The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international group of Internet researchers, software developers, computer manufacturers, and universities founded by the pioneer of the Internet's World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, in 1994. Berners-Lee established the W3C in collaboration with the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) and initially received support from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and the European Commission.
The goal of the W3C is to help the World Wide Web (also known as the Web) evolve by developing common languages and formats that will allow users with different hardware and software to enjoy similar features of the Web. In essence, its objective is to make the Web accessible to all and not dependent on the technology of any single company. Consequently, the consortium serves as one the Web's governing bodies. The consortium is backed by a variety of companies including rivals such as Microsoft and Netscape, but it remains vendor neutral in keeping with the philosophy of the World Wide Web.
Three universities—Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT/LCS), the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA), and the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus (KEIO)—host the consortium, representing the United States, Europe, and Japan, respectively.
The consortium's basic organization—called a team—includes a director, a chairman, an advisory committee, and staff. Berners-Lee still heads the W3C as the director and Jean-Francois Abramatic serves as the W3C's chairman. The team works out of the three host universities. The consortium's some 300 members—including America Online, Apple Computer, AT&T, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft—fund its operations. Although the W3C includes members from many different industries as well as for-profit and nonprofit companies and organizations from around the world, it is not an open group. Instead, members must pay fees to join and membership is not available to individuals. Because of its closed-door policies and its power to determine the fate of the Web, critics have argued that the W3C should become an open group and adopt more democratic policies, according to the Technology Review. Nevertheless, the W3C's members are generally satisfied with consortium's ability to help members reach agreements and implement standards. Moreover, the W3C has attempted to work more with outside companies, organizations, and experts.
The World Wide Web is the information distribution "service" of the Internet where information is stored, linked together, presented, and retrieved. The Web also supports multimedia: graphics, music, and video. The Internet is the network of computer networks through which users can access the Web. Prior to the development of the Web, the Internet was largely used by academia and the military in part because it was difficult to navigate, forced users to download all information they wanted read, and lacked links to related items. But Berners-Lee conceived of software and protocols (commands and sequences used by computers to communicate in networks) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which became known as the World Wide Web when implemented.
This combination of software and protocols can support multimedia as well as hypertext, text that is connected in a nonlinear order, allowing users to browse through a group of related topics in whatever order they choose. In addition, the Web also uses uniform resource locators (URLs), which are unique addresses of the sites or documents on the Web and the Web enables users to peruse information online. Perhaps the most dramatic piece of software that helped skyrocket the popularity of the World Wide Web is the Web browser, which was developed in 1993. With the advent of the Web and the Web browser, business use of the network increased exponentially as businesses hurried to set up company Web sites. In 1993 there were only two business Web sites, but by May 1999 more than 4,600,000 company domains were registered, according to the organization Domainstats.
Because other standards bodies exist for the Internet such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the W3C concentrates mostly on the user interface of the Web and the architecture of the Web, which refers to the Web's infrastructure. This area encompasses defining the Web, Web documents, and the protocols for accessing and disseminating Web documents. Furthermore, the consortium also addresses issues of intellectual ownership of Web documents, rating systems for Web documents, and Internet privacy.
The W3C provides a venue for members to discuss and negotiate issues related to the Web and the consortium assists members by hosting discussions and helping members reach agreements, plan meetings, and develop consistent and timely approaches to improving and advancing the World Wide Web. The W3C strives to help bring about consensus among its members and its negotiation process requires participants to address other participants' perspectives and objections in an effort to resolve disputes and help members reach agreements.
To promote a standardized Web, the consortium tries to develop common specifications for the World Wide Web to enable companies and organizations to develop Web technology in their own fields. Because Web technologies change quickly, the W3C maintains a flexible process of adopting new features for the World Wide Web or new policies for the consortium itself.
The consortium's efforts to standardize the Web usually involve encouraging members to compromise and reach agreements about patenting and licensing their products. Members often license their Web technologies to each other at no cost in exchange for free licensing rights to the technology of other members.
When the consortium involves itself in an aspect of Web technology or policy, it launches an "activity" in that area, which means it allocates resources and staff to that area. The director proposes activities and the W3C's advisory committee reviews the proposal. Based on the recommendations of the committee, the consortium makes a decision as to whether it should initiate the activity. If the W3C decides to launch an activity, it will form groups to carry it out.
In addition, the W3C is charged with approving new Web authoring languages and developing Web standards. Furthermore, it offers the public a library of information and Web specifications helpful for developers and users, sample codes, and demonstration software to showcase new technology.
In the late 1990s the W3C approved two new Web protocols: extensible markup language (XML) and document object model level one (DOM). Based on hypertext markup language (HTML)—the original language for Web development—as well as HTML's predecessor, standard generalized markup language (SGML), XML promises to be the next-generation Web authoring language. XML allows users to create Web sites with different segments that are structured in different ways, which is difficult to do using HTML. DOM is a Web interface that is not dependent on a specific Web authoring language or computer platform and is designed for revising the content and layout of Web sites. DOM enables developers to create language-independent software, too. Both Microsoft and Netscape plan for their 5.0 Web browsers to support DOM.
[ Karl Heil ]
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——. "XML Gets Nod from the W3C." PC Week, 16 February 1998, 24.
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"World Wide Web Consortium Process Document." Available from www.w3.org/Consortium/Process/#GAProcess .