I don't know how much deep thought was involved when George Bush called the Internet "the internets" but this reflects a real risk that we face today. If you look at the traffic of many large countries with non-English languages, you will find that the overwhelming majority of the traffic stays inside the country. In countries like China and Japan where there is sufficient content in the local language and most people can't or don't like to read English this is even more so. I would say that the average individual probably doesn't really notice the Internet outside of their country or really care about content not in their native language.

Physical mail inside of these countries is delivered with addressing in their local language. It's not surprising that on the issue of International Domain Names (IDNs) there is a strong and emotion position inside of these countries that people should be able to write URLs in their native scripts. Take my name for example, the same Chinese characters for my name can be transliterated into English as either Johichi Itoh or Joichi Ito. This problem is aggravated in languages such as Chinese where there are more dialects and many more readings for the same set of characters. Why should these people be forced to learn some sort of roman transliteration in order to access the company page where they know the official Chinese characters for the names.

Similarly, there are people who don't like the policies of the Internet and either want to censor or otherwise manage differently THEIR internet. Others who don't like the way DNS works, have proposed alternative roots. This is possible and easy to do, but you end up with "the internets".

It is the fact that we have a single root and that we have global policies and protocols which allows the Internet to be a single network and allows anyone to reach anyone else in the world. Clearly, allowing anyone in the world to reach anyone else in the world with a single click introduces a variety of problems, but it creates a single global network which allows dialog and innovation to be shared worldwide without going through gateways or filters. This attribute of the Internet is a key to the future of a global democracy and I believe we need to fight to preserve this.

Since more and more people are using the Internet, there are more and more diverse views about the policies and control. This is clearly making consensus more difficult and ICANN is one of the groups which is having to adapt to the increasing number of inputs in the consensus process. This is all the more reason to work harder to keep everything together. Please. Lets fight to keep the Internet and not let it turn into the internets... It is a difficult process with various flaws, but if we give up, it will be very difficult if not impossible for all of to talk again very soon.

27 Comments

Well .. it depends. That old Al Gore cliche about the information superhighway does have its points ..

You can exercise your right as a free and independent citizen of cyberspace (cue John Perry Barlow's declaration of independence of cyberspace) .. and take a convenient short cut across the superhighway .. ending up as roadkill. Or you could say it is your way rather than the superhighway, strike out on your own and suddenly get this unpleasant feeling that you are all on your own, somewhere in the middle of a featureless indefinite plane. The key word is "critical mass" - which none of these proposals have got.

Now, we have everybody from the strongly independent alternate root people who resist what they think is too much IANA/ICANN/root server operators control, to some dictatorships who love the idea of a separate internet for their very own that they can control as they please ..

and various other people who want a different internet for reasons from "domain names that are all in our local language" to "I hate voip, its killing my telco revenues and this will help me kill voip in my country" ..all of them making common cause, and not very much sense, at the wgig for entirely different aims.

My feelings about this mess are much better put in a sermon by a 16th century clergyman who went all the way from rake to devout priest in the course of his life .. Meditation XVII by John Donne.

[...]

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

The full text of this sermon is at http://isu.indstate.edu/ilnprof/ENG451/ISLAND/text.html - I just quoted what is probably its most famous part.

So yes, I do care if all these little pieces splinter off from the Internet .. I do remember a time when the internet was a disconnected set of islands, independent of the main. A time when people talked about leaf nodes and gateways, and had to make expensive international calls to connect elsewhere. So do we finally go back down that path again?

At last count, there are about 107M chinese internet users. That is roughly 11% of the Internet population - thats a 11% black hole to those who dont read Chinese.

Well I wouldn't call it a "black hole". That's 11% of the Internet that we can still reach. We can still play multi-user games with them, we can share music, we can communicate in other ways than just text. If they disconnected from the rest of the Internet because they decided WE were a black hole, then it would be a real black hole.

What Joi said. If we can't reach them, at least they can reach us.

Lots of chinese like to read english language websites and check hotmail. And lots of americans love downloading anime and canto-pop, though their chinese speaking skills may extend to, at the most, enough to make themselves understood to a waiter / ask for directions etc

Now what does a japanese or korean do when he wants to access a chinese website that's available only on their version of the intranet? Or vice versa? How many keyword support browser plugins, how many alternate root configs ...

This reminds me of something I've been wondering for decades: how does a letter addressed in English make it to some distant Japanese village where it's unlikely that anyone reads English?

And vice versa. How does a letter addressed to me in Japanese or Chinese make it my door?

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have a thoughtful post on Non-English Speaking Blogs which includes the Japanese experience ...

