VeriSign (VRSN) has opened another frontier in the land rush to stake out claims in the territory of domain names. It's a story of big money and big egos amid the dot-com desolation, but most outlets snoozed right through it.
VeriSign, which bought the domain-name registry Network Solutions (dossier), is running a months-long "testbed" for registering names in languages other than English. Beginning late last year, VeriSign allowed registration of names in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Yesterday the company opened up dozens more languages for trial registration, including western European ones.
At least two other tests are underway, independent of VeriSign's, for multilingual name registry. The Chinese are furious at VeriSign and its overseer ICANN, claiming that only they have the right to issue domain names in the Chinese language. And the technical bodies that set Internet standards are condemning the entire exercise as premature - the race has gotten way out in front of those standards, which are still under development.
The newspapers of record gave the story a pass. Most of the usual suspects that cover tech stories - CNET, Wired, the Merc, TechWeb - ran Reuters copy that didn't stray far from VeriSign's press release. (Roumania Today ran the press release.) Reuters mentioned the hard feelings of the Chinese but not those of the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Why the rush into non-English domain names? Karen Chan's 1,600-word piece on the market prospects for registrars in the U.K. shed oblique light on the question. The dot-com bust has struck at the heart of the folks who sell the dot-com (and the dot-co-uk) names. They've got to be drooling at the thought of a new, huge, worldwide market of non-English speakers to whom they can peddle localized names.
The Register's Kieren McCarthy didn't go into the controversy but did provide a link to a registrar's recent presentation in Geneva that supplies some of the background on non-English domain names.
VeriSign Opens Web Domain Database to 70 New Languages
San Jose Mercury News
VeriSign Announces Additional Language Support in Multilingual Domain Name Testbed (PR Newswire)
U.K. Domain-Name Registrars Aim to Reinvent Themselves
Wall Street Journal
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VeriSign Joins Multilingual Domain Name Party
Foreign Character Domain Names