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Grandma Gone Surfing

June 27th, 2008

Debbie Heisler has just sent me a link “Internet overhaul wins approval. One of the proposals mentioned catching my eye is that domain names written in Asian, Arabic or other scripts will be supported.

Although it may not be a new idea (for example, 3721.com, now part of Yahoo!, has provided a service of supporting urls in Chinese for years), having local names other than Roman characters is absolutely a good move. About 10 years ago, I was asked to teach one of my father’s colleague on how to use computers; it was a hard job because she didn’t know how to use keyboard, which in turn because she didn’t know what are characters “A”, “B”, “C”. My mom is better: she is now a daily web surfer and she knows Roman characters – but she can never remember English words like “Google”, not to mention google.com. What she does now is to set a hub page as her browser’s homepage, with a Google link on it (and of course, in Chinese). She uses baidu.com, a Chinese counterpart of Google, more frequently than Google, partly because the word “Bai Du”, which literally means “a hundred times”, is much easier for her to remember (on the other hand, Google’s local name “Guge” is almost meaningless).

We people in academia are so used to our (both language and technical) education and sometimes take many things for granted. Two weeks earlier at the Tetherless World Grand Opening, Wendy Hall, the ACM President-elect, had mentioned that in her recent visit to China for the WWW 2008 conference, she was surprised to learn that there is such a huge part of web that is only in Chinese. “Chinese may be the most popular language on the web in the future”, she said. This may or may not become true, but I agree that web technologies should be easier to use and consider internationalization even more.

However, “ease” means differently for different people. When my mom learned to use mouse, she had to use her both hands to control it :) — and she did not give up only because she wanted to use computers to communicate with me. Last weekend, I tried to teach my father-in-law to use computers, he also had a hard time to control the mouse: regular computer users have an _instinct_ to locally relocate the mouse so we never feel “the line is too short”, but he has no such an instinct.

I’m a little off the topic. But what I want to say is that computers should be designed not only for the youth, but also for seniors; not only for English-speaking people, but also for the other 3/4 of people in the world; not only for geeks, but also for grandmas.

As to the Semantic Web, we should also always keep our “users” in mind. Who gonna use semantic web? What things are on the top list we should support? I have been long thinking about this question: as most of our daily web activities are emailing, blogging, calendaring, searching, etc., why there is still no end user oriented semantic tools to help us for such activities? For example, I have tried many “semantic search engines”, e.g., Swoogle, SWSE and Sindice, none of them can be considered end-user oriented: I cannot explain most of their results in RDF to my mom, just for an example. Google is a killer app, as my mom can use it even if she cannot spell “Google” itself. We will need something like that.

Jie Bao

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  1. June 29th, 2008 at 17:03 | #1

    Yeah, i totally agree with you.
    The users must find an advantadge to use an app.
    I would like so to write an article about semantic search engines but i know that my audience will not find the reason why they should use swoogle for example.
    And as you say it when a user come on google he immediately understand what he will find for him, her.

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