After nearly 40 years the internet has gone from nerdy hobby to a multi-billion dollar market place. English was the lingua franca of this new environment; all URLs were written in a Latin based code set. This is no longer the case. A revolution has occurred that will open up those sacred URLs to non-Latin character sets. This means that Cyrillic, Arabic, Hindi, and Mandarin characters are now permitted to be used in the URLs of websites. This is a revolution for the global community. The internet is now moving closer to being a global resource and not just limited to those who can read a language that uses the Latin alphabet.
There is an estimated 100 thousand characters that are used to express the world's languages. ICANN has stepped up to the plate and now is working toward supporting them all. This is one of the largest technical improvement that the internet has experienced. It is a mile stone that shows the web is maturing into a truly global experience.
What potential impact will this have? There are several ideas about the extent of this change. The impacts are going to be deep and shake the internet from its roots. From a designer/developer's point of view this will create several new obstacles. Aside from the obvious change in the URL, one lowly element of any good website will be rocked to the core. The hardworking form element will have to be significantly improved. While forms are places where nice, well behaved users enter and submit benign information, forms are also portals for malicious users to do their evil.
Developers must now take non-Latin character support seriously. Take this for example. Say a user logs into a forum and posts a message in English saying that they have a cool site that you should check out. The link however is posted in a non-Latin script and it links to a malware script. If the developer had implemented a filter to prevent that link from being submitted, the threat would have been reduced.
Designers, you can kiss your precious typography goodbye! New and exotic layouts and textual format techniques are going to be needed to accommodate this radical change. What if the links on your site read right to left instead of left to right? What are you going to do about that? Its time to think outside of the box to make room for non-latin characters.
Despite these hurdles, non-latin character support is a step in the right direction. Millions, if not billions, of new internet users are just months away from enjoying the web in their native language. Its a good thing that the web has matured enough to support this. Plus, its time for some new techniques to be developed. Its a challenge but well worth it.