35 For further details http://www.wipo.int/amc/en and http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/ domains See in this book : Pann Yu Mon & Madhukara Phatak, Search Engines and Asian Languages.
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti STPHANE BORTZMEYER MULTILINGUALISM AND INTERNET GOVERNANCE Who decides on multilingualism on the internet In which office do we authorise domain names in Chinese or Arabic Who wanted the majority of web pages to be in English This article takes you through the corridors of Internet governance.
Original article in French.
Translated by John Rosbottom.
STPHANE BORTZMEYER is a computer engineer, particularly specializing in TCP/IP networks. He works for AFNIC and maintains a blog where he talks from is own personal view mainly about technology but sometimes also of culture or politics. http://www.bortzmeyer.org ne of the internet’s quintessential features is its organization : as a multi-national and especially a multi-stakeholders network, the Ointernet has no centre. There is no President of the Internet, no Council of Wise Internetizens who can make binding decisions. Hence, changes that are subject to broad consensus, like the migration to the IPvnetwork protocol, have been delayed considerably because changes cannot be executed from the top down. No authority can say, “On 30 April 2011, all connected networks must be IPv6”, or, “On 15 May 2011, for security reasons, only reliable secure operating systems may be connected to the internet”. Migration depends on a critical mass of individual decisions and, as with economics and ecology, the accumulation of individual decisions is often very inefficient and does not allow changes that would benefit all, but necessitates that each player make an effort or incur expenses.
WHO ARE THE DECISION MAKERS FOR MULTILINGUALISM ON THE INTERNET This lack of Centre or General Management doesn’t mean the internet is a perfect anarchy, completely absent of power dynamics. Rather, there exists several power centres that possess variable legitimacy. Furthermore, there is no equality between these centres ; some are much more powerful than others ; obviously Google, Microsoft, the u.s. government, Apple, Baidu, Level 3, Cisco, France Telecom or Facebook hold more weight than Mr. Michu, M. Ali, M. Li, a small web design agency based in CharlevilleMezieres, or the Government of Mali.
This situation has its advantages ; first and foremost, it prevents a single group from taking over the internet and imposing its will. Certainly, such a decision-making mechanism could be useful in some cases (as Stphane Bortzmeyer in the case of migration to IPv6 cited above). But there also exist huge risks if a hypothetical Centre or Director made incorrect decisions. If the internet was run by a group resembling the current French government, for example, the Network of networks would soon be sterilised, its role reduced to that of audio-visual content distribution, rendered innocuous to the powers that be. It is thus for the best that this situation continues not to present itself, even if every internet user/developer has probably, at least once in her life, wished that a seemingly crucial decision could finally be taken, once and for all ! In the case of multilingualism, the absence of a centre has often been felt :
for example, in the difficulty of getting the 85 % of software properly internationalised to move to 100 %, since no one can force programmers to do their work correctly, or compel system administrators to deploy the relevant software.
Many organizations manage sections of the internet, small parts of a gigantic system. Obviously in the context of this chapter, there is no way to cite them all, but we can at least provide an overview of their categories :
• Network operators and service providers such as Tata or Comcast.
Their role in the multilingualism question is rather low ;
• Software producers such as the Mozilla Foundation, Apple, Wordpress developers, and so on, as well as managers of large and widely used internet services (search engines, platforms, blog hosting, etc.). Their role is crucial because software that would only allow, for example, text production and publication using the Latin alphabet, would seriously limit multilingualism ;
• National governments ; various official regulators. The obligations they put forth may play a role in the development (or lack thereof) of multilingualism. They can also play a role of incentive and encouragement ;
• Standards bodies and technical standards are addressed in the chapter of this book devoted to normalisation 1 ;
• Let us not forget, of course, the users. Unlike many other communications systems, such as television, the internet is largely created by its users. It is they who produce most of the internet’s multilingual 1 See in this book : Stphane Bortzmeyer, Multilingualism and the Internet’s Standardisation.
Stphane Bortzmeyer content, the classic exemplar being the user-produced encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
THE ROLE OF ICANN When someone searches despairingly for a Centre of the Internet, the search generally indicates icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). As an international organization in charge (at least ostensibly) of a unique resource – the root of the domain names system – it seems well-placed for this task. This reassures anyone worried about the internet’s lack of central management, and as a result, icann is often a stakeholder in political struggles, while much more vital areas of internet governance, like management of ip addresses, arouse much less interest.
However, icann is in no way “the internet regulator” (a common journalistic charge, but nevertheless quite false). It is not even “the dns regulator”, as is shown in the following chapter on domain name registries. Let us now wring the neck of myths :
• icann does not manage domain name root. This work, considered strategic, remains the sole property of the u.s. government 2, through its technical arm, the company Verisign ;
• A fortiori, icann does not manage the rest of the Domain Name System (dns) (standards are set by ietf ; policies are decided by each registry), and even less so other online activity. icann has a certain role (at least in theory) in the allocation of ip addresses ;
• The only real power of icann is in managing the American Top Level Domains (tld).com and.org. This is the only area where the term “regulator” is appropriate.
It follows that icann’s actual role in promoting or suppressing multilingualism is actually quite limited. The most oft cited case is the introduction of Internationalised Domain Names (idn) in the root (effective since 5 May 2010). But the decision was taken by the u.s. government, as sole manager of the root. icann acted solely in the roles of retardant (through long and utterly unnecessary studies 3) and in charge of public 2 http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname 3 These studies were unnecessary because, technically, a name server does not differentiate between an IDN – a name in Unicode – and a traditional name. Due to the use of Stphane Bortzmeyer communication. Long before idn’s official incorporation, the technical element had been settled, and several registries had already introduced it.
