhere.

So is i18n the new black? In the late 90’s when working on web projects in China usability was the buzzword, accessibility then took over in the early noughties. An now interest seems to be in i18n. By it’s very nature the web community loves to embrace new technologies, ideas and concepts and it looks to me that standards on the web also have a place on that list.

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