The biggest change ever to the way the internet works will be switched on for testing on October 15th. The question is: will the world patchwork of internet routers be able to handle it?
A plan to allow non-Roman characters in domain names will make the Internet more international than ever, but Australians look set to play a major role in determining its success.
ICANN, which is responsible for managing global domain policies, will on October 15 begin testing of whether allowing the character sets of 11 languages to be included in top-level domains (TLDs) causes widespread online chaos.
Currently, TLDs such as .com or .au are limited to using the letters a to z from the Roman alphabet.
"This evaluation represents ICANN’s most important step so far towards the full implementation of Internationalised Domain Names," ICANN's president, Australian Dr Paul Twomey, boasted in a statement. "This will be one of the biggest changes to the Internet since it was created."
The initial test doesn't mean that you can sneakily go out and register any domain name you like in those languages using new characters. Initially, ICANN wants people to link to the domain example.test in each of 11 target language character sets -- Arabic, Chinese simplified, Chinese traditional, Greek, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Russian, Tamil and Yiddish -- to see what kind of issues it creates in different applications and whether it impacts DNS stability.
The example.test site will host a wiki enabling the creation of pages within the tested target languages.
Australians are likely to have a large role to play in that testing. "Australians have been quite involved in ICANN -- much more than any GDP or per capita basis would suggest," Twomey noted during a local press briefing earlier this year.
Three of the languages being tested, Greek, Cantonese (in Chinese script) and Arabic, are amongst the top five non-English languages spoken in Australian, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
ICANN had originally planned to set up versions of the .test site and domain in 20 languages, but is now concentrating on communities that expressed enthusiasm for the testing process and languages which have been used in earlier laboratory tests.
The .test TLD will not remain permanently in place.
As well as handling new character sets, the introduction of multi-language TLDs also requires that root servers can process addresses presented in right-to-left reading languages such as Arabic.