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S.Maniam Interview

Domain names in language will change the Internet culture   


At the dawn of Internet and its technologies, a few people dreamt of non-dependency on English to access Net. They thought domain names and email IDs should be in Languages. They realized that it is the only way to take computing benefits to non-English users. S Maniam was one of them. Now, domain names and email IDs can be in languages. Maniam is sharing with us about ‘Internationalized Domain Name’ (IDN) history and advantages.


He is a language enthusiastic and has a vision to bring the advantages of computing to the non-English speaking community. Presently he is associated with i-DNS, the first Registry to resolve, administer, and deploy full multilingual, native-character domain names. With a keen eye on language computing initiatives, S Maniam is closely associated with Government bodies and other organizations to spread the message of ‘domain names in languages’ and how it will help language computing as a whole. Bhashaindia thanks him for sharing his wonder insight about the language computing front and Internet domain names in languages.


Question: Right now, we have .com, .net, .org and we have .in to indicate an Indian domain extension. Now there is move that non-Latin characters can be used for typing URLs and it is called as IDN technology. Can you please explain a bit about IDN technology?


Answer: The technical foundation that was needed to be able to render domain names in non-Roman languages did not exist. This is because the domain name system relies on ASCII, which is based on the English alphabet.


As you said, we have so many ‘generic top level domains’ (gTLDs). A gTLD is the letters that come after the dot in a URL string – such as .com, .biz or .org. Around 4 lakhs .in domain names were already sold. But, having so many gTLDs will not take computing to the masses, hence the need of domain names in languages.


IDN will work as any other domain name. When you type a domain name on your browser’s URL bar, your command will reach your ISP. ISP will try to resolve the domain name which you typed. If it can not do it, it will divert the command to Gateway, from there to Root servers.


Root servers are managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), managed by ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names, the organization that controls the assignment of domain names.


There are two kinds of language domain names. One is generic ones like .com, .biz or .org. Other ones are country-code top-level domains like .in, .cn, .jp etc. Governments have to give application if they want country-code top-level domains in languages.



Once it is allotted, such as the evolution of relationships with the Regional Internet Registries, the country-code top-level domain constituencies, the root server operators, and the development of the Regional At-Large Organizations will be done by ICANN technical committee. So far 12 languages have been approved globally. Chinese, Japanese languages are among the approved languages. There is news that Indian Government will apply for country-code top-level domains in languages. So, by 2011, we will be able to see domain names in our languages.


Question: Will all Indian languages get domain names to get mapped to .in? How it will write it languages?


Answer: Indian scenario is very different. As per UN approved list, we have 18 major languages used in India. I do not think that all languages will get country-code top-level domain names for .in. We may get two, sometimes three. Not more than that.

In Hindi, it will be like ‘.bharat’ and in Tamil, it will be like ‘.bharatham’.


Generic top level domains have already there. i-DNS have received so many applications for various Generic top level domains. .com will be .vani in Tamil and .net will be .inai. In Hindi, .vana will be used for .com and .samga for .org. Please see the list given in the image.   



Question: How language computing is going to get benefited by bringing Internet domain names in languages?


Answer: As I said earlier, around 60 percent of the people in the world not familiar with English language. Without having minimal English language, it is very difficult for a person to access the resources on the Net.


You can hear the localization mantra everywhere. Operating systems, Office Suites and user interface of application are getting localized / translated into languages. Good! Still domain name and e-mail ID in English! Is it very strange? Until and unless we bring domain names and e-mail IDs into languages, non-English speaking people will not get full advantage of computing.


If a native speaker logs onto a machine, A to Z activities should be in her/his own language. If we can create such an environment, you are ensuring that your language alive and growing. Now, English knowing native speakers alone contribute to Wikipedia or blogs, hence we do not have rich language content on the Net. If we make the computer in your own language, we are allowing anybody to contribute to their own language. I am sure that IDN and language e-mail IDs will change the internet culture in India

Question: You are working with the body, which is specialized in bringing Internet domain names in languages, including Indian languages. Can you please briefly explain about i-DNS?


Answer: It was in 1998, i-DNS came into existence. Initially, we were in to Internet research and i-DNS pilot project implemented at Internet Research Development Unit, National University of Singapore.

When we were going with our research initiatives, we understood the need of language domain names on the Net. Till that time, the notion was that English domain names are adequate for the Net. But, an analysis enlightened us that 60% of the global population is deprived of the Net advantage as they do not know English.     


As i-DNS is located in Singapore, we thought of going for major languages in Singapore. Then we started initial processes on languages like Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) and later Tamil also added to the list. Then, Asia Pacific Networking Group (APNG) was set up. Initial tests for these languages were carried out. In February 1999, Asia-Pacific i-DNS Test bed initiated, involving 8 countries. In 2000, we started services in languages Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.'s goal is to continue developing solutions to help non-English Internet users surmount the challenges imposed by language barriers on the Internet, while adhering to a technical direction that mandates peaceful co-existence amongst current Internet technologies and standards. recognizes that in order for the Internet to become a truly global medium for communications and commerce, it must evolve to provide full support for non-Roman character identifiers. By pioneering the global deployment of multilingual Internet technology and championing the use of native-character domain names, is beginning to bridge the digital divide between non-native English and English speakers of the world.


Question: Having exposed to various countries’ language computing initiatives and activities, how do you see Indian scenario? What are the areas to be focused for making language computing more effective?

Answer: Today, many countries including China are not depending upon English. They have computers which do not require any English knowledge expertise. Let the citizens be farmers, housewives or students, they use computers easily as everything is in Chinese language. As you can also see, they are reaping the benefits of language computing. It is not the outcome of overnight activities.


When ICANN conducted a meeting in Delhi, only 228 people attended it. When the same ICANN meeting was conducted in China, thousands people came to attend it. I feel, we are not still serious about language computing in India.


First mantra of language computing should be standardizing processes. Look at the scenario with our Indian languages. We have hundreds of ASCII fonts and so keyboard layouts. Language computing experts and Government bodies should sit and standardize this.

Second one is the use of Unicode. It is sad to see that still we are clinging on to ASCII fonts. We need to stop it and shift to Unicode. I have heard complaints that many global publishing products are not Indian language compatible. If these products are selling in India, our Government has got all the rights to ask them to incorporate Indian languages into it. China does this.


Education system level intervention is required for language computing. It is a good thing is that Tamil is made a compulsory language to be studied in Tamilnadu. The same way, we need to include a small package where in we can enable students to type in Tamil.


It is true that we have lakhs of computer engineers. If we ask them, they will tell us that they ‘compute’. Right! But, will they ‘compute in their own language’? Until and unless we do ‘compute in their own language’, we compute with a foreign language. To fill this gap, Education system intervention is very much required.


Question: How do you evaluate Bhashaindia and its efforts for Indian language computing? Do you have any suggestions?


Answer: I am very interested in Bhashaindia kind of activities. As far as I can see, it is unique and one stop portal for Indian language computing. It will be good, if you can showcase more tools and freeware which will help language computing.


Another area which you can focus is events. There are many language computing seminars and workshops are happening. Mostly people are reluctant to attend them. One reason is that media is not covering such events properly. Bhahsindia can bring such happening to limelight. Let language lovers know about the happenings and attend them.

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