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Making the World Wide Web More Usable to a Wider World

Chinese youths use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing
Chinese youths use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing

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This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.

The world has almost seven billion people. At least two billion are expected to be on the Internet by January. New growth is mostly from developing countries. Yet only twenty-one percent of their population is online.

A group called the World Wide Web Foundation is working to make the Web more usable to more of the world.

Tim Berners-Lee is the British computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web. He announced the launch of the Web Foundation last November.

The group says many people can access the Web but are unable to use it. The biggest reason is illiteracy.

The latest United Nations report says almost eight hundred million adults are unable to read or write. Even for those who can read, much of the information that is available on the Web is not in a language they can understand.

Steve Bratt is chief executive of the Web Foundation.

STEVE BRATT: "If you're a poor shopkeeper living in a very impoverished part of Botswana and you're trying to feed your family, trying to buy and sell goods, trying to get medical services for your kids or your employees, and you speak a local language, there's nothing on today's Web that's going to help you, right?

"So even if they had connectivity and they had a mobile phone, or something they could get to the Web, what would they look for? What would they be able to understand?"

Tim Berners-Lee first proposed the idea for the World Wide Web in nineteen eighty-nine. This was twenty years after Americans developed the first version of what we know as the Internet.

The Internet is a network of networks. It lets millions of computers communicate with each other. The Web is a major part. However, people now often use applications that are not Web-based, like on social networks and mobile devices like the iPhone.

Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a way to help people share information. His early work brought the Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, used to create Web pages. It also gave us the Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- the HTTP before Web addresses.

By two thousand eight, Google reported that the number of Web pages had passed one trillion. Steve Bratt says the World Wide Web Foundation wants everyone to be able to use this information.

STEVE BRATT: "Our main purpose is to advance the Web to empower people. It's focusing on the Web not just as a technology, but as one of the most powerful means for connecting people to knowledge and people to each other."

Partnerships with the Web Science Trust and the World Wide Web Consortium aim to create applications that make the Web more user-friendly. Steve Bratt says mobile technology is an important part of that work, as more and more people use their phones to go online.

STEVE BRATT: "One of the challenges we have is to make the Web a lot easier to use even on the simplest and least expensive mobile phones."

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.