No surprise to anyone – the Internet is an almost all-American experience. To some of nations and cultures around the world, the fact that they can’t use a native script in a URL, to write in non-Latin characters, really gets them sore sometimes. One such country would be the hulking former superpower, Russia. Russian is written in their native script of Cyrillic. For a culture with such a long and proud history, to have to set down every single online representation in a foreign script, is understandably humiliating. For sore audiences like these, the Internet mechanism has just recently gained the ability to recognize and allow foreign scripts in URLs; and the government of Russia, is leading the charge in setting off the shift the world over, towards local language scripts to use in basic URL addresses for every local web domain.
So does the common Russian on the street rejoice at the prospect that the Russian Internet experience might be more user-friendly now that local web domains are in Russian script? Well, it depends on where you look. Russia’s most popular search engine Yandex reckons that no more than one in ten Russians would welcome the ability to type in their web domain addresses in Cyrillic. That seems like a disappointing level of support. But if you would think about what it must have been like to be Red Russian for years, to live under a former KGB chief even today, you would understand. This is a nation that was forced by a communist one-party government to shun the world, and focus inward, for something like 50 years. There was nothing about the rest of the world on TV, and in the papers, that was not run through the communist propaganda machine. The media isn’t entirely free there even today. But the Internet is, and the people of Russia consider this freedom a precious gift. Anything that the Russian government proposes to do with the media, fills people with extreme suspicion. They believe that the government is merely proposing this native language web domain business, to begin some kind of way by which to waylay the Internet too.
Russia has a population of nearly 150 million; and only about a fifth of them get to use the Internet. The other 80% live outside the cities, and have very little exposure to English or have a conscious need for anything not Russian. There are more than 2 million web domains registered with the Russian .ru suffix, and they could be interested in this for no reason other than to avoid the humiliation of typing in their proud .ru suffix in a foreign English. The more the Internet is available to them in their own language, the more it would help them use it too. Businesses oppose this plan, that they believe will come in the middle of next year; they fear that native language web domain names are going to make the Internet slower, make websites more difficult to set up and run, and more difficult to protect from threats. There was even some controversy that having Cyrillic script for a Web domain name could make it more difficult to fight international Russian crime, like the one that bilked Citibank in New York recently.
The world is watching Russia’s experience in deploying native script inWeb domain names; India, China and other large nations with their own specialized scripts, have had a long and breathless wait for this day, that they could place their own language front and center, and not look westward for a language script handout. That day is here.