Mobilizing the Web for the Developing World: Inside the World Wide Web Foundation with CEO Steve Bratt, Part 2

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your child has a rash—do I walk a day and a half in this direction to this village or two days in the other direction to the other village?—you are probably willing to wait a minute for an answer. Planting and harvesting is another good example. You can probably wait a minute or two, or even a day, if the answer is going to make your crops grow or die. So we think speed is not such an issue—and that it will grow to meet demand.

X: Are you going to focus on the accessibility projects for now, and go into a phase later where you grow into a grant-making foundation?

SB: No, we’d like to become a grant-making organization right away. We are launching our fundraising campaign this week, with the launch of the foundation. We want to do three or four projects like this, and we will learn a lot from the first two—does our approach make sense for the Web as a whole and for individual and institutional empowerment? We have a lot of other projects we’d like to do, including providing additional funding for W3C and for the Web Science Trust.

X: Does the W3C have trouble raising money on its own for these kinds of projects?

SB: Generally the W3C’s money comes from the annual fees that members pay, so it’s not that scalable. Say we have 400 members paying a certain amount every year; if we want to do 25 percent more work, it’s hard. So there are certain ways we can supplement W3C’s income a little bit that would give them flexibility to start new projects that are important from a social standpoint. Most of the members agree on these things. After all what company would not want to see the potential market increase? Or see a billion new people using the Web?

X: Why was 2008-2009 the right moment to start this foundation? Why not 2000, or 2004?

SB: I know Tim has been thinking about these kinds of things ever since I’ve been at W3C. The Web accessibility initiatives for people with disabilities are a reflection of that. Personally, I felt strongly that I wanted to work on a project and a program that really focused on the people side of things, after focusing on the technology side of things for so long. Another thing is the connectivity problem. We have 25 percent of people using the Internet on computers, and 75 percent with mobile phones. Mobility has been a bigger revolution than the Web itself. So there is this barrier of connectivity, and maybe we can help to fill this gap. The opportunity didn’t exist in 2000, and it only started being noticed in 2004, which was when we started the Mobile Web Initiative and the Mobile Web for Social Development effort.

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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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