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The Web Foundation Effect

Stéphane Boyera · September 18, 2008

One of the focuses of the World Wide Web foundation is to investigate, in its Web for Society program, how to lower the barriers of accessing the Web for people who are not able, today, to find accessible and usable information. One aspect of these barriers is the ability for Web content to be available in all the languages of the World. For instance, The Unicode standard and HTML support characters in a large number of world languages, but many users may not have the right fonts to display those characters. Fonts for smaller language communities may not be readily available, making it hard to share knowledge in those languages.

Since we are just starting this Foundation, we are in the early phases of understanding the extent of this sort of need. But we didn’t have to wait long, and we didn’t have to look far. Indeed, the first case literally fell into our lap 30 minutes before announcing the Foundation. This is what i call the Web Foundation Effect!

Tim and Ian took a cab to go to the dinner, and, by chance, driving the cab was Aleme. Aleme is a taxi driver in Washington DC, but as an Ethiopian, and as a passionate about the Web, he is also, on his free time, a developer of a Web font for Amharic (Ethiopian language). He believes that the availability of such a font would allow all Ethiopians speaking only this language to exploit the potential of the Web for their purpose.
What was the chance that people involved in the launch of the Web Foundation would find a potential contributor in a taxi driver? almost zero…but it happened ! and it would not have happened a year ago, because this was clearly out of the scope of W3C.

This is a meaningful evidence that now, by investigating how, through the Foundation, we can make the Web more universal, we will find many potential contributors, many Aleme for hundreds of dialects in the World, who at their level will contribute to extend the frontier of the Web to their community.

Of course, we will follow up with Aleme, we will help him, when the foundation is up and running, to build a proposal for us, and to relate his work with other ongoing initiatives in this domain, and we will see if this is going somewhere, but i wanted to share this incredible story!

This is for me also an incredibly good illustration of how an individual actions could have an exponential effect on the accessibility and usability of the Web for people who are not able today to exploit its potential.


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  1. Jace Voracek

    September 18, 2008

    I'm glad that this foundation will do its best to correct this issue. This will also help programmers in other countries who will not have to learn English to write a program. I wasn't quite aware that some countries don't share a default font on computers such as Arial as we do in America, so I am proud that this foundation is working to prevent this.Just to give the Web Foundation another goal to begin with, A problem with the Internet and the World today is the censorship of the web in several countries when it comes to certain subjects and websites. I would like this foundation to work on is developing ways to encrypt web pages in a certain format that won't be blocked by the government. There are already types of encryption when it comes to the Internet, yet in most cases they do not work. Censors disable the most important concept of the World Wide Web, and that concept is being able to research and interact with the people of the world. Accomplishing this task would take our world to a whole new level. Please think about this and let me know of your opinion.Jace Voracek


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    1. William Loughborough

      November 11, 2008

      The recently adopted treaty (except for the U.S.!) of the UN concerning the rights of Persons With Disabilities (PWD) includes:"Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost"I feel confident that the WWW Foundation will take this as a mandate to continue the efforts of W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative and to make access to the Web the everyone/everything/everywhere/always system promised at its conception.Love.


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      1. shirley jackson

        December 23, 2008

        Good Idea about helping those innocent to the web like myself that will not abuse it or use for illegall unlawful mens. would like to know a real way to work for someone via the internet that is asking for sums of money to get started. And would like to to know if my own information can be used to make me an inhome income


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