Why the Web? Because unlike any other technology, the Web can be whatever we make it. We can shape it. We can mold it. But most importantly, we can use it to connect every single person on Earth, giving people the ability, as users and contributors, to improve their lives and communities.
How Do You Access the Web?
With a Browser. How to access the Web is quite obvious for those people who open their preferred browser multiple times a day. There are many different browsers, running on almost all types of computers running all kinds of operating systems. Nowadays, almost all the browsers are free, but some are more compliant with Web standards than others, which enable them to provide a better user experience on a far greater number of sites.
With Your Voice. However, there are other ways than with a Web browser to access and interact with Web content. Since 1999, it is possible to use your voice to access the Web, and this is called a Voice Browser usable through any fixed or mobile phone. The keypad of the phone and your voice allow you to navigate on the Web, follow links, and fill forms in the same way as the keyboard and the mouse on your computer. Your ears can receive information in the same way as your eyes viewing the screen on your computer.
This picture illustrates the correspondence between Voice and Visual Web browsing:
Since 2004, it is now possible to access the Web from your mobile phone through either a mobile browser or through voice access as illustrated above. Almost all phones are now capable to run a mobile browser and access the web. Mobile phones are critically important to extend the reach of the Web, particularly in developing countries where people are far more likely to have access to a mobile phones than a computer. Indeed, more than 4 billions of people have a mobile subscription, and more than 80% of the World population is covered by a mobile network.
How Does the Web Compare to Other Sources of Information?
Today, many people are using the Web to get the news, weather forecasts, cooking recipes, medical diagnoses, book reviews and the like. They are also using the Web to book flights, plan vacations, buy and sell goods, express opinions, etc.
People had and fulfilled most of these needs of information before the Web, and there are many other ways of sending and receiving information. For decades, the major sources of information were newspaper, radio and TV. How is the Web compared to these media?
The major advantages that the Web holds relative to the other media include :
- Time: With radio and TV, those rare events that are important to a broad group of viewers could be reported live or in minutes. More typically, the delay is hours to a day. With newspapers, it takes closer to a day, sometimes more, before the news is received by the readers. With the Web and mobile phones, people are reporting on (e.g, through Twitter, crowd-sourcing, etc.) and reading about events about as the events occur. You get pictures, and information almost instantaneously.
- Localization: Media such as newspapers, radio and TV report information relevant to a relatively large geographical region: a district, a country, etc. It is more difficult to find localized information, at the community level. With the Web, a village, independent of its size, and any community (even one that is separated geographically) can share information relevant to their members and citizens wherever Web access is possible.
- Universality: Radio, TV, and newspapers usually cover a relatively large geographic area, and they are typically available only to people living in that area. It is difficult for people outside of the area to access those media. The Web is universal, and available anywhere in the World where people have access to it. This allows people today to, for example, book a hotel and prepare vacations on the other side of the planet.
- Focus: Localization and scope of media mentioned above concerned geographical aspects. This is also true for thematic aspects. There are today millions of communities specialized on specific themes (languages, hobby, nature,…). While there are thematic radio, newspaper, TV, and magazines, their diffusion is geographically limited, while these communities are spread over the Web. The Web, by connecting people, enables those with shared interests to exchange their resources independently of their respective locations.
- Search. Mechanisms such as libraries, guides, reviews and word-of-mouth, can help people to find information they seek in traditional media. On the Web, search engines, as well as easier access to guides and reviews, facilitate the quest for information. The volume of information on the Web and the ability to assess the quality of information are issues requiring further work.
- Linking: A person can change channels on the radio or TV, or pickup one newspaper and then move to another. On the Web, links allow people to move easily from one Web page to related information elsewhere on the same page, on the same site or one a different site half-way around the world. The emergence of the Semantic Web promises to extend this capability to linking data and ascribing greater meaning to data and relationships across the Web.
How Do You Contribute to the Web?
The Web is not only a space of information, it is a tool to connect people with shared interests. The power of the Web is to enable anybody to share information. For that, people need to have a way to author and publish information.
Thanks to the Web 2.0 revolution, it is now easy to use blog engines, social networks, and content management systems to publish information without any knowledge on HTML, or without any technical expertise.
We are also starting to see voice access for publishing information, as well as accessing information.
Mobile phones also have the capability to empower their users to publish information, using specific mobile blog engines, voice, and simpler mechanism like SMS (see eg, Twitter). Today, more than 4 billions (and growing) people have mobile phones, and thus have the potential to be creators and consumers of content on the Web.
How Does the Web Compare to Other Ways to Voice Your Opinion?
How can someone without any particular network of relations, without being connected to a specific media, voice an opinion and be heard by the world? It is difficult for an average citizen to publish an article in a newspaper, to appear on TV, or be heard on a radio. To the contrary, it is very easy to publish a document on the Web, and thus be heard by an interested subset of the 1.7 billions (and growing) users of the Web. In addition, voicing an opinion on the Web is inexpensive, if not free (only a couple of minutes in an Internet cafe or at home), immediate, and durable … if the Web site is run well, the content could be available for decades.
The opportunity for anyone to voice an opinion, and to be heard, has been an important contributor to transparency and accountability of governments and industry. The Web can enable a more participatory democracy, and allow the potential spread information to places where freedom of speech is not encouraged.