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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 09:08 GMT
Big push for Chinese net domains
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Chinese internet users in net cafe
China already has a large population of net users
China is ramping up creation of a parallel system of net domains to tempt more Chinese people to go online.

By using Chinese language net domains it aims to reach those people who do not speak English - still the most widely used language online.

China also hopes to accelerate its own dotcom boom by encouraging Chinese people to register more net domains.

With 110 million people online, China is already the second largest net-using nation on Earth.

Root kit

When you type the name of a website you want to visit, such as news.bbc.co.uk, into your browser often your computer will ask one of several so-called root servers for information about where that site is.

These root servers direct your browser to the master list for the domains with that suffix.

In this example the .uk country code suffix is looked after by Nominet which tells your browser the correct net address for the BBC News site.

Usually all net domains are written using Roman characters - even if the people using the web are in nations that do not have English as their first language.

Most of the people that have come online in China in the last year do not have a clue about English
Subramanian Subbiah, I-DNS
In a bid to make the net more palatable to its citizens, China has set up a system that makes it possible to use net domains written with Chinese characters.

Subramanian Subbiah, co-founder of I-DNS.net that has worked with China on the Chinese language domains, said the system has been brought in because the government got fed up waiting for net address overseer Icann to approve an official way of using non-Roman alphabets in domain names.

"The only countries that really care about this are those whose scripts are very different to English," said Mr Subbiah.

He said China had created three domains and when the Chinese characters in them were translated into English they were broadly equivalent to .com (gongsi), .net (wangluo) and China (zhongguo).

These new domains act as an extension to China's .cn country code, though this suffix will not appear when they are used online.

The Chinese government has used its official clout to ensure wide use of the software download for web browsers that is needed to direct people to the right website.

This software can spot the difference between standard web addresses and Chinese language domains.

Net boom

By using native characters the Chinese government hopes to remove some of the barriers that prevent the broad mass of its people using the net, said Mr Subbiah

"Most of the people that have come online in China in the last year do not have a clue about English," he said.

Google.cn homepage, AFP
Many Western firms are keen to cash in on China's net boom
China was also conscious that although its net population was growing quickly, relatively few people have registered domain names or run web-based businesses.

This week China made changes to who can apply for and gain control of Chinese language net domains. Under this first-come, first-served system there could be little protection for tardy foreign firms keen to snap up the Chinese language equivalent of their name unless they have trademarked it in Chinese.

By making Chinese language domains available, China hopes to encourage its own dotcom entrepreneurial activity as was seen in the West when net fever first broke out.

In many other nations there is roughly one domain registered for every 10 net users. By contrast, China has one domain for every 100 users.

Early reports about China's move suggested that it was setting up an alternative root server in defiance of the Icann-run system. Mr Subbiah said this was not the case and the Chinese language domain system sat alongside the international system overseen by Icann.

Mr Subbiah said the success of the Chinese language net domains was prompting interest from other nations keen to create a more inclusive internet using similar technologies.

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