In what language will the future of the internet be written?

At a recent event Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addressed the amassed crowd in well-practiced Chinese. Some have claimed that this is Facebook’s way of setting its sights clearly on the ever-expanding Chinese market, but I wonder if Zuckerberg was also making a bold statement around the future of the web.

In Talking Digital we are going to find out why the internet is currently written in English, and why this may not always be the case.

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In Tim Berners-Lee’s original and famous paper outlining his idea for the Internet and HTML, Information Management, a Proposal, he describes hypertext language as: ‘Human-readable information linked together in an unconstrained way’.

But he wasn’t really thinking about non-English-speaking humans. The internet was subsequently designed using English as the standard language, giving a cultural and technological edge to English-speaking developers and innovators.

According to the Global Language Network, developed by MIT, English is the language of choice for the most information on the internet. There are also roughly 4.47 billion web pages on the internet. Every single one of them uses the same HTML building blocks all based on English words.

In 1978 the History of Programming Language Conference first listed the number of computer programming languages at thirteen. At the start of 2015, it’s closer to 8,500 and over a third were developed in English-speaking countries; 2,400 of them developed in the US alone.

But about the rest of the world?

China stands out as the fastest growing economy in the world, and China’s richest man, Jack Ma, is so because of his online eBay-like company, Alibaba. China’s mobile market is booming too, growing by ten times the size in the last five years.

As a result, another Chinese success story is the smartphone manufacturer Xiamo, who famously sell their handsets at just-above cost-price, instead making their profits on software and accessories.

An infographic produced by The Next Web, shows that between 2000 and 2010, English users grew 281 percent to 536.6 million, while Chinese internet users grew 1,277 percent to 444 million. At this rate, they say, China will be the dominant language this year by usage.

The future of the web

The internet has become such a part of our every day lives, affecting how we work, relax and communicate; that it’s difficult to remember that the web is still in its infancy.

As technology grows exponentially, the thirty years the web has been around will be seen as nothing more than the first few tentative steps into the unknown.

So as we look further ahead to ten, fifty and a hundred years, we can’t take any standards for granted. We will always have to adapt and look to what is coming down the line.

This could affect the language of web design, the social standards that web-practices are built on, privacy standards developed on cultural viewpoints and what laws are introduced to the web in accordance with the political leanings of governing bodies.

Mark Zuckerberg famously announced that Facebook’s vision is ‘to connect the world’.

Perhaps Facebook is ready for this, but the rest of the internet may need to do some catching up.

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