IDNs (International Domain Names) have been the subject of a great deal of discussion. IDNs are a way to allow non-ASCII scripts to be used in URLs. There are a number of difficulties with IDNs. One is that there are letters or punctuation that look similar to normal ASCII characters or punctuation. This allows people to spoof other URLs and use it to fool users and steal their banking information for instance. The other criticism is whether people really need them. The argument (which until recently I agreed with) is that everyone in the world reads ascii and can't people at least type the URLs in ASCII.
Fellow board member Hualin Qian said that the Chinese were using IDNs using a browser plugin and that since most Chinese read only Chinese web pages, it seemed to be doing quite well. I would have to concur. I think one thing that we forget is that the type of people who come to ICANN meetings and argue about this stuff tend to speak multiple languages, care about what is going on in other languages, and are trying to get everything perfect. We are not the norm. I remember when we set up Infoseek Japan, we decided to index only Japanese pages. I argued that we should index English pages, but I was overruled by the people who said most Japanese don't read English web pages.
Many of the problems of IDNs come from trying to do multiple languages at the same time or languages one can't read. The biggest difficulty is implementing them in gTLDs like .com or .org. I think that if we focus on helping the country level TLDs (ccTLDs) get going with IDNs in their own native languages, we would be solving the problem for 80% or so of the people. My concern is holding up the ability for these people to use IDNs because we can find the perfect solution for the edge cases.
This is a philosophically opposed to my "Global Voices" position which focuses on building bridges between cultures and languages, but I believe that the benefit for the digital divide to get something running soon is worth it. Also, once we have a lot of people using IDNs in different regions, I'm sure we can use this experience to come up with more creative ways to solve the more difficult IDN problems.
Again, this is my personal opinion and not any sort of consensus of staff or the board of ICANN. I am mainly pointing this out because until this meeting, my position (privately) was "why the hell do we need IDNs?" On the other hand, I think we are moving forward and the discussions during this meeting in MdP were very helpful.