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PR-WirelessDevicesNotPCsCriticaltoNextGenGrowth | ... in the spirit of service


(from the list of my contributions to the Africa_web_content_owner (AWCO) list; source: AWCO archives)

Re: [africa_web_content_owner] Press Releases - Wireless Devices, Not PCs, Critical to Next Generation Growth
Apr 19, 2000

Greetings! Permit me to offer a few quick points in this interesting thread:

1. The Angus Reid press release brought to our attention by Dr. Janos did a disservice, I think, by minimizing the issues of languages and literacy for access. Although it is obviously true that providing what I call "physical access" to the web involves essentially technical issues, and their "Face of the Web" report is right to call attention to the importance of wireless devices, I think it is important in this rapidly changing environment to address the issue of "meaningful access." That is, in the vast areas that did not figure in A.R.'s study (including all the continent of Africa outside of Egypt and South Africa), the questions of what languages can be effectively used on the net and whether the average potential user, who may be illiterate or marginally literate only in his/her maternal language, can get anything out of use of this resource, will be critical in determining to what degree the internet can benefit the disadvantaged.

In fact, I would argue that for the internet, issues of "physical access" (the connections and presence of hardware), "meaningful access" (possibilities coming from hardware and software design), content (what is created & presented on the hardware, using the software, over the connections), and the capacities of potential users are not neatly separated. In the face of the global digital divide, then, I would contend that language and literacy are indeed essential concerns if there is to be hope for any degree of equity.

2. I would agree with Christina concerning Mike's idea about local nets. As I understand it, it sounds a little like France's experiment with Minitel a few years ago, except that it is not based on a technology incompatible with the internet.

3. On the other hand there is another possibility that might conceivably make the web in certain countries or cultural areas quasi-separate in practice. That is, if web addresses can eventually be created in using characters outside the current basic Latin ones (or entirely using other writing systems), then people not having knowledge of the languages in which those characters are used would be much less likely to be able to access those addresses than those who do (unless through links or intermediate pages). I am not expert enough to discuss the technical aspects of such a hypothetical development, and am not aware of it being discussed anywhere. But I think it is reasonable to suppose that as things change, one might be able one day to use any Unicode character in internet addresses (& perhaps even combinations from different writing systems?).

All the best!


Donald Zhang Osborn, Ph.D. osborndo@...
consultant @ NRMP-Assistant-Mali@...

Bisharat, a language, technology & development initiative,
is building a website at www.kabissa.org/bisharat &
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