A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the Internet has made global collaboration possible, and how awesome that is. I should note, however, that global accessibility is not without its drawbacks, namely: it’s really difficult to communicate on a global level.
Even with a country full of people who understand English, it can be hard to communicate on a national level, thanks to differences in regional dialects and the widely varied ethnic and racial backgrounds of the citizenry. When you’re trying to communicate with the whole world, though, you have to take into account more than just different languages; you also have to consider cultural differences, from a group’s beliefs to their attitudes to their values.
As found in a study by Mazaheri et al., different cultures can respond very differently to the same site, because those cultures value different things. To be successful with a Chinese audience, for example, a site should focus on giving the user a sense of control and dominance. If the target audience is Canadian, however, the site will be better served by a focus on enhancing the user’s sense of pleasure.
These cultural differences can not be avoided, and they make universal web design all but impossible.
This is actually one key reason that Facebook is so interesting to me, and why it is the subject of my research proposal for my Research Methods course this term. Facebook is the most-visited site on the Internet, ranked even above Google. I would love to know how Facebook has become so universal despite the incredible variations in its massive user base, and I think the ubiquity of the site needs to be studied. If anyone has come close to creating a universally accessible site, it’s Facebook, and I think there’s a lot to be learned by studying the design of the site.
Are there any other sites that come close to achieving universal accessibility? Do you think universal design is possible?