Steve Bratt, CEO of New World Wide Web Foundation, Details Plans To Make the Web More Usable in the Developing World

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talking about the universality of the Web. So the foundation is a direct reflection of Tim’s desire to make the Web a more democratic space for everybody. We talked about just having the W3C expand, maybe by having a research group and an in-the-field group, but sometimes it’s better to keep to your mission, and W3C is focused on the technical aspects of Web standards. We can focus on the problems people have and the challenges, and hopefully help organizations like W3C or the Web Science Trust work on research and standards to address those needs.

X: How long has the foundation been in the works, and where did the idea come from?

SB: I would say in 2007 we started talking about what more we could do. By April of 2008 we had presented the idea for the World Wide Web Foundation to the W3C advisory committee. We had a lot of support—they thought it was a great idea, and that it was good for it to be separate. Then, May 2008 was when we had our first contact with the Knight Foundation. They are all about the future of news and journalism, and they believe the Web is critical to the future of not just the profession but the whole notion of how you convey information to people. So that was really quite miraculous that we made that connection, and that they shared our vision of the Web as an empowering agent. In September they announced a seed grant of $5 million over five years. We got the first payment on that in January of this year. And finally, I left my job at W3C in July.

X: Why was it so important for the foundation to be a separate entity?

SB: W3C itself is a complicated organization. It’s actually a partnership between MIT and a European consortium called ERCIM and Keio University; that is the legal basis. So already, there was that complication of how do you create a new non-profit entity. But also, from a business point of view, W3C does a good job and people in the technical areas appreciate what they’re doing. Here at the foundation we can focus on things that people believe in, things that people think are important. We don’t have to take on all the controversies in the world right away, but we definitely want to take up challenges that people are not paying attention to.

A good example would be putting more money into things like internationalization, which is something that all the W3C members think is important, but they don’t have a lot of resources to put into it. Also accessibility and making the Web more available for people with low reading skills. A billion adults in the world can’t read, so a written Web isn’t going to be used by them.

X: What are the issues where you think the foundation can make the biggest difference?

SB: A lot of people are working on global Internet connectivity and on getting laptops and other hardware into developing countries. Those things are important, but what’s driven the Web revolution has really been … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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