If you only speak English, you've probably never noticed that the only letters allowed in any email address have always been limited to "A" through "Z." But it's true: Never has a Francophone been able to claim an "é," nor a Mandarin Chinese speaker a "水."
We're still not there, but there is some good news for all you multilingual geniuses out there. As of Tuesday, Gmail has become the first major email provider to let people send emails to and receive emails from addresses with accent marks and letters from outside the Latin alphabet.
Now, Gmail users can contact someone with the email "武＠メール.グーグル."
What languages need accent marks or non-Latin letters? Basically, all of them except English, including Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese. A little more than 2.8 billion people claim one of those eight languages as their native tongue, by the way.
That this transition took so long isn't really Google's fault. The company's hands were tied by an organization called the Internet Engineering Task Force, which sets Internet standards that almost all tech companies agree to. Only in 2012 did the group decide to allow other languages' alphabets in email addresses. Two years later, the the normally fast-moving Google has begun the process of switching over. As of now, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL, which owns The Huffington Post, also don't allow these "special characters."
In addition to helping Google be a good global citizen, the decision makes business sense too, as tech companies are eyeing the developing world as a promising area of expansion. So, really, this is one of those fortunate situations in which the right business decision is also the right decision, period.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post inaccurately interpreted Google's announcement. While Google will now allow Gmail users to send emails to and receive emails from addresses with special characters, Gmail users themselves will not be able to include these special characters in their own email addresses.