The Internet is teemimg with foreign language Web sites but English has become the de facto standard for uniform resource locators.

A Toronto software company is trying to change that through a multilingual naming technology. Neteka Inc.’s application will allow the inclusion of foreign alphabets in URLs, including Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

“There are far more non-English speakers on the Internet than there are English-speakers,” said Greg Bertrand, Neteka’s chief operating officer. “To date, they’ve always had to navigate to domain names in English characters.”

In the coming weeks Neteka will announce a French-Canadian domain, frn.ca, which will allow the inclusion of accented French words in URLs. “So you could have the word ‘Québec’ spelled properly with the accent, like québec.frn.ca,” said Bertrand.

The multilingual software will also allow common symbols such as ampersand and dollar signs in URLs, something that may particularly appeal to companies that use such symbols in their corporate names, said Bertrand. “The addition of our symbol-based capability allows companies to maintain that offline identity online. For instance, AT&T’s (Web site) can’t be accessed with the (ampersand) sign on your keyboard.”

The first registry to offer the service will be dot-bz, the country code for Belize. In January of this year, Belize opened up dot-bz to the rest of the world. Dot-bz sites are available through University Management Ltd. (UML), the private commercial registry established to manage the designation.

Dot-bz isn’t expressly set up to sound like “dot-business,” but UML is prepared to take advantage of the similarity. “We have marketed the domain so it’s a good DND (domain name server) for small and medium businesses or for any type of business,” said UML’s general manager Juan Carlos Namis. Microsoft, known for vehemently defending its online turf, has already registered dozens of dot-bz URLs.

Dot-bz may be open for business, but Belize hasn’t surrendered its national Web identity unlike the tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, said Namis. Last year the country sold the rights to its national extension dot-tv to the .tv Corp. in a $US50 million, 10-year agreement.

There is interest in the entire registrar community for multilingual characters in URLs, said Namis, who recently attended an ICANN (Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers) conference in Los Angeles.

“The ability that any user can register a domain in their own language: we feel that it was the right moment for dot-bz to offer that to their clients,” he said.

The focus of the multilingual service will be country- or audience-specific sites, but there are limits to multi-language URLs, noted Bertrand, since extensions still require ASCII text. The Neteka software is one more step towards online multiculturalism, he said. “If we have a Chinese dot-bz name, it’s closer to being 100 per cent multilingual. It will be many years into the future, we feel, that the actual extensions . . . will be set up as multilingual characters.”

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