I printed last week the Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance, and finally got around to reading it. The Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was set up pursuant to goals set out at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which I attended in December of 2003 while working at the World Health Organization (WHO). The WSIS is the reason my email address is now the target of Piles of SPAM (POS), because the People In Charge (PIC) at the WSIS thought it a Good Idea (GI) to Publish My Email Address (PMEA) on the WSIS Web Site (WSISWS), thus resulting in an Endless Stream Of Nigerian Scam Letters (ESONSL).
The report lays out a set of proposals for a more inclusive approach to internet governance. It's a very odd document, and I'll have more comments on it tomorrow, but what seemed particularly strange was their insistence on the importance of multilingualism in order to improve inclusiveness.
To be frank, I can't think of a way to make the internet LESS inclusive than to emphasize multilingualism, thus recreating in digital form our language-balkanized physical world.
I have a unique perspective on this. I'm a programmer. I've worked on a regular basis with people from India, Pakistan, China, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, France, Germany, Spain, Cameroon, Senegal, Egypt, Italy, and valleys in Switzerland where the Schweize Deutsche is so odd that even Swiss Germans in other valleys don't understand it. We could work together because we all spoke, and read, English.
English pervasiveness in Information Technology runs deeper than just human interactions. Programming languages are all based on English. Most documentation is released in English first, and other languages second (and on that note, most of my French-speaking Swiss colleagues favored the English version, because the French version made mistakes or used words that seemed odd to them). This greatly streamlines the development process, and I would consider it of equal importance to the spread of global telecommunications networks as a driver of a global marketplace for computer technology skills.
Now, apply that lesson to internet governance. The WGIG recommends the creation of a new space for dialogue for all stakeholders on an equal footing on all Internet governance-related issues. It goes on to note that existing mechanisms do not sufficiently take into account geographic balance and linguistic diversity. In other words, they want a) a lot more people talking in a big room about internet related issues who are b) all speaking in their own language. The San Diego Zoo would be less cacophonous.
I also wonder if non-Latin character set domains (and by implication, email addresses) are such a great idea, though that cat's already out of the bag (and if its anything like my former cat, she's already a couple blocks away getting in a fight with a cat far bigger than she). It's possible to register Chinese domains in Chinese characters. Most of the non-Chinese world, however, won't be able to visit these locations without a plugin, which means they won't visit them at all. Granted, those sites are probably IN chinese, which means they weren't targeted at a global audience, anyway.
I'd be more concerned with a Chinese email address. I could easily see someone sending me an email, and then having no way to put it in my smartphone.
Of course, standardizing on English is very easy for me, as I'm an English speaker. I'm not the one forced to use a language that isn't my mother tongue. On the other hand, the benefits of standardization on ONE language are obvious in the computer industry. Why not use a language that a large percentage of the world already understands, even if it's as a second language?
If inclusiveness is truly the goal of the WGIG, I think extending the lessons of the computer industry into internet governance is an obvious first step.