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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Web aims to standardise alphabets
By Jonathan Kent
BBC correspondent in Kuala Lumpur

A meeting is being held in Malaysia aimed at helping web users who do not use the Western alphabet.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which oversees the system of web addresses and domain names says Asians will make up most of the net's users within a few years.

While Western letters are largely standardised, those used in some alphabets vary from country to country.

This causes problems when typing web addresses, which need to be precise.

Although the internet was developed in English-speaking countries, the net's centre of gravity is moving East.

Icann says that more than 100 million people around the world have high-speed broadband connections to the net, and that nearly half of them are in Asia.

The company believes that within years most internet users will live there, and they predict it will have a huge economic impact on the region.

Alphabet work

Much of the work that this week's conference will focus on agreements on standards for languages and the characters in which they are written, so that internet users who write in Chinese, Arabic, Tamil or other scripts can communicate more easily.

Computers cannot interpret regional variations in characters, and this often prevents those in one part of a language region accessing information from another part.

Standardisation will also allow top-level domain names like "dot com", "dot name" and "dot org" to be developed in other languages - at the moment, they all use Romanised letters.

If the conference succeeds, organisers say it will represent a landmark in the process of making the internet a truly international resource.

The rate at which domain names are being registered hit an all-time high earlier this year, with the total number now standing at more than 63m.

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