Given the fundamental nature of the World Wide Web for communication in all walks of life, and as the share of English web pages decreases and that of languages spoken in the European Union and around the world increases, the importance of ensuring the multilingual viability of the World Wide Web is paramount.
In order to build on current internationalization of the Web and move it forward, it is necessary to raise awareness of existing best practices and standards related to the management of content on the multilingual Web, and look forward to what remains to be done. While doing so, it is important to bring together stakeholders from the various different disciplines that are involved in enabling a multilingual web, so as to ensure that synergies are exploited, to avoid needless duplication of work, and to ensure that initiatives are harmonised and interoperable.
The work of the MultilingualWeb initiative is being driven by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization of around 400 member organizations worldwide from research and industry, headed by the Web's inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It is supported with funding from the European Commission.
The MultilingualWeb project
The MultilingualWeb thematic network project ran from 2010 to 2012. The project was coordinated by W3C/ERCIM. Twenty two partners, representing a wide range of stakeholders, helped to run the project.
At the core of the project were 4 public workshops, held over a two year period, aimed at improving networking between stakeholders, sharing information about existing standards and best practices, and identifying gaps that need to be addressed related to the multilingual Web.
In parallel with, but not funded by, the project, the W3C developed an internationalization checker for HTML, and ported a set of browser tests related to internationalization to the new W3C Test Framework.
The MultilingualWeb-LT project
Building on the success of the original project, a new project is being funded by the European Commission. The work is being carried out at the W3C by the MultilingualWeb-LT Working Group.
This project also spans the various areas involved in making the Web multilingual, and aims to define metadata for web content (mainly HTML5) and "deep Web" content (for example a CMS or XML files from which HTML pages are generated) that facilitates its interaction with multilingual technologies and localization processes. The project will also demonstrate interoperable implementations.
In addition, the MultilingualWeb-LT project will hold a number of public events and working group meetings. It is currently envisaged that some of these events will follow a similar format to the original four MultilingualWeb workshops, bringing together stakeholders from the various multilingual web communities to network and share information about the evolving standards and best practices.
As a result of the 2012 Luxembourg workshop, a W3C Community Group, Multilingual Web Sites, was created. There may be further community groups or other initiative arising from the workshops in the future.
How to participate
Upcoming workshops will be announced via these channels, and will be open for public participation.
If you are able to commit to providing technical support for the MultilingualWeb-LT project, you can also join the Working Group.
Why standards matter
Standards and best practices enable interoperability of data, which in turn maximizes the potential for access to information, ensures longevity and usability of data, and improves the efficiency of processes for producing, localizing and disseminating information.
This project is particularly concerned with increasing interoperability and encouraging coherence across the multilingual Web. Standards provide targets that push applications to consider the requirements for supporting multilingual aspects of the Web for creation, display and management of content.
Important standardization work has already been done or is in progress to establish a base for multilingual deployment of the Web. Organizations such as the W3C and the IETF, for example, have worked on the use of Unicode in Web technologies, roll-out of Internationalized Domain Names, development of standardised language tags, etc., Nevertheless, people producing multilingual content for the Web feel that there remain a number of barriers to full multilingual roll-out of information and tools, and these need to be identified.
These barriers, in a range of areas, reduce efficiency or prevent the work of those attempting to provide a truly multilingual Web experience, affecting the ability to produce, localize, manage and share information and applications on the Web.