DERI is a W3C member, so one of the perks of studying here is getting nominated for W3C membership. Yesterday I got my W3C account. While I’ve yet to explore the Member area, I’ve been thoroughly briefed on the dissemination and confidentiality policies.
18 months ago, I wrote about the W3C for Wendell Piez‘s Document Processing class. This particular assignment was to research a standard or standards organization, and to prepare a wiki page summarizing it for our colleagues. I’ve shared this below. Among other things, it shows what (little) I know about the W3C to date.
March 15, 2008 (with markup revisions)
Who are they? What does the acronym stand for?
W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, is an international membership organization founded in 1994. Their mission: “To lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the Web.”
How are they organized? Who pays for their operations?
The Members—over 400 organizations in 40 countries—pay the bills for the W3C. The W3C also has a Team of 68 full-time staff headed by founding director Tim Berners-Lee (http://www.w3.org/Consortium/about-w3c.html). Management and Oversight functions are provided by an Advisory Committee (a representative body of the Members), an Advisory Board, a Technical Architecture Group, and Host Institutions. Further details about Membership and Oversight are available below.
What does the W3C do? What are their most important standards and what sorts of standards do they create?
The W3C “develops open specifications (de facto standards) to enhance the interoperability of web-related products.” Webstandards.org
The W3C’s best-known standards (‘Recommendations’) are HTML, XML, CSS, and xHTML. XSL and XSLT are also W3C Recommendations. Many XML-related technologies are also Recommendations of the W3C. See the full list of W3C Recommendations.
How do they go about creating these standards?
Specifications originate from Working Groups and pass through a multi-step process in order to become a W3C Recommendation:
- Working Draft (WD)
- Candidate Recommendation (CR)
- Proposed Recommendation (PR)
- Recommendation (REC)
During this process, Working Groups are expected to publish a new draft at least every 3 months under the heartbeat rule. Frequent publication allows for early, frequent feedback, and the Working Group is expected to attend to issues raised by the community. Public comment, as well as the endorsement of W3C Members and the W3C Director, are an important part of the Recommendation Track.
“The W3C Recommendation Track process is designed to maximize consensus about the content of a technical report, to ensure high technical and editorial quality, and to earn endorsement by W3C and the broader community.” The Organizational Process document provides details about the documents produced on the Recommendation Track:
“Working Draft (WD)
A Working Draft is a document that W3C has published for review by the community, including W3C Members, the public, and other technical organizations.
Candidate Recommendation (CR)
A Candidate Recommendation is a document that W3C believes has been widely reviewed and satisfies the Working Group’s technical requirements. W3C publishes a Candidate Recommendation to gather implementation experience.
Proposed Recommendation (PR)
A Proposed Recommendation is a mature technical report that, after wide review for technical soundness and implementability, W3C has sent to the W3C Advisory Committee for final endorsement.
W3C Recommendation (REC)
A W3C Recommendation is a specification or set of guidelines that, after extensive consensus-building, has received the endorsement of W3C Members and the Director. W3C recommends the wide deployment of its Recommendations. Note: W3C Recommendations are similar to the standards published by other organizations. ”
Recommendations may also become Rescinded Recommendations, and Working Groups may decide to abort work and publish a Working Group Note annotating their work to date (alternatives to Recommendations).
The W3C also publicizes selected content from their constituents, without endorsing this content. See Team Submissions and Member Submissions These submissions are not standards.
W3C’s work is organized into the 21 areas, called Activities. Activity summaries and homepages are a rich source of information about ongoing work of the W3C.
Who does this standards work?
Working Groups do much of the standards work of the W3C. Working Groups primarily consist of Member repesentatives and Team representatives; Invited Experts may also participate. Designated individuals work as Chair and Team Contact for these small groups “(typically fewer than 15 people)”. Typically, Working Groups last for 6 months to 2 years. Working Groups “typically produce deliverables (e.g., Recommendation Track technical reports, software, test suites, and reviews of the deliverables of other groups).” Working Groups are constituted when the W3C Director, currently Tim Berners-Lee, issues a Call for Participation, providing the Advisory Committee with a Charter of the group’s mission, duration, and deliverables. They are expected to invite and respond to public commentary about standards in progress.
The W3C also has Interest Groups and Coordination Groups. Interest Groups are larger bodies without deliverables formed around a technical interest. For some Interest Groups, participation on a public mailing list is the only criterion for participation. Like Working Groups, Interest Groups are originally created by a Call for Participation and Charter from the Director.
Coordination Groups “manage dependencies”. Coordination Groups consist of a Chair, the Chair of each coordinated group (to promote effective communication among the groups), invited experts (e.g., liaisons to groups inside or outside W3C), and Team representatives (including the Team Contact).
How do they promulgate their standards? What leverage, if any, do they have over their users or potential users?
The multi-step community process of the Recommendation Track publicizes draft standards and invites input from the community. So to some extent, W3C Recommendations are promulgated during development. Furthermore, many Members are large corporations, particularly technology companies which may wield influence over the adoption of standards.
While W3C doesn’t issue certifications for compliance implementations, in some cases they do sponsor compliance testing tools, for instance, HTML Conformance Testing. However, in some cases, standards may be only partially implemented or extended. HTML 4 provides an example: browsers such as Internet Explorer and Safari don’t exactly implement this Recommendation. Rather, they approximate the standard, by implementing the protocols designed by the companies that build them.
W3C Activities may have associated education groups such as the Semantic Web Education and Outreach (SWEO) Interest Group which may promote the W3C, its technologies, and the associated Recommendations.
Membership is open, subject to approval by the W3C, and involves paying a fee to the organization. Rates are tiered, depending on the income-level of the country where the organization’s headquarters, as classified by the World Bank. (In 2008, the fees range from $953/year to $63,500/year. U.S. organizations pay $6,350 or $63,500, depending on their non-profit status and income.)
A list of current Members is available. Representatives of Member organizations make up the Advisory Committee, composed of one representative from each Member organization.
Oversight and management of the W3C
Oversight and management functions are handled by various groups: Advisory Committee, Advisory Board, Technical Advisory Group, and Host Institution.
Handles: Meets twice a year about overall direction of the W3C
Composition: 1 participant per Member Organization
Advisory Board (AB)
Handles: Business oversight, including Member concerns and matters of “strategy, management, legal matters, process, and conflict resolution”
Composition: 10 participants: 9 elected participants and a Chair (currently Tim Berners-Lee)
Technical Advisory Group (TAG)
Handles: Technical oversight and stewardship of the Web architecture, especially consensus-building and collaboration relating to Web architecture.
Composition: 9 participants: 5 elected by Advisory Committee, 3 appointed by Directory, 1 Chair (currently Tim Berners-Lee)
Handles: Signing contracts, oversight of “Team salaries, detailed budgeting, and other business decisions”.
Composition: The W3C has 3 host institutions: MIT in Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) in France, and Keio University in Japan.
Note: The W3C is not legally incorporated. Instead, the host organizations (which are not members of the W3C) enter into contracts for the W3C. Membership documents, for example, are currently executed by each host organization.
Getting involved with the W3C as an individual