Global and Accessible Web

Over the summer I did less blogging due to vacations. But I am in the middle of a series about our organizational task forces, so in the next few postings I will complete that series. I’ve blogged in detail about our Core Mission and W3C as the Place for New Standards Work. Today I will discuss our directions for a more Global and Accessible Web.

Why am I writing now? Why didn’t I wait for the summer to end? I was inspired by Wired.

Last week, Wired wrote an article entitled the Web is Dead. Actually, I’m not that worried, and I’ll leave it to others to debate their theory. But for me, it got me thinking. What about the unexploited Web? Isn’t it a missed opportunity for so many people in the world who seek local content, access to information about the world, and human contact?

So at the same time that people are writing off the Web, the planet has several billion people that are trying to get on. People who need to get on. Their success depends on their getting on.

The importance of a more Global and Accessible Web

Twenty years ago the Web did not exist. Thus infrastructure of society did not depend on it. There were hard copy books, encyclopedias, and directories. The newspaper was several pieces of paper that arrived every day at the door. Governments communicated their information through manuals, forms, and publications. It was less efficient, but it was adequate.

The Web is far more efficient. As a result – much of the infrastructure of life has moved on-line. The Web is vital. This vitality imposes a social responsibility on all of us to ensure that the Web is accessible to all.

The developing world. The billions of people who do not have access to the Web today. As they and their governments try to advance – it will be through the Web. They will want the efficiency brought by this technology. Why go through intermediate paper stages of development which will be thrown out in the end? The Web will empower people and connect people in developing economies – to each other and to the world.

That is my reflection on Wired. The next several decades will not only see continued growth and sophistication from today’s Web users who are exploiting mobility, video, graphics, fonts, and semantic expression. It will see a huge growth of additional people who are getting to use the Web for the first time and substantially enhance their lives.

A W3C agenda in support of a more Global and Accessible Web

We have always focused on a Global and Accessible Web. To start – what is better than open standards? One popular standard we are working on today is HTML5 – part of a suite of standards (including WebApps, SVG, CSS, Geolocation, and others) that are defining an advanced and open Web platform. Closed frameworks lead to walled gardens – which hurts everyone – and particularly hurts those that have less access.

But to achieve this more Global and Accessible Web we can do more. To the extent that some of today’s barriers are economic, it will require economic growth in parts of the world. Some of that will be addressed by advocates such as the Web Foundation. Generally, such a focus is outside of the scope of the W3C.

Technical barriers are within the scope of W3C. In our task force we have received input about a variety of technical areas that would enhance access. The task force is not done, but some of these areas are:

  • Multi-lingual support. There are hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects in the world. They are not equally represented on the Web. What better support can we provide for a multi-lingual world?
  • Mobile and accessible voice applications. How do we make sure that these applications are usable by people with disabilities? How do we make sure they are usable by people with no textual or IT literacy?
  • Simpler authoring approaches. It would be desirable for a larger set of people to not only surf the Web, but also to be able to contribute content to the Web. For the non-technically savvy, for people with disabilities, people with low literacy, voice-based authoring or other tools to support simpler authoring would be attractive.

Within W3C we recognize a need to reach out. Some of the reaching out might result in new areas of technical standardization such as the ones mentioned above. Some might result in new methods of W3C working as a global team. For us to be more globally inclusive we must work differently than we have in the past. Differences in language, culture, time zone, and values must be bridged to allow the Web to reach its full potential.

2 thoughts on “Global and Accessible Web

  1. Thanks you for your post. The World Wide Web as we know it today should and will be improved. There is a lot more to do as you said about speech recognitions, multi lingual websites and knowledge databases. But at this time, can we say that the W3C’s mission about accessibility is already done ? I think there is a lot more to do in this way but it’s on the good way.

    I have one question to ask to the W3C : Do you think that there will be some improvements about the languages we use today to make websites (html, css, javascript) in the next few years ?

    Damien P., CEO of CompareMandataire

  2. Jeff, you have placed your thoughts up against Wired brilhantly and in a simple manner as it can be. Accessible Web is the way to go — those thinking they are on the fast lane and tip of the wave are actually on a too fast lane until they are to far out of border. I used to programm computers with 12k of memory (back in the late 1970´s, when I was just 17ish) and always tried to shrink programs instead of blaming the precarious technology of those jurassic days of punched cards. Never regreted – but I guess it is sadly all about market share plus $$$ isn´t it?

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