New Web Foundation pushes social development

Tim Berners-Lee announces the World Wide Web Foundation to help take the Web to underserved communities. The goal of the new Web Foundation is not only to narrow the digital divide through web access, but to empower users with access to mobile technology and other innovations. The foundation will build on the standards effort of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, announced the creation of the World Wide Web Foundation -- an organization aimed at bringing the Web to all people.

Berners-Lee said the World Wide Web Foundation's mission is threefold: To advance One Web that is free and open; to expand the Web's capability and robustness; and to extend the Web's benefits to all people on the planet, Berners-Lee said. Berners-Lee announced the foundation at a ceremony at the Newsuem in Washington on Sept. 14.

"The Web is a tremendous platform for innovation, but we face a number of challenges to making it more useful, in particular to people in underserved communities," said Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and co-director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI). "Through this new initiative, we hope to develop an international ecosystem that will help shape the future Web. A more inclusive Web will benefit us all."

Further, Berners-Lee said the foundation's goal is to enable all people to share knowledge, access services, conduct commerce, participate in good governance, and communicate in creative ways. The foundation will raise funds through a multifaceted strategy, beginning with a $5 million seed grant over five years from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

However, the World Wide Web Foundation is in the initial planning phase and will be formally launched in 2009.

"I would like to invite those who share this vision for the Web to become founding donors," said Steve Bratt, CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation. "With their support, we plan to launch the foundation in early 2009 with an announcement of the first concrete steps toward fulfilling its mission."

During his speech introducing the foundation, Berners-Lee described some of the thinking that went into the formation of the initiative:

"It became apparent that for all the interesting work being done around the Web, the analysis and engineering of the Web itself - humanity connected - was not recognized as an object of study. We did not have the right journals for research results, nor the right courses. A few of us at MIT and at Southampton University in the UK realized we had to define a new field, Web Science, and make it happen."

Moreover, Berners-Lee said: "The Web has been largely designed by the developed world for the developed world. But it must be much more inclusive in order to be of greater value to us all. Fortunately, we are headed in that direction. Web Science has as a goal that the Web should serve humanity. W3C's standards are engineered so that the Web remains accessible to people with disabilities, and does not have an inherent bias towards any particular language, writing direction, or culture. As part of ensuring that the Web meets the needs of more people, W3C recently started new work in two areas: eGovernment, and the role of mobile technology in developing economies."

In addition, "The role of mobile technology in the poorest regions of the world merits particular attention," Berners-Lee said.

Foundation officials said social development efforts will focus initially on underserved populations. And the Web Foundation will help drive access to relevant, useful content to underserved communities. The foundation will also will develop services for better health care, nutrition, education, and emergency relief.

"The free flow of information is of paramount importance to communities in a democracy and maintaining the World Wide Web free is critical for the future of that free flow," said Alberto Ibarguen, Knight Foundation's president and CEO, in a statement. "Knight Foundation's interests and those of the World Wide Web Foundation perfectly intersect and we are delighted to be their seed donor."

Meanwhile, shedding additional light on the foundation's direction, Berners-Lee said:

"My colleagues and I have identified three avenues - technology innovation, Web Science, and the application of the Web for the benefit of underserved communities - that we believe lead to the next phase of the Web. However, these avenues require significant collaborative efforts, worldwide, by all those who seek to fulfill the original vision of the Web: humanity connected by technology."

By Darryl K. Taft

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