The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board is urging domain name registries not to rush into systems for assigning non-English Web addresses until common standards can be laid down.
The board took up the issue last week, on the final day of ICANN's quarterly meeting in Stockholm. Earlier, ICANN's Names Council voted to recommend that registries hold off on their plans until a meeting of the board's IDN (Internationalised Domain Names) Internal Working Group in August.
Board members cautioned there is little they can do to stop private companies, which are already issuing IDNs using languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Hebrew.
"It's probably not only inappropriate but impossible to sensibly do, partly because all the other organisations that are not within our scope are out there doing things anyway. So we will have simply shot some of our accredited organisations in the foot while everybody else is getting out in the footrace," said ICANN chairman Vinton Cerf in a Web broadcast of the board's proceedings.
Several registries have experimented with domain names using characters outside the English alphabet contained in the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) set.
VeriSign issued 920,000 IDNs in the first five months of its Global Registry Services (GRS), according to a report issued by the IDN Internal Working Group. In February, VeriSign said it was accepting domain names in 70 languages.
Other organisations issuing IDNs include WALID, several country-code administrators - responsible for the domains such as .uk for the UK, .fr for France, etc - and Japan Network Information Center (JPNIC) which is offering registration of mixed Japanese and Latin character strings.
While the board was concerned about a profusion of IDNs before a set of standards can be worked out, members agreed that it is not their role to put the brakes on private-sector innovation.
"Although we're very concerned about and tempted to give advice to people about how to run their businesses and what might be the best way to do it, that's not really our business," said board member Ken Fockler. He suggested that ICANN post information on its Web site, "about the pros and cons of things . . . and people can then judge for themselves what they want to do".