Internet Balkanization

While I am in Crete attending a fascinating seminar, and Jon is doing such a wonderful job of blogging here, ICANN is having what promises to be a more-substantive-than-usual meeting in Luxembourg. At the heart of the debate are critical issues of DNS policy. (For the latest word on the politics of it all, see Kieren McCarthy’s ICANN Blog and his US Govt Interference Is a Big Deal, Says Europe.) One line you can expect to hear often is that it’s important to keep the Internet from being Balkanized.

The trouble is, the Internet is already being Balkanized. One the one had you have the Great Firewall of China and other national censorship efforts. And then there’s the roadblock I encountered today: Google. If you try to reach from here, you are redirected to and all the prompts are in Greek. Go to and you are redirected to Run your search in English and you will get English language results (but the prompts are all in Greek). Amend the URL for that search, which used to one with….and it’s still too smart and redirects to

Are we Balkanized already?

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7 Responses to Internet Balkanization

  1. Add


    to the URL of your search.

    Does that work?

  2. elliottg says:

    Have you tried this site to figure out how to compose your query?

  3. Pingback: madisonian theory: on law, society, and technology

  4. Michael says:

    The &hl=en tip did the trick. But that doesn’t actually change my main point: Google has the ability to serve radically different content to people in different places.

    Yes, there are ways to beat it even if Google didn’t offer the nifty “&hl=en” option — using proxies — but these require technical sophistication and the ability to find a cooperating machine elsewhere. It’s not the simple classic story of the seamless web.

  5. On that point, I think “Balkanized” is a variable. “Fragmented” might be a better word. All parts of the Net have *never* been 100.0% interconnected and identical, no matter what the hype. But I think the amount of fragmentation is currently less than it could be in the future, depending on the evolution of ICANN/censorware/personalization/etc.

    I suggest that the lesson is that fragmentation is relatively easy, commonality is a policy choice, not a technological inevitability.

    Sort of like the real Balkans.

  6. I wrote a note on this topic in 2003 – See “Is the internet dying?” at

    The idea behind that note was that there are many forces pulling the net apart ranging from the desire to avoid spam, to set up local “walled gardens” (or “walled countries”), to deliver somewhat tailored web content (the google.xx issue you mentioned), and localization to things like the regulatory bodies, such as ICANN, that are highly unrepresentative and breathtakingly far from their charters.

  7. Elisabeth Porteneuve says:

    I am happy you are in Greece and you could notice the phenomena.

    Yes, it is already fragmented. And the first walls are set up by Microsoft or Linux. Internet comes later.
    I am in France, my keyboard is French (azerty not qwerty), I have no slightest choice to install Microsoft in English, or at least have an option of English environment on my laptop – everything is in French. And absolutely the same situation is in any other language. The very first trap is you cannot communicate beyond your language. You cannot ask for help on an international forum (unless you accept to show how stupid you are making reverse translations – good luck !). Worst, I cannot communicate with my own daughter living in Boston – to describe Windows procedures we have to use numbers: click on third item in fourth menu, how the hell it is named on your laptop? Oh no, it must be the fifth.

    In my lab, I keep an extremely precious device – it is US ASCII keyboard. That allows me to install Linux in English (and later on switch to any language if necessary) – otherwise I have to go through options by hand (never trivial) to have at least an OS commands in ASCII.


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