ICANN, the body responsible for coordinating internet addresses (domain names) worldwide, has announced that website addresses in Arabic will be available from next year. At present, Arabic-language websites still have to use addresses in the Roman alphabet. The move will also benefit websites in other languages using non-Roman alphabets, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Hindi.
Gulf News suggests the change will help to improve internet penetration in the Middle East. The technical problems of using Arabic on computers, with its different alphabet and its right-to-left script, were largely overcome in the 1990s – though they posed a major barrier to the internet’s growth in the Middle East at the time.
How much effect this new development will have remains to be seen. Possibly it will make a bigger difference in China, where 95% of websites are in Chinese. The option of Arabic web addresses may have some appeal for Islamic sites but I suspect most businesses will keep their addresses in the Roman alphabet for the benefit of international users but possibly register an Arabic-alphabet address as an alternative route to accessing their sites.