I've found that the post office is amazing at getting letters to people. In Japan, romanized characters are standard and everyone can read them. On the other hand, I doubt that a katakana address to the US would make it, although I can't imagine very many people writing US addresses in Japanese, although it's possible. I don't know about China.

I have heard of cases where rules have been passed about book keeping being done in foreign languages in the US to stump the IRS, but I don't remember if any rules were implemented to prevent this.

actually... there are networks that interconnect at certain geographic points, and those networks all recognize a global addressing system which provides the appearance of it being one interoperable network. however, the recognition of this hegemonic addressing system is, at best, a matter of convenience for many, and not any real necessity. (no, it isn't a matter of best engineering judgement either, we are well past the possibility that this was the best system and now well into 'it has been running for a while, don't change it because we're making money and the politics suit us') dns doesn't need to be a heirarchical single root system, that is just the way it is developed. however, as we know, dns isn't even really a singal root anymore, except for the sake of interoperability, because with private networks, subnetworks, and other networks each with their own private dns-space which is transformed from at the border from whatever internal naming system to the internet naming system, minimally we now have hundreds of thousands of users operating under local dns systems, but tomorrow their could be billions.

> however, as we know, dns isn't even really a singal
> root anymore, except for the sake of interoperability,
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

You've said the magic word there.

We're not talking "intranet" - we're talking "internet" here

-srs

please read my previous in a fixed width font :)

I tried to underline "interoperability"


1. Hillary Clinton and Ira Magaziner created ICANN.
2. It is interesting to see yet another of her failures.
3. Free markets in the .USA and voters in a real democacy need to Say .NO to Hillary in 2008.

A vote for Hillary is a vote for ICANN.

interoperability is accomplished for the most part in the current regime. however, a central root is not the only way to ensure interoperability and probably isn't what really does it. if i had to argue and provide evidence for what guarentees interoperability on the internet, i would say that it is the 'invisible college' of engineers and technicians that tend to agree that keeping things operational and profitable is mutually beneficial and that complying with the standards regime that is in place is far easier than not.

Invisible? Walk into any netops meeting around the world (nanog, ripe, apricot etc) and you'll meet them, large as life, twice as natural .. and excellent guys to drink beer with.

If one of those terrorist types dubya keeps talking about wanted to do irrepairable damage to the internet, he'd go after the netops conferences.

Yeah, it is late (just turned midnight my time) and I want a nice bad dream to send me to bed. So, g'night all ..

NANOG ? What a joke.

If you think those thug-nog types run the .NET you are seriously out of touch.

Paul Vixie is an admitted terrorist. He black-holes packets. Anyone that lets that low life near their network is a fool.

The .US telcos are much smarter than you think. Customers now rely on them to protect them from thugs like Vixie and the VIXXXIE Root.

you said it well my friend. in the caribbean where i live we mostly traverse english internet sites mostly in north america. i wonder whether chinese and other people living in english speaking countries tend to use more of the english internet.

I remember when my dad first sat down on the net and tried typing domain names in Cyrillic that a friend had gave him, and then tried again in accented latin, only to find that he had to type in the English equivalents of the domain names that made no sense. There is no doubt that the ruling authorities of the Internet are still very anglo-centric and that internationalisation has not yet taken place and is taking place too slowly.

Routing.
Natural language processing.

Make software that can do both, and ye shall have the Internet ye dream of.

(How does a letter addressed in katakana make it to it's destination in a non-japanese locale? [Assuming the postal service has a sense of duty] human intelligence; if you can't route it, route it to someone who can. In this case "someone who can" is someone who can parse the script - katakana - interpret and process and act on it. Routing and natural language processing. The rest is details. ;)

I may not be able to talk to an Iranian, or Nigerian, or Hindi or Chinese person... but I sure as heck can be marveled or shocked by the pictures they share, or the sound of their voice, or the view out their window/down their street.

On that level I think the key is balance: a single system, but one that can handle multiple languages. Forcing the chinese to write their URIs in english is pointless: the resource is still in Chinese. This is about sharing; let's *really* share, not this half assed "yeah let's share but um.. can you please learn english?"... "What's that? You don't want to learn chinese? What makes you think buddy over there wants to learn english?" Who has more desire? Who has more to offer. I'd say we're all equal in that regard, so why don't we all meet in the middle, hrm?

;)

/rant off.

Like it or not, English has become the "link language" for large parts of the world. Blame Hollywood for that, or Bill Gates, or the British who colonized large parts of the world for over three centuries .. but it is far, far easier to find an english speaker in outer mongolia than a Монгол speaker elsewhere.

So, though it is politically incorrect as hell, I'd say "if you don't want to be a frog in the well, learn English".

Boris Anthony wrote @17:
I'd say we're all equal in that regard, so why don't we all meet in the middle, hrm?

