Generations of web and accessibility

PUBLISHED: June 11th, 2009

The web have passed several generations of use and usage during the last 10-15 years. And as the web have evolved so have the expectations to what we use and can do on the web as mainstream. We see that each invention is just adding to what is already there, new services leads to new sites and information domains as the old ones in principal stays the same, or adopts some of the new features. In my view the web is now moving into its third generation, and we see the contours of the fourth generation. With the perspective that the web is a tool for knowledge sharing, and not a glossy brochure for marketing…

First generation:

The web is used for publishing of information, where the majority of users are consumers.

Second generation:

Producing information is much easier, and tools for sharing and producing information is easily available, the users are not only consumers – they are also producers. Producing and sharing information on the web is done with many different tools, all with an on-line awareness, the emerging realisation that not everything have to be done within the web-browser. Examples on tools used for publishing information could be twitter, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Wiki’s, blogs etc. All of these provide many different tools for producing content and for viewing the content.

Third generation:

The way we are producing information is changeing, we are collaborating more, and we are using the web as collaborative tool. We collect information from a variety of sources, mash these together, and we collaborate in developing content, not only text but also rich content.

Fourth generation: – this is more guessing –

The fourth generation of web will we see when we start doing things together on the web, not collaborating but sharing experiences, particpating in events. This could be virtual environments where we see new awareness technologies providing similar surroundings and where we could interact and share experiences and knowledge in new ways.

Web generations made simple

  1. Consume
  2. Produce
  3. Collaborate
  4. Participate

And how is this related to accessibility, and what challenges do I see related to accessibility?

First generation web:

This gave us the W3C/WAI/WCAG with a sender perspective on what information to put into the syntax submitted to the browser and tools used for rendering the information, and hoping that the receiver had tools (Assistive technology) to use and facilitate this information.
In this continuum we also find the Individualised adaptability work carried on by IMS-Global as AccLip and AccMd and later ISO/IEC 24751:2008. Where we have changed the perspective into a receivers perspective, with a set of personal preferences for how the information should be presented to meed my accessibility needs.

Second generation web:

As more tools emerged for browsing and producing information, the consumption-only-perspective of WCAG needed to be updated, and we got the WCAG2.0, and to meet the general production of information there is also an increased focus on the W3C/WAI/ATAG2 specification, which ensures that tools used for producing content is accessible, and that the content produced is also accessible. To put it simply ATAG is for input and WCAG is for the output of information.
As the web become more rich on content, and a combination of content, and dynamic update on content on a page – we got the work on W3C/WAI/ARIA

New parts are also being added to the ISO/IEC 24751 series of standards, we are also planning a revision of this standard to better meet a dynamic changing environment.

Third generation web:

When collaborating there is several accessibility challenges and to mention a few:

  • How should a system adopt to collaborators with different preferences and needs, if in a voice chat how to adjust to a user who prefer a text chat? How should the systems adopt, and how should the system inform the other participants about the change of “mode of operandi”.
  • How should more visual collaboration tools be made accessible, such as project management, work flow, story boarding, image processing, vide processing etc.
  • How to ensure a highest possible level of accessibility in a collaborative environment, how to notify usergroups that these specific activities are not accessible, and therefore are you excluded?
  • How describe collaborative processes in such a way that users with different needs could participate as equally as possible?
Fourth generation web:

This could be like providing olfactory information, tactile information embedded in the computer environments.
I’m not sure – I don’t know – your guess is as good as mine…

To summarise:

The current generation of web will always be the sum of all other generations pluss the new things – the same goes for accessibility, to ensure that we have accessibility – we need to provide both syntactical accessibility, as well as adaptations, as well as alternative representations of content, on all the devices we are using to access information. And we need collaborative systems that adapts and change mode to ensure that no one is left behind.


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