Thursday, May 19, 2005

Soon you can key in your URLs in Indian languages

The Indian identity on the Internet is set to become more pronounced. After opening the .in domain name to the public, which proved to be a hit, India is quietly working on enabling Indians to key in URLs in Indian languages. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) in New Delhi is working on this project in coordination with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit body that ensures every address is unique and that all users of the Internet can find all valid addresses.

ICANN comprises a body called the Internationalised Domain Names Committee that deals exclusively with localising URLs, something that has already been done in certain countries like Japan and South Korea. Even Tamils in Singapore have worked on it. A senior official with the MCIT, who did not wish to be named, declined to set a deadline for the project. “You cannot have a time frame for something like this but we are working on it and it shall be a very big achievement ,” he said.

The reason for this is the complex nature and massive scale of the work involved. With English, the permutations are restricted to 38 characters (including the alphabets from A to Z, the numbers from 0 to 9, the hyphen and the underscore). “But with the Devnagri, Dravidian, Bengali and Gurumukhi scripts you have thousands of combinations,” he added. The project involves 18 Indian languages and the localisation work only involves the prefix to the domain name in the URL.

Besides there are issues such as Intellectual Property Rights involved, like when two identities chose the same word in different scripts as their website addresses. Then there is the threat of cyber crime involved. “The moment you put this facility out there will be bad guys ready to misuse it. So, we will have to look at issues such as prevention of phishing and farming acts,” he said.

Rekha Govil, the Dean of Apaji Institute at Banasthali Vidyapith that works on localising IT, said this move was part of a broader initiative that would “enable a large percentage of Indians who do not speak or write English feel at home on the Internet”. “With a local language interface and an address book, the person is not really bothered about what the address is in English,” she said.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times


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