After 10 years as the spiritual guardian of the web, what is W3C's next role?
It is 10 years since Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, and Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, set up the World Wide Web Consortium.
They wanted the W3C to become an open forum to promote interoperability and to lead the web to its full potential through the recommendation of standards.
The W3C can look back at successes that have helped to evolve the web towards a robust, scalable and adaptive infrastructure for the world of information.
By producing specifications as well as guidelines, the W3C has made considerable progress towards achieving three important goals: universal access, design of the semantic web and the deployment of the web of trust.
All of these goals stress the fundamental point that if the web is to realise its vision as a universal network of information exchange, it must be guided. This is the role of the W3C - to steer web architecture for the benefit of all.
The W3C's organisational structure ensures an integrated approach to major issues affecting interoperability and web design. Challenges were technological in the beginning, but have rapidly expanded to include commercial, legal and societal considerations.
The pervasiveness of the web means that it has evolved into more than a tool for the dissemination and access of information. It has become part of the information society's infrastructure and the effect it has on people's day-to-day lives cannot be underestimated.
Three recent initiatives illustrate new opportunities or challenges for the web. The announcement of co-operation between the W3C and the Open Mobile Alliance - an industry forum of mobile operators and network suppliers - will strengthen the foundation for the development, adoption and standardisation of features and functions that will allow mobile devices to smoothly connect to the web.
This highlights the potential outreach of the web to connect billions of mobile devices available around the world.
Second, the W3C is organising a workshop to assess how semantic web technologies and domain-specific standards can help manage the complexity of modern life sciences research, enable understanding of disease and accelerate the development of new therapies.
This illustrates how the web can help communities share their knowledge to the benefit of all. Although this was the original goal when the web was invented at Cern, lessons learned during the past 10 years call for the emergence of the semantic web for the web to fulfil its promise.
Third, the XML activity at the W3C has been rechartered. XML was introduced in 1998 when it was first recommended by a working group called SGML and the Web. The original intent was to enrich the expressiveness of the web language (then HTML) and to build on the experience of SGML, a language designed to represent complex documents.
XML has now become the core technology for data exchanges within and between organisations. Although the web was originally conceived as a tool for the general public, it has also become essential for the corporate world through the deployment of XML-based applications.
These three recent examples of different and complementary initiatives illustrate how the W3C continues to march towards its vision by taking the steps that are needed at each moment.
Using its unique approach, which associates the dedication of its worldwide team, the contribution of hundreds of member organisations and the involvement of the general public, the W3C will continue to build the web of tomorrow that we all need.
Jean-Francois Abramatic isa member of the W3C advisory board and chief product officer at ilog
The work of the World Wide Web Consortium
- The W3C organises the work needed to develop or evolve web technology into activities grouped into four domains:
- The architecture domain focuses on improving the stability of the existing platform with ongoing work on XML, web services and internationalisation. This also includes interoperability between worldwide applications and extending their capabilities.
- The interaction domain's mission is to adapt current technologies to enable web access for anyone, anywhere, anytime, via any device.
- The technology and society domain's goal is to augment the existing web infrastructure with building blocks that help to address critical public policy questions such as privacy, security and intellectual property.
- The web accessibility initiative, working with organisations around the world, pursues accessibility of the web through technology, guidelines, tools, education and outreach, and research and development.