The Internet is virtually everywhere on the planet. For people who want to connect with the modern world, there is no choice but to use it.
But recently one such Beijing resident Wu Xian met with some Internet troubles. The 65-year-old bought a computer two months ago, but it was difficult for her to navigate the Internet because Wu, who knows no English, can't read foreign letters on the keyboard and many of the screen commands and domain names are equally alien to her.
"Although my grandson leaves me some Internet addresses, I also can't understand much of the web that's full of English words," Wu tells China Business Weekly. English domain names in particular are a problem for her.
However, a recent international Internet campaign can soon open up the Internet wider for Wu. In the following years, multiple language scripts, including Chinese characters, of domain names will be installed on the universal domain name system.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) recently set up a working group to build an internationalized domain name system.
The Chinese language was selected to be the first language in the campaign. By the first half of next year, Chinese will follow English as the language of the universal domain labeling system.
According to Chen Gang, professor of Journalism and Broadcasting Academy of Peking University, internationalization of domain names is necessary for most developing countries.
Statistics from the CNNIC (China Internet Network In Information Center) show that as of the end of last year, the number of Chinese Internet users was over 253 million. However, more than 1 billion Chinese people have no access to the Internet at all.
"The fast-growth of a domestic economy should depend more on information exchange," says Chen. "And for people from developing countries, getting close on Internet with their native language (most of which are not English) will provide a more efficient communication and upgrade the countries' modernization," Chen adds.
Zhang Nianlu, secretary of China International Electronic Commerce Center, says that the multiple languages of domain names will not only help upgrade China's Internet technologies, but also promote more efficient electronic commerce in domestic market.
For domestic companies, especially for the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) Chinese domain names will provide more opportunities for brand building and enlarging their domestic social networks.
During the global economic turmoil, Chen tells China Business Weekly, some Chinese SMEs, whose businesses depended more on exports are now focusing on the domestic market.
"The upcoming era of using Chinese domain names will help domestic companies easily expand their businesses through the Internet," says Chen.
However, what will be the specific changes created by the upcoming Chinese domain names? For the universal international domain name system (". com", ". net" and ". org"), it will add new Chinese domain names before the top-level domain label - such as "Chinese name . com".
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will be in charge of the registration and administration for these domain names.
For China's domain name system (".cn"), there will be three kind of new Chinese domain names:
First, it will change the top-level domain names with Chinese characters - such as ".Zhongguo (means China)".
Second, it will change the second-level domain names with Chinese characters - such as "Chinese name. cn".
Finally, it will change both the top-level and second-level domain names with Chinese characters - such as "Chinese name.Zhongguo".
CNNIC will be responsible for its registration and administration.
So far, China's government specifies four Chinese character domain names as the first candidates which are ".Zhongguo (means China)", ".Gongsi (means company)", ".Wangluo (means Internet) and ".CN", which is the original domain name in China's domain name system.
By the first half of 2009, when the Chinese domain names are involved in the international top-level domain name system, Chinese literate people around the world will also be able to surf the Internet with all these new Chinese domain names.
And once they successfully register a Chinese domain name, customers will own an email account with the same Chinese name.
Xu Lizhen, an internet expert from Southeast University says that the upcoming Internet change will also pose great challenges for intellectual property rights protection.
The Chinese language is the second largest one used on the Internet. By virtue of this huge Chinese web-force, the increasingly expanded influence of Chinese domain names should also draw public attention to copyright protection, Xu says.
So far, the number of the applications for Chinese domain names has been rapidly increasing, including on Internet Explorer from Microsoft, Firefox and the Google.com and Yahoo.com websites.
Hence the need to build a sound internal structure for the registration and management of Chinese domain names, says Xu.
(Chinese name).cn, as the new generation of Internet address, will have unique properties. Once registered, others can't use the same Chinese domain name again.
So CNNIC has already formed a expert group on setting down the rules to link Chinese domain names with the Chinese brands and for protecting the copyright of Chinese brands.
And recently, CNNIC started a "Chinese domain name promoting activity" all across the country, "in order to help domestic companies raise the awareness of brand protection and approach to the new generation of Chinese domain name labels," an official from CNNIC says.
But in the long term, Xu says the operation and management of Chinese domain names should receive stronger support from the Chinese government in the future.
Editor's note: The IPR Special is sponsored by the State Intellectual Property Office and published by China Business Weekly. To contact the Intellectual Property Office, the IPR Special hotlines are 8610-64995422 or 8610-64995826, and the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.