On-line is one way of making language materials accessible to language communities. Increasingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are taking up the internet as a way of communicating and learning language. For example, Nathan (1999, p6) states:
The number of Australian Indigenous-related websites has grown from about 10 sites in 1994 to 60 in 1996, to over 200 today.
Communities see both benefits and risks in putting their language materials on-line and they vary greatly in their uptake of the internet for language work.
Communities in favour of on-line language work consider that one of its key benefits is that it overcomes the distance and isolation experienced by people who are working on revitalising their languages. They can communicate, work collaboratively and use resources on-line, even when they live many kilometres from each other. Communities in favour of on-line language work consider most language to be open rather than restricted and so they feel comfortable about storing their language materials on-line. Making language materials available on-line is also seen as practical since hard copies, if lost or misplaced, can be easily replaced. Another major benefit is that, while traditional channels and ways of publishing can be limiting for communities, placing language materials on-line is a form of publishing. Through this means of publishing, communities can assert more control over their cultural and intellectual property.
However, some communities, especially those in remote areas, do not have good telephone lines, nor reliable internet access. Also, many community members lack the computer hardware, software and opportunities for skills training to be in a position where they can make an informed decision about whether they wish to take advantage of possibilities that the internet has to offer. Even where on-line storage is possible, some communities have concerns about whether it is really possible to keep their languages safe on the internet. Current on-line projects for Indigenous languages in Australia and other countries make use of tools, such as password protection, to safeguard their materials. Through password protection, materials can be stored in a way which grades or restricts access to those materials, as determined by communities.
Before making any materials available on-line, consultants need to be aware of the situation of particular local community they are working with – the range of technologies available to the community, the skills base and the attitudes and beliefs held by community members.
On-line access to language materials has been successfully encouraged in circumstances where communities have been able to form a dialogue with other Indigenous communities (in Australia or overseas) which already access their language materials on-line. The most effective learning about online storage can occur where there is sharing of knowledge between communities which have first hand experience of it and communities which are considering making their language materials available on-line.
For various reasons, some communities may not wish their language materials to be available on-line, yet they may still be interested in computer technology and keen to develop digital and multimedia products off-line. They prefer formats such as CD-ROM when publishing their language resources. They feel this provides them with more control over physical storage of, and access to, the language resource once it is published.