W3C and the Web Community
by Ian Jacobs | Pages: 1, 2
Table of Contents
How Ideas Become Specifications
To participate directly in the creation of a specification, you have to join the Working Group responsible for it. Participation requires a serious commitment: Working Groups generally meet once a week for a teleconference and several times a year for face-to-face meetings. It takes a long time and a lot of effort for a document to become a W3C Recommendation.
Some Working Groups are only open for participation by Member employees, the Team, and invited experts (people invited by the Chair to participate on a regular or short-term basis). For these groups, meeting minutes, internal drafts, implementation schedules, and other information is confidential to Members. Some Working Groups consider that it's easier to get work done outside of public scrutiny while others feel strongly that work must be conducted in a public forum; the Working Group charter specifies whether a group's proceedings are public. Opinions differ, even within W3C, about how much work should be carried on "behind closed doors." One advantage of offering a confidential forum to Members is that they may share sensitive information they would not make known publicly, and this can improve the quality of a specification and the long-term chances for consensus. However, at the end of the day W3C must ensure consensus within the community as a whole, so Working Groups cannot afford to work too long without public review, participation, and criticism.
If your organization does not wish to join W3C, you may join as an individual at the Affiliate Member level (for $5000 US annually). This may seem like an expensive way to participate, but the cost of Membership is generally much less than the cost of participation when you consider the amount of time you are expected to commit to the Working Group, the cost of travel, the cost of telephone conferences, etc.
You may also apply for one of the available positions on the W3C Team. Please consult the Web site for information about employment opportunities at W3C.
Even if you are not a Working Group participant, you are encouraged to contribute to W3C specifications. Comments on public specifications are very important to Working Groups so that they know they are representing the needs of the community. W3C hosts public mailing lists for comments on XML specifications and other discussions. These mailing lists (for XML schemas, XML query language, XML linking, etc.) are described on and linked from the XML Activity home page. W3C considers the xml-dev list (xml-dev archive) the premier forum for discussing XML development.
You can also meet and discuss with W3C Working Group participants by attending Workshops held by W3C or conferences where W3C is involved. For instance, W3C sponsors the International World Wide Web Conference each year and has a permanent track at the conference.
During and after the Recommendation track, W3C promotes implementation and promotion of its specifications in a number of ways:
- The Team gives talks, tracks implementations, publishes supporting documents, produces validators and test suites, etc.
- W3C develops its own open source software, which includes Amaya, an HTML editor/browser, the Jigsaw Web server, Tidy, a markup language cleanup utility, and the libwww protocol library.
- W3C recently added the Candidate Recommendation stage to the Recommendation track so that a Working Group can gather implementation experience before the specification becomes a Recommendation. Early implementation of new technology in open source makes a huge difference to the market and to the credibility of the technology.
- W3C has begun producing more modular specifications.
- W3C is considering starting Quality Control Activity for additional support of its specifications.
In addition to these measures, since W3C has no legal authority to enforce conformance, it relies heavily on developers, the market, end users, and the press to help ensure that specifications are implemented correctly. As a developer or user, you can help W3C deploy specifications in a number of ways:
- You can tell vendors that standards are important to you. One frequent explanation given by vendors for why they don't implement standards is that there isn't enough customer demand.
- You can contribute to W3C's open source software or develop your own.
- You can translate a specification. W3C encourages translations and will link to those brought to our attention. If you wish to sign up as a translator (and coordinate your efforts with others), find out what translations have been done, or what copyright issues are involved, please refer to information about translations at W3C.
Who's who at W3C? As an organization, W3C benefits from its diverse parts:
- The Members
- W3C Members send people to participate in Working Groups and finance the Consortium through dues. (W3C is also financed to a lesser extent by public funds.) Members have certain benefits, including a seat on the Advisory Committee, access to Member-confidential information, the right to use the Member logo, and access to W3C news services. Any organization may become a Member of W3C. All Members have the same rights and responsibilities, but "Full Members" pay more ($50,000 US per year) than "Affiliate Members" ($5000 US per year). Please refer to details about how to join W3C.
- The Advisory Committee (AC)
- Each Member organization is represented on the "Advisory Committee" by one person of that organization. The Advisory Committee's roles are described in the Process Document and include review of proposed Activities and proposed Recommendations. The Advisory Committee meets face-to-face twice a year.
- The Team
- The W3C Team coordinates the work that is carried out by the various Activities and other work such as communications work, managing the Web site and publications, organizing Workshops, etc. The Team consists of the W3C Director (currently Tim Berners-Lee) the Chairman (currently Jean-François Abramatic) and the full-time staff who work all over the world. The Chairman manages the general operation of the Consortium, chairs Advisory Committee and Advisory Board meetings, oversees the development of the W3C international structure (e.g., the role of Hosts, the creation of W3C Offices, etc.), coordinates liaisons with other standards bodies, and addresses legal and policy issues. The Director is the lead architect for the technologies developed at the Consortium. The Director is also the "monitor of consensus" for reviews conducted by the Advisory Committee. For example, the Director's decision to make a specification a Recommendation reflects consensus among the Working Group, the Team, the Web community, and the Advisory Committee. The Director does not make decisions without consensus from the community -- this would be contrary to W3C's mission and to its own interests in promoting interoperability.
- The Advisory Board (AB)
- Created in March 1998 to provide guidance on strategy, management, legal matters, process issues, and conflict resolution, the Advisory Board ensures that W3C remains responsive to the needs of the Members as well as to entities outside of W3C (notably other standards bodies). The Advisory Board is not a board of directors that determines W3C's Activities and direction; the Members and Team exercise this role.
- The Hosts
- W3C is hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science [MIT/LCS] in the United States; the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique [INRIA] in Europe; and the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus in Japan. Many of the more than fifty researchers and engineers that make up the W3C Team work at these host locations. W3C is not a legal entity, so Members enter into a contractual relationship with the three hosts when they join W3C.
- The Offices
- The W3C Offices are local points of contact in a number of countries that help ensure that W3C and its specifications are known in those countries. The Offices work with their regional Web community to promote participation in W3C Working Groups. This geographical broadening of W3C's base will help extend the Web more consistently over the globe. Please refer to the list of Offices, available on the Web.
The W3C home page is http://www.w3.org. Much of the information in this article has been adapted from the publicly available W3C Process Document and general information about W3C available on the Web. For a one-page summary about W3C, refer to "W3C in Seven Points."
At the W3C Web site, you will find more information about how to contact W3C.
Dan Connolly and Janet Daly provided essential direction to this article.
The author would also like to recognize the efforts made by Simon St. Laurent to communicate information about W3C in his Outsider's Guide to W3C - FAQ.