- Human RightsOther Issues
- November 21, 2009
- 5 minutes read
How do you say “internet” in Arabic?
Egypt has apparently started registering the first Arabic-language internet domain names at dot.msr during the 4th Internet Governance Forum (happening in its very own seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh) in a move critics of the regime’s perspective on free speech and internet freedom find hypocritical and probably on par with the US or Libya heading up the UN Human Rights Commission. The move came Monday after ICANN, the international organization that handles domain naming, began registration for non-Latin-character domain names.
Arabic domain names could tear down the English-only internet and usher in a a new era of access and participation that could encourage Arabic businesses to engage with the web not to mention the less educated and unilingual Arabic speakers in the 22 Arabic-speaking states of the Middle East.
Or it could usher in a time of cyber-sovereignty, with countries vying for control over who controls which languages. Will Saudi Arabia fight to control Arabic naming? What happens if someone wants to register a curse word (apparently f*ck.me was snatched up as soon as .me was made available) or a slur against Islam? I wonder how (not if) this will be regulated… What is the process for asserting ownership or making legal claims? As this professor noted “If somebody who lives in Vancouver wants to register ‘dot Tibet,’ what’s the process for objecting to that, if the Chinese government feels that’s inappropriate? And who decides what’s appropriate and what’s not?”
But the language expansion also undermines American hegemony over the vast information infrastructure that has so impacted the daily lives of richer nations where connectivity and computer ownership are the norm. Although the majority of web pages may be in English today, this is likely to change in the near future (Chinese is predicted to become the most popular language of the internet).
So what does this mean for the mechanics of the web business? Well, search engine optimization (or SEO in the parlance of the biz as it were) just got a lot more interesting. URLs play a key role in SEO and until now non-Latin languages were locked out of some of the most lucrative aspects of online development. For example, commercialization of the internet and use by businesses in the Arab world lags behind that of the US and Western Europe in part because Arabic is not as competitive as English online. That’s about to change.
What do I mean by the last statement? Well, this article describes how Google, for example, determines page rank (which for many business translates into a measure of its existential worth as well as its financial and PR health)
“Google looks at many elements to determine how to rank relevance, but the URL has been one of the most paramount. That’s why people spend lots of money buying up heavily searched single- or double-word URLs. Those who jump into the search fray and buy up the new domain names consisting of heavily searched-on words, such as free, games, music, cell phones and sex, will capitalize on ranking for those words in search engines, according to Eli Feldblum CTO and founder at RankAbove, an Israeli-based SEO company.”