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Twenty years ago, on August 6, 1991, the World Wide Web was invented. Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, posted a summary of the World Wide Web project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup, explaining how to use a web browser and how to build a web server. This date marks the debut of the Web as a publicly available service.
In the twenty years since the creation of the World Wide Web, the world has changed significantly. The Internet, a global system of connected computer networks, was originally used for military and academic purposes. However, its commercialization has allowed it to permeate every aspect of modern life. There are currently about 250 million websites, with an estimated one-quarter of the world's populations plugging into its services. And Internet use is growing rapidly. It is predicted that by 2012, the number of Internet users will break 1.9 billion, or 30% of the global population.
Clearly, the Internet is full of business opportunities. In recent years, online shopping and group-buying have become trends amongst the young. Rather than spending time travelling to shops to choose, compare and purchase goods, shoppers can do everything with just a few clicks. The Internet provides a new environment for people to express themselves, to perform and entertain, and to live a 'second life' on the Internet's many online worlds.
We have even reached the point where domain names are powerful brands. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter are all powerful brands. However, there is an important omission from all the major domain names: none are written using non-Latin alphabet characters.
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In Asia, there are more than 700 million Internet users, 250 million of which are Chinese. The number of Chinese Internet users has already exceeded that of the United States. Despite the growing population of Chinese Internet users, Chinese domain names are merely transliterations of Chinese words into Latin characters. Such names oversimplify the Chinese language, lacking even the tones used in pinyin.
"Glocalization" has been a hot term in recent years, referring to the saying "think globally and act locally." By using domain names with Chinese characters, companies can shorten the distance between operators and users, and make the Internet easier to use for Chinese speakers.
This is not an unreasonable demand. Imagine if the World Wide Web had been developed not in the United States, but in Russia. Domain names would be written in Cyrillic, and every new American user would be forced to know the different Cyrillic letters to use the Internet. Americans might have gone along with this if the Internet remained small-scale. But, once the benefits of the Internet became clear, demands that the Latin alphabet be allowed for ease of use would become common.
It has been possible for non-Latin characters to be used in domain names since 1998. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which helps manage the Internet, decided in 2009 to allow non-Latin characters in top-level domain names, meaning there can be Chinese replacements for the ubiquitous '.com' and '.org'. So, web addresses purely in Chinese characters are possible.
I am not proposing this out of some chauvinistic belief in the superiority of the Chinese language: it is likely that the Latin alphabet will remain the international standard for web addresses. Instead, greater adoption of Chinese domain names will serve the cause of improving Internet access for the still huge numbers of Chinese that lack it. Many new users of the Internet have more experience with Chinese characters than the Latin alphabet, and pure Chinese domain names will allow for greater Internet penetration.
The Internet has brought huge changes to modern life, but there are still many who are unable to profit from it due to lack of Internet access. Expanding Internet coverage to these will provide vast benefits, both for themselves and for the greater economy. However, restricting ourselves to the Latin alphabet makes such expansion difficult. Thus, we should push for greater adoption of Chinese characters for Chinese domain names.