Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/sun/31221IInternetBias.html
World is wired, but Internet isn't truly global
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
December 21, 2003
By Anick Jesdanun
GENEVA - Rahul Dewan typed "India" into the search box of an
online stock photo service, hoping to find digital images of his native country.
He found only three - all of flags.
Dewan then typed "Switzerland," a country smaller than his, and found 33, while
"USA" returned 72.
His demonstration underscores a major challenge in getting the developing world
online: Even with access, the Internet remains meaningless to most of the
world's population, its Web sites heavy in English and reflecting a Western
Dewan, managing director of the New Delhi software company Srijan Technologies,
ultimately settled for Western faces and hands on his Web site, after failing to
find Indian images he could use or a similar photo service catering to Indians.
So much for promoting his company as a homegrown business. "They probably think
this company belongs to somebody in the USA," Dewan lamented at last week's U.N.
information technology summit. "Everything caters to the Western audience."
Compelling information needed
People and organizations who work on connecting villages and schools throughout
the world say their work only begins with providing Internet access and teaching
people how to use computers. There must be compelling information, in native
languages and mindful of local traditions and distinctions, such as audio and
illustrations for the illiterate.
"Getting technology into people's hands is one thing. Getting people to use it
is key," said Daniel Wagner, International Literacy Institute director at the
University of Pennsylvania.
Much of the Web is built by private ventures - mostly in the West and mostly
targeting where they believe the money is: the industrialized world.
As a result, there's little specific to developing countries, which remain
largely offline. According to the U.N. International Telecommunication Union, 70
percent of Internet users live in countries that make up only 16 percent of the
African languages almost nil
Some delegates to last week's U.N. World Summit on the Information Society
complained that even when Web sites aren't in English, they are usually in
French, Spanish or one of a handful of other languages common in the
Adama Samassekou, Mali's former minister of education, said languages spoken by
millions of Africans, including Mandingo and Kiswahili, are virtually
With more than 95 percent of Pakistan's literacy base in Urdu, the Internet is
relevant to only the country's elite 5 percent, said Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari,
Pakistan's minister of information and technology.
The solution involves more than translating English sites.
To address illiteracy, South Africa is developing speech recognition,
text-to-speech and other voice technologies, starting in Zulu. An open source
model will let others adapt the tools for additional languages at little cost.
Sherrin Issac, a policy director at South Africa's Department of Science and
Technology, said many existing, Western technologies are inadequate - one voice
compression algorithm, for instance, drops some "clicks" in conversations,
changing the meaning of words.
Bulgaria, South Korea and other countries, meanwhile, are producing government
sites in native languages. But Internet users often must type English addresses
to reach them.