Leading article: A more connected and equal world

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the wake of a recession that has gripped much of the world and threatened to turn national economies in on themselves, it is cheering to find that in one area globalisation is alive and flourishing.

The internet regulator, Icann, has just agreed to allow domain names in non-Latin scripts, opening the way for Chinese, Arabic, Russian and other users to register names as they appear in their own languages. Already more than half of the 1.6 billion people who use the internet have first languages with non-Latin scripts, and the proportion is certain to grow. After 16 November, when the new regulations take effect, these people will no longer be second-class citizens.

Two developments have facilitated this, each a piece of good news in itself. The first is technical progress, which is making it possible for the internet's Domain Name System to recognise and translate non-Latin characters. This requires enormously complicated coding, which has been two years in the testing. It is now sufficiently proven to accommodate the new scripts. The result will be a universal internet address code that works in every language and enables computers around the world to communicate with each other.

The second is the decision of President Obama, announced last month, to surrender US control over Icann – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – effectively spinning it off into autonomy. That change in status took effect from the beginning of this month and, from now on, Icann is under the supervision of the international "internet community". Thus the internet need no longer be suspected, as it was for so long, of being an extension of US global ambitions.

There is a downside, of course, to the extension of domain names, as there is to the internet generally. The vast range and variety of material can have the effect of circumscribing, rather than broadening, minds, encouraging users to cocoon themselves in their own small world. That is a danger, but it is a danger that should not be allowed to eclipse the achievements of the internet in opening up the world over the past 40 years.