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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.

Language image

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.

Beating the polls

If you’re familiar with the concept of Big Data you’ll know that by using special software analysts are able to measure huge amounts of varied data, extremely quickly.

This means that in the next few years measuring the unmeasurable on the web such as emotion, opinion and things that haven’t happened yet, will be an everyday occurrence.

Big DataIf you were staying up on the 7th May, you were probably watching the first UK General Election result come through from Houghton & Sunderland South. It was a labour-hold, but one of a few according to a surprising exit poll. Conducted by the BBC, it illustrated a late-coming Conservative victory.

This was a dramatic change from the earlier opinion polls carried out throughout the election campaigns which almost unanimously called the election ‘too close to call’.

And because they got it so wrong, an inquiry is now being set up into the practices and methodology of professional pollsters – how they do it, how accurate it is, and why we spent so much money doing it.


A recent Guardian article explains how things really changed during the 2008 US Presidential Election. Barack Obama’s successful campaign was heavily backed by a strong and pioneering use of Social Media marketing. Not only was it cheaper than traditional door-to-door canvassing, it was also more personal and could react to events in real time.

This led to targeted, rather than national broadcasting, focussing in on local issues and personal reactions and helped to make people feel more a part of the campaign.

This goes some way to explain why the Conservatives spent £100,000 a month on Facebook.

2020 X-Ray vision

At the time of the next General Election, we will be into the second decade of digital polling. Messages will come to you from the various political parties via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and all the new social networks that will spring up in the next five years.

What’s more, parties will be able to target their messages based upon what they already know about their potential voters: their location, demographic and, according to the same Guardian article, the online newspapers they read, what school they went to and whether they’ve been tweeting about the NHS.

So where does Big Data come into all of this?

In the next five years, we will be seeing companies, industries and countries embrace the ideas around Big Data, and the extraordinary insight it can give – just as long as you are asking the right questions.

Big Data is based around three key principles:

Volume: measuring the huge amounts of data that the web produces every day.

Variety: measuring all sorts of information, from text to pictures to video.

Velocity: collating and analysing this data extremely quickly.

But the real beauty about Big Data is that once you have all this data, you can start to predict the future with a never-before seen degree of accuracy.

As a result, in five years’ time, we may truly know who has won the election before the votes come in.

But if there’s any doubt, we could always stay up until 6am again watching the news.