Today, icann retains the role of considering applications for new tld roots, from which stance it has rejected applications from Bulgaria 4 and Greece 5, citing “confusion risk” – in the case of Greece, with a tld that doesn’t even exist ! DOMAIN NAME REGISTRIES But if icann doesn’t decide idn deployment, who will As often happens online, the decision is widely distributed. Consider the example of.fr (France’s tld). At the time of writing, idns are not yet available (but are expected by summer 2012). Who decides The answer is not entirely simple. France has a law regarding domain name management, but it doesn’t specify a complete registration policy. Overall, the role comes back to the afnic (Association franaise pour le nommage Internet en coopration). They kicked off the debate in 2003 6, with no immediate result. During a public consultation on.fr’s management in 2008, no discussion was recorded on the issue of idns (though many actors in France’s internet governance liked to criticise icann for being slow in deploying idn). It was only in 2010 that a report of a semi-official organization, the fdi (Forum des Droits sur l’Internet), called for an acceptance of the idn.fr 7.
In the same way, each tld registry decides if and when to open up to idns. Canada’s tld (.ca) doesn’t have idn. In Europe, the German tld (.de, with special reference to the famous character 8), Switzerland the Punycode algorithm, the two are in ASCII in the name server memory. See http:// www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-28oct07.htm for an example of one such study, whose main purpose was to provide a justification for delayed deployment of IDN TLDs.
4 http://www.centr.org/main/6079-CTR/version/default/part/AttachmentData/data/ Daniel %20Kalchev %20- %20bgidn20110202v3.pdf 5 http://svsf40.icann.org/meetings/siliconvalley2011/presentation-swords-confusing-grsegredakis-15mar11-en.pdf 6 http://www.afnic.fr/fr/l-afnic-en-bref/actualites/actualites-generales/2511/show/ avertissement-de-l-afnic-sur-les-noms-de-domaine-internationalises-idn.html 7 http://www.foruminternet.org/institution/espace-presse/communiques-de-presse/ la-langue-et-internet-le-forum-des-droits-sur-l-internet-publie-une-etude-inedite-2984.html 8 http://www.denic.de/en/faqs-about-idns-ss.html Stphane Bortzmeyer (.ch) and Austria (.at) were among the first to have one (the three German-speaking countries launched together on 1 March 2004). On the other hand, the tld of countries using non-Latin scripts are often much faster to register idns, as was the case in China (.cn, which didn’t even wait for the official release of the technical standard). Countries using a right-to-left graphic system, such as Saudi Arabia (.sa), often wait for long periods of time to have a domain name (tld included) entirely in Unicode.
PROGRAMME INTERNATIONALISATION AND LOCALIZATION A user interacts with other users by way of software that, in the vast majority of cases, she hasn’t written. These programmes’ capabilities or omissions therefore directly influence the multilingual experience, and it is no exaggeration to say that software vendors have had a more direct influence on this issue than most official organizations.
Even as of early 2011, the Android operating system 9 was not yet managing Arabic script or its right-to-left writing system. Other programmes, even those developed by the French 10, are still struggling to integrate accented characters (and display error messages like “unsafe characters” in response to them).
Why these weaknesses First off, managing all the world’s scripts clearly creates more work. If we remade all the world’s languages to make life easier for it professionals, it certainly would be limited to ascii. But there is also a very clear lack of awareness among programmers. In the vast majority of programming courses, Unicode is not mentioned, or is mentioned given a couple of hours of lip service towards the end of the year in a class presented as “extra” – when, in fact, Unicode string processing should be part of core coursework.
Because of this, programmers have great practical importance in the context of multilingualism. But who writes and who decides to handle (or not) all the possible scripts Many entities are developing programmes, to summarize :
9 An operating system for smartphones, developed by Google.
10 When the author of this text begins the day in his company, his badge reads “Stphane Bortzmeyer”, without accent, or even an e, in his firstname.
Stphane Bortzmeyer • Large commercial companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, Oracle or IBM, producing widely used products that are developed for profit.
Most of the planet’s languages are spoken by minorities with low purchasing power ;
• The developers of free software 11 often isolated individuals, but also include some of the big companies mentioned above (Google and ibm, notably, are important players in free software development).
The reasons may vary. A priori, source code availability and the freedom to improve it, regardless of the business strategies and priorities of individual companies, makes it easier to take multilingualism into account in the software. However, this point is offset by the fact that people who use less “central” languages have no more technical expertise than they do money. And the isolated developer of free software does not necessarily possess the means to know all the details of multilingual management. An effort to raise support and awareness for free software would certainly be helpful ;
• Finally, there is also a cloud of locally-developed software, created by software houses, students, or small service companies. The authors of this software are rarely competent in multilingualism 12. They lack the level of access to resources possessed by a company like Microsoft.
Their software is not freely distributed, and cannot be improved by anyone but the author. Such software is, therefore, often the bane of multilingualism promoters.
CONTENT PRODUCTION : NOT ONLY IN ENGLISH The previous section dealt with the role of programmers and software companies. If they worked effectively, and if all the world’s software was fully internationalised and ready to handle any language and writing system, would all be well No. Content authors must use and integrate this software. If instant messaging software enables the exchange of texts in Urdu but correspondents prefer to use English, multilingualism will suffer. Likewise, if a Content Management System (cms) allows for writing and publishing texts in all languages, this doesn’t mean the speakers of all 11 See in this book : Dwayne bailey, Software Localization : Open Source as a Major Tool for Digital Multilingualism.
12 This is undoubtedly so in the case of the badge reader cited above.
Stphane Bortzmeyer languages will use them. Many obstacles present themselves because of constraints of time and money, the momentum of habit, resignation to the status quo, lack of internet culture and/or expertise, a socio-political culture that encourages passivity rather than creativity, and so on.