Some might argue that the Middle Kingdom might be the most logical place for such a coming together (^^)

Standards and Freedom.

The role of standard organization like W3C, IETF is to try to create a set of rules defined by consensus. These rules are defined in respect with a certain numbers of criterias like accessibility, internationalization, device independance.

It's why I fight so much and endlessly for the respect of standards. It might be not always the best solution but at least it helps to not shatter the Web in pieces.

The fact that people can use their own scripts in domain name and Web pages is very important. The fact they can use any device to access the same content is very important too.

The problem is when we start to create a technology which is very culturally oriented, sometimes because people didn't think about the consequences.

For me it's always a struggling to see that many "social network or websites" are monolinguistic like flickr, delicious and technorati for example for the UI. It has hidden effects. This is the language techno-fascism (sorry I didn't find another word in English, it would have been different if I had written in English ;) ).

Though something you forget to mention in your post. :)

When someone is writing in French from China, I can read it. If someone writes in chinese from USA, a chinese person can read it. The language barrier is something where the borders don't enter into consideration.

The political power to censor is something else. That's the danger. :)

The internet has been "mainstream" for almost fifteen years now. It will change as social and political conditions in the World change. Clearly, you are actually lamenting the trend where some governments have become more isolationist and controlling of individual freedoms.

Yet, while governments change, the physical network is pretty much here to stay. Truth *will* go out over the wires whether it's via TCP/IP or not. The genie is out of the bottle and the bottle has been shattered into a million pieces. The question is, how wide will the audience be and will they be willing to listen?

I think that realistically, there's little any government can do to control international traffic on the net, because once you blockade a nation-wide-network (NAN) or over-localize it, the usefulness of the network is necessarily undermined.

Those who screw with the internet because they're pissed that English is such a ubiqitous language will just be shooting themselves in the foot. And the stupid don't survive.

"This reminds me of something I've been wondering for decades: how does a letter addressed in English make it to some distant Japanese village where it's unlikely that anyone reads English?

And vice versa. How does a letter addressed to me in Japanese or Chinese make it my door?"

ahhh me and my korea stories.
english or roman alphabet mail gets
delivered here too just in japan.
the post office is hep to the latest
roman spellings of provinences and cities.
it's actually not to hard when u think about it.
mostly all you need to deliver a letter is the zip
or address code and the building name.

MostlyVowels: bingo. I didn't want to say it. ;)

To further on part of Karl's point:
It is not ICANN's or the DNS system's job or problem what language you or I or chinese blogger X can or cannot read. All the world community asks, on that level, is the *ability* to have URI's in their native scripts. Inversely, it IS the job and problem of the content providers AND the providers of the tools they use, to provide the content in a form that is accessible to the audience *they wish to reach*.

If I can't read that site's content anyways, I won't fidn that site's picture share or podcast anyways... However, allowing every user to use whichever character set they want to use probably will insight more people to use the system (DNS/web etc), so more stuff, more 6 degrees, more social netowrk dynamics etc... eventually I WILL see the chinese version of dancing light-saber boy... or the local human rights offenses on video...

This is why i18n is so important, why web-standards design with multiple languages in mind are so important.

I seem to know someone who decided to fund one software over another based - amongst other things of course - on Unicode support... cough...

A single root is fine and dandy! Let *everybody* use it *their* way. Technologically, allow that. Please.

Late to the discussion... but I think censorship is a problem we should confront head-on. I figure freedom of speech should be pervasive.

But I'm not sure what to do about this:

In countries like China and Japan where there is sufficient content in the local language and most people can't or don't like to read English this is even more so. I would say that the average individual probably doesn't really notice the Internet outside of their country or really care about content not in their native language.

If people want to focus on local or regional content, isn't that their prerogative?

Boris, the main problem is that letting anyone do anything in the URL is a real security risk. Right now the browsers are whitelisting IDNs. I'm not sure this is an optimal solution. There are some good idea. For instance, don't allow mixing of scripts in any single string between two dots. Etc. One idea is to choose what languages can be used under certain TLDs like ccTLDs. The problem with that is some countries have many languages and nations don't map.

The other issue is top level IDN. IND.IDN basically. Putting non-ASCII into the root also introduces a variety of new problems.

I think the trick is to figure out what people want to do and constrain it technically to things that make sense. Don't lay people use cyrillic characters just for decoration, for instance. (Although this will piss off Japanese ASCII art geeks...)

Probably not significant really, but I thought it was interesting in the context of this discussion that the number of comments on Joi's English blog is so much higher than that of his Japanese one. Does this imply more than just a language barrier?

> Does this imply more than just a language barrier?

No. It implies that there are lots more english speaking than japanese speaking people reading the blog.

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