In Will China Build a Separate Internet? John Yunker, citing Naseem Javed’s When Will The Internet Be Divided Among Nations?, states, “Naseem does raise a very important point — for Chinese speakers, the Internet is far from user-friendly. The major obstacle is the URL, which is still limited to ASCII (Latin) characters.”
I don’t see where Naseem Javed made that particular point — but no matter. I just want to note that URLs in ASCII do not present an obstacle to Internet users in China. After all, the Roman alphabet (specifically, Pinyin) is what most people use to enter Chinese characters on computers in the first place. And even those in China who don’t use Pinyin to input Chinese characters are perfectly capable of using their, yes, QWERTY keyboards to type the ASCII in URLs, the Roman alphabet having been taught for decades to every schoolchild in China (at least to those now literate enough to use the Internet in the first place).
On the other hand, having to enter Chinese-character URLs would be an obstacle to most of the world’s population.
Those looking to argue that ASCII URLs could be an obstacle would do better to look to Russia, Greece, or Saudi Arabia.
The folks at ICANN and IETF are working to upgrade the DNS to Unicode, but this will take time. There is a workaround in use that allows Web users to input Chinese characters as a URL which is then transformed into ASCII characters behind the scenes (known as “Punycode”) but I’m not sure how widely used this system currently is.
IE7 is supposed to have good support for Punycode. Now if only IE would finally get CSS right….
Here’s an example of Punycode: ?? is
xn--muuy29i, according to an open-source Punycode converter. Thus, http://??.pinyin.info and http://xn--muuy29i.pinyin.info should both lead to the same page. And I would hope that the address bar in the browser would read http://??.pinyin.info instead of the xn--muuy29i ASCII version.
If you add a comment on how well the Punycode tests work for you, please mention your computer’s operating system and browser. (I’m using Win2K and Opera 8.51, and both http://??.pinyin.info and http://xn--muuy29i.pinyin.info work fine.)