ICANN’s Non-Latin Characters – Making the Worldwide Web Worldwide

Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist

New domain names will soon be able to contain non-latin characters.  What does this mean for your brand in the world market?

The Internet is at once very simple and very complex.  It’s simple for users; just start your Web browser and get going! On the other hand, it’s complex for the people in charge of how the Internet works and who work to improve your online experience.  One such behind-the-scenes organization doing complex things for the Internet is ICANN, an acronym that stands for "Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers."  ICANN is about to do something very important that will hit the Web in 2010.

ICANN is the organization that decides what characters go into a domain name.  For example, suppose back in the misty past (in 1995) you wanted to set up a Web domain and call it "Yahoo."  ICANN was the organization who said that it was okay to use a string of five alphanumeric Latin characters in your Web address, beginning with the letter "y" and ending with the letter "o."  If you wanted to set up a Web address named "www.#@#@#I’mgreat!!.com," ICANN was the organization who would say “No, you can’t have that domain name; Web addresses can’t have pound signs, tildes, apostrophes, spaces, or exclamation points.”

This was useful; having a single organization determine the characters that could go into a Web address allowed the Web to grow and evolve.  Browsers knew what to expect when they visited Web sites, for example, and programmers didn’t have to write browser instructions on what to do if the URL contained a non-alphanumeric character.  This saved a lot of people a lot of time.

In the intervening years, the Internet spread resolutely across the world.  While alphanumeric Web addresses worked great in countries that used alphanumeric Latin characters, this didn’t satisfy everyone.  Other countries used different alphabets, and it was probably tough for them to always use Latin characters when they wanted a Web domain. 

After years of consideration and hard work, ICANN recently announced that in 2010 they will allow Web domains to be written in non-latin characters.  The alphabets they will allow include Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, Hindi, Japanese, and Korean.  For example, if you’re running a gyros restaurant in Greece, you now have the option to get a Web domain like


Actually, the Web site you’d want for your gyros restaurant in Athens probably wouldn’t end in ".com," as shown above.  With the domain name change, ICANN also plans to allow countries to use their own alphabets to set up their domain country codes.  For example, instead of Google Japan’s Web site URL


The last characters in a Japanese Web address can be written in the native alphabet, and might even be something like


e.g. the Japanese kanji for "Nihon."

If you happen to have a business that operates in the international market, you may want to check out what ICANN’s up to nowadays.  For example, if the Web site you’re intending your Russian market to see still ends in “.com," you may want to get a Cyrillic address to better connect with your customers. 

Alternately, you may need to secure an additional domain name within these new alphabets if your brand is known world-wide.  When domain names became a hot item in the mid-90s, there were many instances of “cybersquatting," where an individual buys a domain name with the intention of profiting from someone else’s trademark or intellectual property. 

The inclusion of non-latin characters in domain names may provide another venue for cyber-squatters.  For example, could someone unaffiliated with McDonalds Corp. buy the domain name

М С Б Ф П А І Б Ѕ.ru? 

The new alphabets provide a potential for confusion, though presumably ICANN has protocols in place to prevent this.  Worldwide brands should definitely look into this to ensure their property is unchallenged in different alphabets.

For more information about the registration process for domain names with non-latin characters, you should visit ICANN’s official announcement page for an FAQ and lots of other useful information:


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