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Mozilla and mobile operators want to make the web more global and diverse

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Firefox-maker Mozilla and the GSMA mobile operator trade body are teaming up to help develop more non-English content for the web, so as to “positively shape” the future of the mobile web – and they’re looking for others to join them.

As the organizations explained in a Tuesday whitepaper, around 56 percent of current web content is in English, even though that’s the first language of just 5 percent of the world’s population. Some of the most widely-spoken languages are, proportionally speaking, barely represented: 0.8 percent of web content is in Arabic and less than 0.1 percent in Hindi.

That’s obviously largely down to where the web first flourished, but it does represent a big problem for the web’s development. As the whitepaper states:

Even if we solve key issues like access, affordability and efficiency, what will the next wave of users find when they get online? Will it interest them? Will it be a place where they can access and create content that has a meaningful impact on their lives?

The organizations also noted that the emerging markets promise big opportunities for both mobile operators (hence the GSMA’s interest) and challengers to the Google-Apple duopoly (hence the interest of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox OS platform). If there’s more localized mobile content, the logic goes, there’s more opportunity for social development and more money to be made, too.

ZTE OpenSo Mozilla and the GSMA are conducting field tests in Kenya, Brazil, India and Bangladesh, that involve the creation of local content, digital literacy training and the use of low-cost (presumably Firefox OS) smartphones.

The whitepaper is a bit fuzzy on what this work entails, but it does mention Mozilla’s Webmaker tool for authoring smartphone content, and the possibility of mobile operators “exposing their core capabilities through Network APIs to third parties” so as to “position themselves as leaders in innovation and to be a rich source of content to subscribers.” The organizations are looking for device manufacturers, educators, development donors and NGOs to also get involved.

In principle, I do like the sound of this push, particularly as it’s focused on the development and diversification of the open web – mobile web, specifically, but that’s a given when we’re talking about people for whom their smartphone is their first computer. Web content has a lower barrier to entry than apps do, and it also benefits from not being platform-dependent. What benefits users of a Firefox OS device will also benefit users of Android and iOS and Windows Phone devices, as well as those with desktop machines.

What’s more, I firmly believe that a more diverse web will benefit those in the English-speaking world too, by exposing us to different cultures, views and needs. Speaking as a South African, I sometimes feel that web services are mostly geared towards one, western-centric way of life. If this is the case, it’s hardly a surprise that authoritarian leaders decry the internet/web as some kind of western hegemonic plot, even if they’re only using that as an excuse to minimize the threat of unrestricted information to their own positions of power.

A truly diverse and global web would, I’d hope, reduce calls for the fragmentation and censorship of the web. Funnily enough, the more people use it, the less they want to see it clamped down upon. New opportunities tend to have that effect.

5 Responses to “Mozilla and mobile operators want to make the web more global and diverse”

  1. If they wanted to help, ad funded free domains and hosting would be more useful. Not only the value of money is hugely different in developing nations but a lot fewer people have bank accounts ,credit cards, paypal. A much simpler and free way to register a website and host it while fully owning it would help. Sure people can go wordpress or w/e but a wordpress url is a huge turnoff and getting your own domain is a complication. Ofc their ads would have to be minimal and leave room for the site owner to add some .Or they could take a % of all ads for the service. If you look at India, people buy online with pay on delivery or buy apps with carrier payments (although most in India use prepayed) because they don’t have other means of payments so making it a lot easier and cheaper to create a website is fundamental even if it seems that creating a site is already simple and cheap.

    Another problem is that Google search is not great for non english sites ( Bing is is not great even for english sites),. Google could also translate the search term and display results in all languages. For example if i want a review for Meizu MX4, chances are i’ll find plenty in Italian or Russian and lots in Chinese but only a couple in English and if i search for”Meizu MX4 review” i only get results in English and then i have to figure out “Meizu Mx4 recensione” to find results in italian , “Meizu MX4 test” for french results and it only gets a lot more complicated with Russian and Chinese. Would be a hell of a lot easier if Google was smart enough to translate the search term and ofc then translate the page if the user requires it.

    On the other hand, you got a larger audience with English while with most other languages the TAM is a lot smaller and revenue per user also a lot smaller so great auto translation would be nice, to the level that any website is in all languages.

    So to summarize, make it easier and free (cheaper helps but it’s not ideal) , get search engines to not harm them and make machine translation a lot better. The first point is maybe the most important especially if it can bring some easy income to the site owner. Ofc there would be complications with the copyright MAAFIA and gov requests for info and all that.

  2. Good initiative indeed, and ideally would come with local training and potential economic development. Language and translations for specific Arabic or Hindi dialects have always proved an issue and communities using those languages would definitely appreciate to have a proper translated web (I’m thinking for example of the foreigners in the Middle-East who want to keep in touch with family in South-East Asia), current applications take 3-6 months to translate language so they tend to stick to English and communities have to adapt recreating words with “western languages” as you say. I think we’d benefit from more people on the web to share views, in particular from those countries that are leading in jugaad innovation so they can inspire more initiatives around the world, including in Western countries.

    • David Meyer

      Thank you for your comment. I do often wonder how the needs of people in emerging markets will spur new innovations that will benefit those in developed markets too (I suspect energy tech will be a big theme here) and I’m looking forward to finding out.