The RealNames System - an International Human-Friendly Web Navigation System

Yves Arrouye - RealNames Corporation

Intended Audience: Manager, Software Engineer
Session Level: Intermediate

Web navigation is mostly based on Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). URLs can be hard to remember and change constantly. RealNames' Internet Keywords offer an alternative Web addressing scheme using natural language, replacing unfriendly URLs like http://www.fordvehicles.com/vehiclehome.asp?vid=12 with common names such as "Ford Mustang." As a replacement for URLs, Internet Keywords should be available wherever URLs are used. They need to support all scripts and local customs. For that reason, RealNames chose Unicode to represent names.

We first describe the architecture of the RealNames System, emphasizing the parts using Unicode. Most of the infrastructure of RealNames is based on Unicode, from its customer and keywords database to the customer tracking and reporting services. We then look at the problems associated with specific local markets, where providing a correct user experience requires considering local knowledge. Examples of such markets are Germany, Spain and Japan. We also consider the problems regarding the disparity of Unicode support amongst the different Web browsers used today, and our approach to address these important issues. We finally look at the benefits of using Unicode from the beginning of the project.

Building a fully international system that provides a human-friendly naming infrastructure for the whole Web is a challenging task. By leveraging Unicode to represent names we have been able to build a global naming engine that, coupled with knowledge of local customs simplifies Web navigation through the use of natural language keywords. Today, Internet Keywords are being successfully used in a number of countries, validating our choices.

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31 October 1999, Webmaster