Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Accented characters in domain names are a terrible idea

Normally I ignore the various e-mails I get from CIRA (the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which oversees .ca domains). This includes requests to vote for CIRA boards of directors, and other stuff that I don't remember because I ignored it.

However the current consultation on internationalized domain names for .ca domains is worrisome.

At the consultation home page you can follow the links to the (relatively straightforward and plain-language) proposal, and provide feedback on how they should implement it (not whether it's a good idea).

There is also a discussion forum that discusses four questions. The first three are variants on "isn't this such a great idea?" and the fourth is "any other comments?"

There are some recurring themes--almost entirely emphatically opposed to this idea as proposed--and I submitted the following comment to the thread (note: my questions are literal, not rhetorical. The intent is for the consultants and CIRA to consider those issues; I don't need to know the answers myself).
I've read through the entire thread and I have a number of comments:

I am one of those Ottawa-dwelling folks who spends a lot of time thinking about how to properly deliver services to my members, clients, and correspondents in the language of their choice. I hope the consultants thank CIRA for the big paycheque and tell them how bad an idea this is.

The logical decision would go like this:

1. It is fair to allow people to register accented domain names.
2. In order to prevent abuse, "Names that differ only in accents should not be allowed to be registered to different organizations." (as worded by ahooper in comment 60)
3. This would require considerable resources to implement.
4. To pay for this implementation, either domains will have to get a lot more expensive, or CIRA and/or DNS operators will have to take a big hit and allow all variants to be registered to the same user for the current price
5. If the goal of the policy is fairness (point 1), it would be unfair if the policy reduced the accessibility of domain names to individuals and organizations with limited finances.
6. Similarly, it would be unfair to require DNS operators to absorb the full cost of this implementation
7. Therefore, the benefits of the proposal are far outweighed by the costs of implementing it.

Other new comments not already raised:

I have experienced problems with automatically-generated usernames based on the user's name (e.g. FirstnameLastinitial). For StéphanieR, there are some OS/Browser combinations where she will not be able to enter her username; the system will interpret it as StÈphanieR and reject the user. I've experienced similar problems with database exports that have similar errors if they aren't opened in Windows. What will CIRA do to ensure that input from all browser/OS combinations will be correctly interpreted by the DNS?

The company I work for recently received its registration certificate for a couple of its French trademarks. The name on the government-issued certificate was spelled IN CAPITAL LETTERS with obvious accents omitted (i.e. MON NOM REGISTREE). How would we be able to enforce our rights to the domain monnomregistrée.ca if even Industry Canada is ambivalent to accents? (My mind is further blown to learn that CIRA operates under the auspices of Industry Canada)

People need to recognize that not every domain registrant is a corporation with millions of dollars of annual revenue. It is not so simple for some organizations to register the variants. I am involved with some community groups whose annual income is in the tens of dollars, and the domain registration is one of the few expenses. While they are all Anglophone groups, there are likely Francophone groups in the same situation who cannot afford both mélange.ca and melange.ca (not to mention mèlange.ca and mêlange.ca). Fredjubs' suggestion in comment 71 (that business information sugh as a GST number be required for domain registration) does not work for individuals nor for non-incorporated organizations (like many community groups). Further, there are (or at least there should be) privacy implicaitons if more and more information (passport number?!?) is required just to register a domain name.

Are accented characters case-insensitive, as unaccented characters are in DNS?

Elaborations of and rebuttals to other comments:

Elaborating on other comments: I'm offended by those who think that the only people who speak French are in Québec. There are many Franco-Ontarians (including many towns, like Sudbury, where many do not speak English), Manitoba was the first province to be officially bilingual (though it isn't any longer), and New Brunswick is recognized as being officially bilingual in the Constitution. So any solution based on "only for .qc.ca domains" is entirely insufficient. I don't consider myself to be one of these people, I'm merely offended by the total ignorance of those who make this suggestion.

Reiterating cbehnke's point in comment 53: When I give a website over the phone, and I say président.ca (in French), it will be very cumbersome for me to specify to the message recipient whether or not the domain has an accent, especially if the person is not french speaking.

