Last week I posed the question, "What exactly is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for?" It seems that the W3C itself is also preoccupied with these concerns, judging by the series of one-day events it held recently across Europe.
Dubbed the Interop Tour, this was ostensibly about promoting W3C technologies and "to show how they facilitate interoperability on the World Wide Web". But it is hard not to get the feeling that the main point of the tour was to promote the W3C, and to justify the new regional offices it is opening around the world.
Promoting interoperability is all very well, but it begs the question, how does the W3C aim to do this - other than through rather expensive one-day events?
One answer lies in the odd bits of software that it continues to turn out, such as the Amaya HTML editor browser and Jigsaw, a Java-based server. But the W3C's most important role is to produce authoritative and genuinely useful recommendations. And judging by the W3C news pages, it is certainly doing plenty of that at the moment.
Some of this involves core Web technologies such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). This has a lovely home page, produced, naturally enough, by CSS technology. As the current work page indicates, CSS is now up to version three. The useful introduction to CSS3 explains that one key change is the modularisation of CSS' capabilities. Also worth noting is an essay on the W3C's design principles, which have largely informed the development of CSS.
One module of CSS3 is needed for advanced linguistic capabilities such as ruby text. Other work that underlines the W3C's concern to make the Web truly worldwide is a character model for World Wide Web 1.0, which is part of its general internationalisation activity.
Probably of more relevance to general business users is the Document Object Model (Dom) activity. In theory, the ability to address and manipulate individual elements of a Web page is a nice idea, but so far as I am aware, it has no major applications. Undeterred by this apparent lack of interest, the W3C is currently working on Dom Level 3.
Another area that is conspicuous by its absence from everyday Web life is the Resource Description Framework (RDF) language. This is part of the larger Semantic Web activity. A notable development in this area is the release of Isaviz, a free RDF visual authoring tool written in Java, which allows those of us still confused about what exactly RDF is for to play with it rather than just read the theory.
Other, more specialised work includes Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) 1.1. SVG is one of the liveliest areas at the W3C, as its home page indicates. Together with news and articles on the subject, there are also a surprising number of full-length books devoted to SVG. The Synchronised Multimedia activity page is less busy, but even here work is continuing.
What may not be apparent from this brief survey of W3C activity is the centrality of XML to every aspect of its work today. Developments in this important area will be the subject of a future column.
This was first published in June 2002