The last few decades have witnessed some of the most rapid changes in human communication in world history. Though the internet was barely known a quarter of a century ago, today some 1.5 billion people around the world read, write and communicate online (Miniwatts Marketing Research 2008). An estimated 55 billion emails are sent every day, not including spam (Grossman 2008), and the blogging search engine Technorati is tracking some 133 million blogs around the world (Technorati 2008). From knowledge workers to ofﬁce staff to teenage youth, large numbers of people around the world rely extensively on computer-mediated communication. A disproportionate amount of this global communication is conducted in English.
More than half of the .com and .net internet sites in the world are hosted in the US (Paolillo 2005), and the nine most heavily visited websites in the world are all in English (Alexa 2008). An estimated 29.4 per cent of world internet users are native speakers of English (Miniwatts Marketing Group 2008), and English has become the dominant lingua franca for cross-language communication online (Crystal 2001; Paolillo 2005). Online communication is different than previous forms of interaction in many important
ways. Online, large numbers of people from around the world can interact at the same time in a single forum. While interacting at a fast pace, they can still maintain a written archive of their communication. People can quickly encounter and get to know large numbers of strangers, and they can stay in constant close communication with friends at almost all hours of the day. They can publish their reports or multimedia documents for virtually free, and they can hotlink parts of their texts to link to the words of others. For all of these reasons, online communication is engendering its own styles, genres
and forms of English. Some people contend that it is resulting in the bastardization of English, the ruining of standards, and the misinformation of the public, while others contend that it is democratizing English by extending new forms of low-cost interaction, collaboration, and publishing to native and non-native English speakers around the world. While there are certainly elements of truth in both arguments, there is no doubt
that online Englishes are challenging prior notions of who the language belongs to, whose voices are heard, and who contributes to knowledge formation and dissemination.