To protect a free and open web, citizens need to understand their gateways to the Internet. If web browsers don’t operate in local languages, then a web user’s relationship with the Internet is troubled at best, and the social commitment necessary to protect a free and open web is weak. With a local language in place, users feel ownership of their Internet – and want to protect it.
Knowing this need to deliver an official Khmer web browser to Cambodia’s rapidly growing web citizenry, EWMI, Mozilla, and the Khmer localization team in Phnom Penh joined together to reenergize – and complete – the stalled localization effort of the Firefox web browser. As of January 2012, a localization process several years in the making was finally accomplished: the most popular web browser in Cambodia was officially transformed into Khmer Firefox.
The Mozilla Corporation, and the Foundation that guides it, support the makers and doers of Internet freedom through the hands-on, transparent, and participatory principles of Open Source software. This philosophy is appreciated by many young Internet users, such as the youth of Cambodia who choose the Firefox browser over the alternatives by a ratio of more than 3 to 1. John O’Duinn, the director of release engineering at Mozilla – and responsible for shepherding the 93 languages of Firefox’s 450 million users worldwide – explains the approach simply: “We just want people talking and sharing on a free and open web.”
Internet use is exploding in Cambodia, with the number of Facebook users last year reaching more than a quarter million – a two thousand percent increase from the year before. This dramatic growth, however, is taking place in an environment increasingly hostile to Internet freedom, with a recent crackdown on free expression followed by a pending new Cyber Crimes Law. With an awareness that localization builds advocates of a free and open web, in September 2011 EWMI and Mozilla co-hosted Open Cambodia: an event that brought the human rights elements of civil society in contact with the coders and developers of the private sector, sparking dialogue and tool-building among these one hundred web leaders to strengthen the constituency of Internet freedom. Drawing on the knowledge and enthusiasm of Mozilla, and the training expertise of the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington in Seattle, Open Cambodia successfully bridged the private sector and civil society, and re-ignited the development of Khmer Firefox.
Four months later, in January 2012, Mozilla’s John O’Duinn returned to Cambodia for the first time in six years, and hosted a final localization design session at the EWMI offices in Phnom Penh. Building on the momentum of Open Cambodia, O’Duinn worked with the localization team led by Eng Vannak to understand the process and prepare the final few hundred strings of code. By the end of January, a six year journey was complete: Khmer Firefox was officially submitted to Mozilla to become the 94th language, joining half a billion other local users worldwide.