The Internet will be more accessible to non-English speaking users with the introduction of domain names using Asian and Arabic scripts starting next year, a global regulator has said.
Domain names are the monikers behind every website, e-mail address and Twitter post, such as '.com' and other suffixes.
The imminent changes will allow millions of users to use Chinese, Arabic, Korean and Japanese characters for a full Internet address, instead of just part of it as now.
It could also open up the Web to more people around the world as addresses could be in characters as diverse as Greek, Devanagiri, in which Hindi is written, and Cyrillic, in which Russian is written.
On Monday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said it will declare an end to the exclusive use of Latin script for web addresses later this week.
'Biggest ever change'
"This is the biggest change technically to the Internet since it was invented 40 years ago," Peter Dengate Thrush, the chairman of the ICANN board in charge of reviewing the change, told a press conference in Seoul.
"This change is very much necessary for not only half the world's Internet users today but more than half of the future users as the Internet continues to spread"
Rod Beckstrom, ICANN president
ICANN, top Internet security experts and dozens of other companies, software vendors and organisations are attending a six-day conference in the South Korean capital.
The announcement is planned a day after the 40th anniversary of the Internet's inception in a computer experiment by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Rod Beckstrom, the president of ICANN, said the change designed to serve the growing number of non-English-speaking Internet users will come into effect in mid-2010.
"It will take some period of time to process the applications and then introduce the successful applications," he told the news conference.
Beckstrom said more than half of the 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide use language scripts that are not Latin-based.
"So this change is very much necessary for not only half the world's Internet users today but more than half, probably, of the future users as the Internet continues to spread."
He said Internet addresses would no longer use limited top-level domains such as '.com' or '.org', and instead use more flexible internationalised domain names such as '.post' or '.bank'.
Beckstrom said the change will also allow Internet users to type fewer keystrokes to access a website which will "give companies a quicker way to get directly to their customers".
Under the new system, all web addresses ending with '.bank' would only be available to "authorised" banks, a move aimed at enhancing consumer confidence.
ICANN, formed in 1998 by the US government and recently given more autonomy after Washington relaxed its control over how the Internet is run, aims to start receiving applications next month.