Entering accented French characters is not a "solved issue":

As mentioned elsewhere, IDN is fine in countries like Germany or Spain where the entire population is expected to know how to speak and type accented characters in the dominant language of the respective country. However, since many, if not most, in the Internet-using population that corresponds to .ca domains do not normally speak and type accented characters, I believe this will become a net obstacle to universal access to the internet, not an enhancement.
- On macs (and apparently on Linux) it is easy to do. However, you must know how to do it. Those who generally correspond only in English (including with bilingual francophones who have domains with accented characters) will not know how to use it.
- On Windows, you have a few cumbersome options: if you have French installed, AND you have activated the desktop/menu bar icon for fast keyboard switching, AND you alreay know what keys to use to enter accented characters, then it's easy. If you don't, then you can use Character Map, which I'm sure a vast majority of users wouldn't even know where to look for it, if they knew it existed, and even then it is not simple or convenient.

User Laplante in comment 52 linked to a Microsost KB article on international keyboards. First, a user shouldn't need an FAQ to type a simple domain name. Second, how will a user know to visit that article when they discover they don't know how to type an accented domain name? You could put a link on the homepage of the domain name, but the user won't be able to go there! Catch-22!

I echo amadha's analogy in comment #45 about bilingual names vs. English and French names. Instead of typing "ottawapubliclibrary.ca", I have to type "biblioottawalibrary.ca", which is much more cumbersome, and harder to remember, even as a bilingual person. The point of the analogy is that it's intended to be more fair but ends up being more confusing.

pdobeda@acm.org in comment 86 suggests that two names with similar names will have already addressed the issue with their corporate registrations. This is a false assumption: for example Apple Computer and Apple Records both operate under the name "Apple" (not to mention numbered companies). And while accents aren't usually used with them, acronyms are often shared among many organizations.
If you have additional comments, or just want to give your "no" vote, I suggest you head on over to the IDN Consultation website and speak up before we all get inundated with spam messages from ínfÒ@vÌ4grá.ca.

- RG>

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Coffeeshop toilet humour

At the coffeeshop the other day, the two people at the next table got to talking about "best before" dates and food safety. I, of course, pretended I wasn't listening to them as I did stuff on my computer, while listening to the interesting bits of the conversation, which was essentially all of it.

One point that stuck out was along the lines of "just because it says 'best before' doesn't mean it's 'worst after'". In other words, food isn't necessarily bad past the expiry date, just not at its best. Yogourt, for example, can last for months.

The man went on to talk about how eating food after the best before date is about making an informed decision. Unless there's a flaw in the manufacturing process, he posited, anything you can get from food (aside from meat) that isn't obviously spoiled isn't going to be very dangerous. Or as he put it, "at my age, I can afford to spend an extra 25 minutes on the toilet if I end up eating something that's a little off." I grinned behind my hand, on which my chin was resting.

The conversation continued to spiral downhill from there, still with me pretending that I didn't have an ear on them. Eventually the woman leaned over to me and said "you're going to have quite the stories to tell your friends about what you overheard today, aren't you?"

I did not miss a beat. I replied drily, "oh, I've got a laptop. I can sit on the toilet all day if I have to!"

A few minutes later, she stopped laughing.

- RG>

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Joseph A. Belanger research institute suggests returning to paper $1 and $2 bills

I established this blog many year ago in part to rant about the stupid stuff I read in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, and this letter to the editor by Joseph A Belanger certainly fits the bill. He provides an irrefutable argument that Canada should scrap the $1 and $2 coins and return to paper money.

You see, metal coins aren't recyclable, but paper money is. "Really," you ask? Metal coins can't be recycled? Well, Belanger suspects that they can't, so, he concludes, it must be true. It's not like they're all made by the same organization or have dates on them to help suggest what materials were used in their manufacture. And metal is such a new substance, we still don't know how to recycle it. Will it melt down if you heat it enough? John A Belanger doesn't know, so it's safest to assume it would just crumble. You probably also can't wash them in the laundry machine.

Besides, there are practical benefits to Canadians. To make the transition back to paper $1 and $2 bills even more convenient, you'll no longer have to lug around heavy coins in your pocket. You'll just have to go to a coin-dispensing kiosk somewhere in the city to find coins to feed the parking meter (another expired technology Belanger must also want to reintroduce).

Never mind that the Royal Canadian Mint and the federal government spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on the production of circulation currency and likely have a pretty good idea of whether paper or metal money has more efficient lifecycle costs. Even if their research says that paper money lasts a fraction of the time in circulation than coins, paper money is recyclable, and recycling doesn't cost any time, energy, or money, right?

- RG>