Internationalization (I18N) leadership change and goals for the future

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Photo of flags of the world by Vladislav Klapin on Unsplash

At the end of 2023 W3C staff members Richard Ishida and Fuqiao Xue were running the internationalization work of the Consortium. When Richard transitioned to semi-retirement on 1 January, 2024, Fuqiao Xue took over the role of Internationalization Lead, and is now the contact point for all internationalization related activity at W3C. Richard has reduced his time commitment, and will focus largely on the aspects of the work related to Language Enablement.

Internationalization is making the World Wide Web worldwide. The Web needs to work for anyone who speaks any language or writes in any script.
Internationalization is designing content, applications, technologies and specifications in a manner that they can be adapted to all languages and writing systems. It makes it possible for people throughout the world to use the Web in their own language and feel natural about it. I18N isn't translations and localization although it sets up the architecture to provide them. It is really a design paradigm. One that sets out to deliver the promise that the Web breaks down geographical barriers.
Internationalization is about communication. It counters the digital divide, fosters digital economy and individual development, it promotes cultural understanding, inclusivity. I18N is one of the pillars of the Web for All.

Richard joined the W3C Team in 2002 with a background in translation and interpreting, computational linguistics, translation tools, and global user interface design. He had become involved in Internationalization by learning various languages -- French, then Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, and Japanese, choosing languages with the aim of communicating with a large proportion of the earth’s inhabitants. Coming from Xerox, where he received a corporate award for the Xerox product development process, Richard provided services and training in international design and localizability of user interfaces and documents. Over the years at W3C, Richard introduced outreach activities to the internationalization work, and then went on to develop, in phases, a robust gap-analysis framework to document and figure out which specific issues need fixing. The framework can be applied to all the languages we are investigating. Gap-analysis documents describe gaps, give them a priority, and point to specifications, tests, etc. This is complemented by a suite of GitHub issue lists, an issue tracker page, and a notification system that sends one email a day to subscribers related to their area of interest, and contains links to issues that have changed in the framework repositories, or those of CSS, HTML, or other W3C working groups. This allows individuals who use the Web like you and me to easily and quickly contribute. This is what Richard wants to achieve: language enablement.

To appreciate the place it holds within Internationalization work at W3C, you need to understand that three axes are critical to achieving progress in making the World Wide Web truly worldwide:

  1. Language enablement is a framework through which gaps are identified relating to how well languages or writing systems are supported on the Web. The gaps are then mapped out as areas to fix or typographic features to support so more languages win more shares of the Web, thus enabling participation by more people.
  2. Developer support enables the creation of standards and applications that support a global Web. It consists of advice and guidelines or focus projects that help other W3C groups, notably best practices for spec developers. Review of all specifications produced by other W3C groups is done as part of this to make sure they work for all around the globe.
  3. Education and outreach helps people create content in their own language, or create content that will be localized. It includes an online validator, test suites, and the creation and dissemination of educational materials to help authors, developers and users understand and use I18N features.

Watch Richard present "Making the World Wide Web worldwide" in a 15 minute video. Then see the W3C standards and drafts tagged with I18N.

Fuqiao Xue joined the W3C Team in 2017 and the first project he worked on was CLReq, which set out to document requirements for Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and discussed Chinese layout requirements with a number of technologists and linguists from Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and other regions. The work is still ongoing but the results are documented as an evergreen document. Interested in languages and writing systems since childhood, Fuqiao learned more and more about Internationalization and began to understand its importance. Fuqiao wants more experts, both technical and linguistic, to get involved and help us ensure that the Web meets local needs around the world.

"Languages are more than just a means of communication," said Fuqiao Xue. "They are vessels of culture, carrying with them traditions, stories, knowledge, and ways of understanding the world that have been passed down through generations."

Like Web accessibility, Internationalization needs to be built from day one because it can be very expensive and time consuming to retrofit. It's also good to develop in more than one language at a time to do it well and thoroughly. We're familiar with the notion that there are costs to non-conformance, but there are also opportunities in further breaking the language barriers. The best one is bridging the digital divide within and between countries. Another is leveling the playing field of market dominance. As internet penetration and digital literacy increase in regions like Asia and Africa, non-English content and platforms will gain prominence. 2024 is the 30th year of the Internet in China. Thanks to Internet penetration, there's been an increase in netizens and speed, as well as the emergence of non-English markets. Consider that of all the country levels, the .cn domain has the most domain names registrations.

To conclude, Internationalization of the Web is where communication meets emerging technologies and platforms, and where people all over the world connect. The scope of work is immense and the potential is exciting. To produce the change we want to our Web, we need people like you to step up to participate and work through the issues.

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