The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C for short, is the committee which creates, reviews, and approves the technical specifications for the languages and protocols which form the architecture of the World Wide Web.
The W3C has three long-term goals1:
Universal Access - To make the Web accessible to all by promoting technologies that take into account the vast differences in culture, education, ability, material resources, and physical limitations of users on all continents.
Semantic Web - to develop a software environment that permits each user to make the best use of the resources available on the Web.
Web of Trust - to guide the Web's development with careful consideration for the novel, legal, commercial, and social issues raised by this technology.
While the idea of the World Wide Web goes back to at least 1945, it is Tim Berners-Lee who is actually credited with turning the concept into a reality. After developing the first proposal for a global hypertext system in 1989 and then writing the first GUI hypertext browser in October of 1990, Berners-Lee's concept caught on like wildfire. Over the next four years, various individuals and companies began writing improvements to the browser, setting up HTTP servers, and generally carrying on the work that Berners-Lee started.
In October 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in cooperation with CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire - the European Laboratory for Particle Physics). Over time the W3C evolved into a committee focused on three main concepts2:
Vision - W3C promotes and develops its vision of the future of the World Wide Web. Contributions from several hundred dedicated researchers and engineers working for member organisations, from the W3C Team (led by Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor), and from the entire Web community enable W3C to identify the technical requirements that must be satisfied if the Web is to be a truly universal information space.
Design - W3C designs Web technologies to realise this vision, taking into account existing technologies as well as those of the future.
Standardisation - W3C contributes to efforts to standardise Web technologies by producing specifications (called 'Recommendations') that describe the building blocks of the Web. W3C makes these Recommendations (and other technical reports) freely available to all.
Berners-Lee on Standards and the W3C
W3C's mission is to realise the full potential of the web, by bringing its members and others together in a neutral forum. The W3C has to move rapidly (time measured in 'web years'=2.6 months) so it cannot afford to have a traditional Standards process. What has happened to date has been that W3C has, by providing a neutral forum and facilitation, and also with the help of its technically astute staff, got a consensus among the developers about a way to go. Then, this has been all that has been needed: once a common specification has been prepared and a general consensus among the experts is seen, companies have been running with that ball. The specifications have become de facto standards. This has happened with for example HTML TABLES, and PICS. Now in fact we have decided to start using not a full standards process, but a process of formal review by the W3C membership, in order to draw attention to specifications, and to cement their status a little. After review by members, the specifications will be known as W3C process.
- Tim Berners-Lee, 19963
Organisation of the W3C
The W3C's organisation is molded by three main concepts. The first of these is vendor and market neutrality. All the hosts and the team (more than 50 researchers and engineers from around the world) are unaffiliated with, and will not endorse, any particular software or hardware product. This ensures the neutrality of the standards and recommendations being produced.
The second concept is co-ordination. The World Wide Web is a massive project, and no one group can oversee the whole thing. The W3C has partnered with other organisations like the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), the WAP Forum (Wireless Application Protocols Forum), the Unicode Consortium, the Web3D Consortium, and several ISO committees. Since all are working toward a common goal, no one entity has total control over the direction the World Wide Web can take.
The third and final concept is consensus. Consensus is the heart and soul of the W3C's philosophy. The W3C strives to reach a unanimous decision on all projects and specifications. When this is not possible, the subject is then opened to a variety of channels for gathering input, such as invited experts, other W3C members, or the general public.A Little History of the World Wide Web from 1945 to 1995About the World Wide Web Consortium