Preparing for the IGF in Vilnius 2010: multilingualism of the internet

01 September 2010 Author: EIFonline

Multilingualism on the Internet is crucial to make the Internet accessible to non-English speakers. EIF's breakfast on 1 September 2010 focussed on this subject as part of the preparation for the fifth annual IGF Meeting. Speakers from the European Parliament, the European Commission and Facebook gave their opinion on the role of multilingualism on the web.

An important part of the multilingual aspect of the web has been of course the Domain Name System (DNS). The recent internationalization of domain names now allows countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia to have domain names in their native language instead of English. The technical challenge of this is that it is now possible to have 106.000 characters in domain names instead of 26. The DNS system itself has no problem handling this from a technical perspective, but it might prove problematic for the user. Security problems such as spoofing or phishing (impersonating an existing website) may be less easy to notice for example. IPR related issues such as trademarks might also prove problematic. Another issue will be the question of automatic translation tools. Would such tools (at a highly advanced level in the future) suffice or does one need an army of human translators to do the job?

These are all issues that affect EU citizens and it is crucial for Europe that we think them through and discuss them on an international platform like Vilnius. The challenges will be technical, social and political. The Parliament and the Commission are, for example, now working together with ICANN to look at Cyrillic and Greek as DNS languages, as it is important that countries can choose how they will be represented on the web.

This holds true even more so for the citizens. Facebook, available in over 70 languages today, can be said to be a prime example. The secret of the number of languages that Facebook is available in, is community translation and a modern web architecture. Community translation means that users are invited to help translate the site from English into their native language. The translations are voted on and the best translations make it into the final version. The web architecture is important because every piece of text on Facebook is held in a separate part of the database, making it easy to translate from a technical point of view.

The next IGF meeting will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 14-17 September 2010. EIF will hold a special session on 'Parliamentary Views on Europe's Digital Agenda'. This meeting, open to natianal parliamentarians and EP delegation, will take place on Thursday 16 September from 14.30 to 15.30 (room S1).


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