Guardian article on IDNs. Wait for the complaints…

I forgot to mention yesterday that I had an article on IDNs in The Guardian: “How engineers tamed the internet’s Tower of Babel“, which was basically an attempt to explain one of the other sides of the Internationalised Domain Names by referring to Patrik Fältström’s comment at the IGF that the technical side of things had now been agreed.

The article actually started out as coverage of the domain “£.com” but rapidly led to covering the issue of symbols on the Net, hence IDNs. I might post up my original article here as I had to cut out a lot of stuff in the rewrite focussing on IDNs. I might as well get that info up. I tried to use £.com to get across to English readers the concept of approving some “symbols” and not approving others. I think I managed it but not as clearly as I had hoped.

Anyway, the vital issue of IDNs is very complex and far more than one or even three or four features can cover properly. In July, I did a long piece also for The Guardian trying to explain what IDNs were and why they were so important (“Divided by a common language“).

In both cases it was extremely difficult to simplify such a complex issue without bringing in what look like inaccuracies but are in fact simplifications that people with alot of knowledge don’t like the look of.

Ha! In fact I have just this second noticed that ICANN complained to The Guardian about my piece. There is a clarification on it that reads: “In the article below we mistakenly gave the impression that there are no non-Latin alphabet internet domain names. Icann – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – has asked us to point out that non-Latin characters have been permitted for some time except at the top level (as in .com, .net, .uk, and so on) and that they are working on changing that during the course of this year.”

I also remember there was a complaint that I hadn’t mentioned Unicode only Punycode in the first article. The second article was all about Unicode – what’s the bet someone complains I didn’t mention Punycode?

You know, I could write an all-encompassing, entirely accurate article about IDNs covering every area. But it would be 30,000 words long and the only people that would read it would already know everything in the article. Such is the lot of the journalist. Anyway, there is another IDN article at least in ICANN’s IDN testing and efforts at the moment.

One of the things about researching IDNs is it makes you feel so uneducated. I started learning Chinese characters about a year ago out of interest but have let it lapse. But I have always been intrigued by Arabic. When you start looking at the issue at IDNs though, you realise that even your best languages skills often aren’t up to the job.

I kinda like that. I love feeling stupid. Reminds you to keep learning and to never start believing you’re wise about anything, just slightly better informed than you were.

  1. You are right to cover this complex issue. What does more of a disservice, however, is John Klensin’s off the wall comments about £.com’s supposedly sneaking through, when it is the very standards he helped design that have enabled such domains to be registered, sold and resold, and now be put to use.

    John Klensin has a set of strange ideas about what should constitute a domain, which he has written into the IDN standard. That is, a domain should be from a natural language, and it should not be unambiguous. Well guess what? A £.com in fact less ambiguous that A man as smart as Klensin should know better than to bend the truth to fit the facts.

    And the facts read out: his interpretation of what constitutes a good domain, ie. coming from a natural language, and being unambiguous is a bad definition of a good domain, and is full of Western bias against symbols, so widely used, right along side ordinary characters, in so many non-Western languages, and in the case of £, in English itself.

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