World Web Foundation Finally Launches

In September of 2008, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, announced his latest venture, the World Wide Web Foundation. Today, just over a year later, the organization is officially starting its operations.

The Web Foundation’s aims to go beyond the standards that Berners-Lee’s W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) develops to work on social and technology programs to bring the Web to more people all around the world.

“The whole mission of the Web Foundation is to advance the Web as a medium for empowerment for people and helping them to make positive changes in their communities and lives,” Steve Bratt, CEO of the Web Foundation, told “My interest is that we need to take a step closer to people and institute new programs that work directly with people to address current barriers to using the Web.”

Bratt joined the Web Foundation in June of this year after previously working as the CEO of the W3C. He noted the importance of standards, and said that the mission of the Web Foundation is complementary to the W3C, and will help to further the growth of the Web as a whole.

According to Bratt, only 25 percent of the world’s population currently uses the Web, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make it accessible to the other 75 percent.

With its official launch as an operating entity today, the Web Foundation is kicking off two projects. One is a partnership with VU University Amsterdam (VU) in the Netherlands as part of the Web Alliance for Re-greening in Africa (W4RA). The other is a joint initiative with the Brazil-based Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI) to promote Web literacy.

“The first two projects do a good job of illustrating what we believe to be needed to accelerate the growth and value of Web,” Bratt said.

He explained that with the W4RA effort, the Web Foundation will help African farmers learn to use the Web to access agricultural information.

While most people tend to think of the Web as a visual medium requiring a computer screen and the ability to read, the Web Foundation effort is approaching the Web as a voice medium.

Local African farmers will use their mobile phones to access information by way of the W3C’s VoiceXML standard. Bratt noted the cell phone GPRS infrastructure is established across much of Africa, providing a basis on which the VoiceXML Web services can be delivered.

“The way VoiceXML works is that you create a Web site and provide a VoiceXML interface and then you just interact with it like a call center,” Bratt said. “The data is stored in XML and can be stored and served on a regular Web site. It can also work in response to voice commands. All of this is done in an open ecosystem on the Web as opposed to a closed proprietary system.”

The Web Foundation has initially been funded with $5 million in seed money from the Knight Foundation. Bratt noted that that funding is for operations and that the group is now starting its own fundraising campaign.

Some of those new-found funds could end up with the W3C as standards efforts sponsored by the Web Foundation.

“We do believe strongly in the work of the W3C and our hope is that we can raise money to be able to supplement W3C’s current income, especially to work in areas that are underfunded now,” Bratt said.

Areas that Bratt considers to be underfunded today include guidelines to help improve the Web for those with low literacy, as we well as the internationalization of the Web.

The effort to open up the Web to languages beyond the Latin alphabet is a key goal for the group that oversees the Internet’s naming system. ICANN is now actively engaged in with its Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) rollout. Starting today, ICANN is accepting applications for top-level domains in non-Latin character alphabets. Bratt is supportive of the ICANN IDN initiative, though the Web Foundation itself is not directly involved in standards efforts.

“We want to support W3C, we won’t do standards at all internally,” Bratt said. “Any work that we fund in standards will be done with other organizations with W3C being the main one.”

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