Is Balkanization of the Internet inevitable?

Is Balkanization of the Internet inevitable?

Summary: The openness of the Internet could fall to nationalism.That's just one of the side effects from nationalism and its impact on global trade, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SHARE:

The openness of the Internet could fall to nationalism.

That's just one of the side effects from nationalism and its impact on global trade, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal in its Monday edition zoomed out to look at the rise of nationalism. After all, talk of free trade has been shouted down. Governments are raising barriers across economic and political frontiers and entering daily lives more. And the world is becoming much less flat contrary what the New York Times' Thomas Friedman argues.

All of this nationalism back and forth has an impact on the Internet. The Journal reports:

National boundaries are going up even on the Internet, the emblem of the borderless world. The Internet was designed to be beyond the reach of governments, shifting power to individuals or private organizations.

Now, pressured by Russia, China, India and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. company that assigns Internet addresses is working on ways for countries to use characters from their home languages. The familiar .org, .com and country codes in Web addresses will be replaced with their equivalents in Chinese, Hindi and many other languages. While that should help locals navigate the Web, it would also put many sites behind curtains to users from abroad. That would spell the end of the days when anyone with a keyboard that produces Latin letters can see sites in any land -- essentially taking the "world wide" out of the World Wide Web.

"We're facing a step-by-step Balkanization of the global Internet," says Columbia University law professor Tim Wu. "It's becoming a series of national networks."

The Internet address governing body is ICANN and the effort the Journal refers to is summarized in a draft report on its site. The comment period on the draft expired Friday.

This local language Internet address plan raises a series of interesting questions to ponder.

  • Is the world wide really being taken out of the World Wide Web?
  • Is this the Internet predisposed to favor Latin-derived addresses because the first efforts kicked off in the U.S.?
  • Doesn't it make sense to help the locals navigate the Web?
  • Does this local character address plan really lead to a Balkanization of the Web?

There are no black and white answers to those questions. I'd argue there's a big gray area with outcomes determined by governments and their nationalistic fervor. If you're a company in Russia wouldn't you want an address that has local characters--assuming you harbor no global business ambitions? The only way we'd wind up with a big wall around Russia would be if the government mandated addresses have local characters. It's possible, but the multinationals would probably howl.

On paper, ICANN's plan makes sense. However, the unintended consequences need to be monitored. In any case, the Journal story provides a lot of food for thought on a Monday morning.

Topics: Government US, Browser, Government

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

12 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Language doesn't mean blocked

    Just because a URL is in a local language which helps the local population doesn't mean that its blocked from the rest of the world. It also doesn't mean that they can't have a corresponding URL for international users that uses Latin language based characters.
    jfp
  • Nothing to worry about here. The sites that would use these domain names

    are already created in a foreign language, so not anything you would want to read. All international sites will continue to be in English.

    The worry is what MS is cooking up to create dependencies on Windows and IE.
    DonnieBoy
    • What?

      What exactly did the original article have to do with Microsoft and/or Windows?
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • It is about Balkanization of the Internet, and the risk is Microsoft, NOT

        supporting more character sets in domain names.
        DonnieBoy
        • If you're gonna spread the FUD...

          ...at least have the decency to back up your verbal diarrhea with some facts - or at the very least, an example or two of what you're babbling incoherently about.
          Wolfie2K3
  • Not the most significant issue.

    If the web is to become balkanized, the cause will be successful legal restrictions on what is available to residents of a given country. Cases such as the French Judge's decision on what can be sold and the surrender to the Chinese government's demands are more ominous.

    "... food for thought on a Monday morning."? More a pig's breakfast.
    Anton Philidor
  • important enough to bring up

    and I'm glad you did, Larry.

    Little Anton's rudeness shows exactly why the political questions arise, and why their rulings tend towards nonsequitor unless well-meaning and alert persons also participate.

    When you say 'we got there first, and your view, rights, and capabilities don't count', then fractures begin.

    Sure enough, URL/URIs ought to be able to contain anything, and IP addresses should continue to be able to have as many URL/URIs pointing to them as anyone wants.

    Then there can be the Chinese language name for a Beiching newspaper site, and as well, a name that Americans or British can read.

    Who knows, maybe the first language offered on the site would be keyed to the URL spelling you came in with - rather than /en or /cn pseudofolders.

    A benefit, yes?

    And if we had been second Charlie, if the Chinese had first invented the Internet, we would be crying for it, in every English-speaking group in the world.

    Regards,
    Narr vi
    Narr vi
    • apology to Anton Philidor

      Anton, I want to apologise for my intemperate way of speaking towards you.

      I would apologise anyway for the moment, but in re-reading what you said, I find it was actually a misunderstanding on my part.

      In fact, I don't disagree at all with what you had to say about the role of cultural flashback, cultural wall-building, and politicized legal actions being a great danger.

      I think the phrase afterwards about pigs' breakfasts is what got my understanding of your intent off track. Probably too many years spent in Britain where a similar phrase concerning dogs is used never with appreciative intent.

      Anyway, I hope you will accept my apology, and let's hope together that the various tendencies on freedom of communication find advance which helps everyone, by moving at appropriate rates to what is often the new generational recognitions. A saving grace is that more established cultures often do use youth's persuasions in just such ways.

      Kind regards,
      Narr vi
      Narr vi
  • RE: Is Balkanization of the Internet inevitable?

    Void talks.

    It amuses me, how we react when there are chances other drop our culture premises, but how assured we must look when speaking about freedom and choices nations or individuals have right to exercise. This is politically correct, isn't it?

    I do not see any technical problem in transparently deploying such idea, dns c names, libc already has utf support, google has decent translation tool, does it? So company's would spend some more precious money to be relay internationalized.

    Think that problem lays in our perception that everyone has to know English to be civilized, and that premise is so untrue.

    grujakg
    grujakg
  • It'll get worse, not better: Just watch Turkey

    When we consider the censorship activity from China (we know that one) and Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey and other fearing for 'insults' against iconic figures of their past, I expect the Balkanization to get worse, not better.

    The outcry at a government level over these actions have remarkably been missing. For example, the European Union is, in principle, against any kind of censorship, by any means. But in the case of Turkey, they tolerate it. Turkey has done several whole-scale censorship actions against WordPress, YouTube and other 'offensive' forums, and we can expect more.

    EU acts as a lame duck in the face of these provocations, a failure that only servers to embolden the Turkish administration in its attempt to control Internet contents, and most likely also to take legal action against bloggers and others posting content deemed 'inappropriate' under the dreaded Article 301.
    henrik@...
  • Yes, and we will all be the worse for it

    Most of the rulers of countries around the world are more concerned about maintaining their control and power than they are about empowering the masses. Knowledge is power so control of knowledge means they control the power.

    It is completely accurate to say that anyone who tries to impose censorship of truth or reality, even if to make it "safe" for some group (children, babies, cats, dogs, the little old prudish lady next door), is causing irreparable harm to the openness of the Internet and World Wide Web. Either you have 100% free communication, even if it is of ideas abhorrent to someone, or most people, or you do not.
    Dr_Zinj
  • Phonetic search engines would help...

    If most people locate the websites they like by links on already known websites and from results in search engines, then I think this "danger" will be avoided. Search engines would allow for phonetic searches, suggestng matches by the sound, not only by the spelling.

    No allowing national characters in domain names is against globalization; it is a Latin1-centered vision.

    Regards,

    MV
    MV_z