The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web (abbreviated WWW or W3). Founded by Tim Berners-Lee at MIT and currently headed by him, the consortium is made up of member organizations which maintain full-time staff for the purpose of working together in the development of standards for the World Wide Web. As of 29 March 2012, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has 351 members. W3C also engages in education and outreach, develops software and serves as an open forum for discussion about the Web.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was founded by Tim Berners-Lee after he left the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in October, 1994. It was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT/LCS) with support from the European Commission and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which had pioneered the Internet and its predecessor ARPANET.
W3C tries to enforce compatibility and agreement among industry members in the adoption of new standards defined by the W3C. Incompatible versions of HTML are offered by different vendors, causing inconsistency in how Web pages are displayed. The consortium tries get all those vendors to implement a set of core principles and components which are chosen by the consortium.
It was originally intended that CERN host the European branch of W3C; however, CERN wished to focus on particle physics, not information technology. In April 1995 the Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (INRIA) became the European host of W3C, with Keio University becoming the Japanese branch in September 1996. Starting in 1997, W3C created regional offices around the world; as of September 2009, it has eighteen World Offices covering Australia, the Benelux countries (Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium), Brazil, China, Finland, Germany, Austria, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Morocco, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom and Ireland.
In January 2003, the European host was transferred from INRIA to the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM), an organization that represents European national computer science laboratories.
In October 2012, W3C convened a community of large Web players and publishers to establish a MediaWiki wiki that seeks to documents open Web standards called WebPlatform and WebPlatform Docs.
Sometimes, when a Specification becomes too large, it is split into independent Modules which can mature at their own pace. Subsequent Editions of a Module or Specification are known as Levels, and are denoted by the first integer in the title (eg. CSS3 = Level 3). Subsequent Revisions on each Level are denoted by an integer following a decimal point (eg. CSS2.1 = Revision 1).
The W3C Standard Formation Process is defined within the W3C Process Document, outlining Four Maturity Levels that each new Standard or Recommendation must progress through:
Working Draft (WD)
After enough content has been gathered from Editor Drafts and discussion, it may be published as a Working Draft for review by the community. A WD document is the first form of a standard that is publicly available. Commentary by virtually anyone is accepted, though no promises are made with regard to action on any particular element of said commentary.
At this stage, the standard document may likely have significant differences from its final form. As such, any who implement WD standards should be ready to significantly modify their implementations as the standard matures.
Candidate Recommendation (CR)
A candidate recommendation is a version of the standard that is more firm than the WD. At this point, the group responsible for the standard is satisfied that the standard does what is needed of it. The purpose of the CR is to elicit aid from the development community as to how implementable the standard is.
The standard document may change further, but at this point, significant features are mostly locked. The design of those features can still change due to feedback from implementors.
Proposed Recommendation (PR)
A proposed recommendation is the version of the standard that has passed the prior two levels. The users of said standard have had their say, and the implementors of the standard have likewise had a chance at providing input. At this stage, the document has been submitted to the W3C Advisory Council for final approval. While this step is important, it rarely causes any significant changes to a standard as it passes to the next phase.
Note: both Candidates and Proposals may enter “Last Call” to signal that any further feedback must be provided expeditiously.
W3C Recommendation (REC)
This is the most mature stage of development. At this point, the standard has undergone extensive review and testing, under both theoretical and practical conditions. The standard is now endorsed by the W3C as a standard, indicating its readiness for deployment within its problem domain, and encouraging more widespread support among implementors and authors.
Recommendations can sometimes be implemented incorrectly, partially, or not at all, but many standards define two or more levels of conformance that developers must follow if they wish to label their product as W3C-compliant.
Later Revisions (WD)(NOTES)
A Recommendation may be updated or extended by separately-published, non-technical Errata or Editor Drafts until enough substantial edits accumulate for producing a new edition or level of the Recommendation. Additionaly, The W3C publishes various kinds of informative Notes which are to be used as a reference.
Unlike the ISOC and other international standards bodies, the W3C does not have a certification program. The W3C has decided, for now, that it is not suitable to start such a program owing to the risk of creating more drawbacks for the community than benefits.
The Consortium is jointly administered by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL, located in Stata Center) in the USA, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) (in Sophia Antipolis, France), and Keio University (in Japan). The W3C also has World Offices in sixteen regions around the world. The W3C Offices work with their regional Web communities to promote W3C technologies in local languages, broaden W3C’s geographical base, and encourage international participation in W3C Activities.
W3C has a relatively small staff team, around 50–60 worldwide recently (as of 2010). The CEO of W3C as of Dec. 2010 is Jeffrey Jaffe, former CTO of Novell. The majority of standardization work is done by external experts in W3C’s various working groups.
The domain w3.org attracted at least 11 million visitors annually by 2008 according to a Compete.com study. The Consortium is governed by its membership. The list of members is available to the public. Members include businesses, nonprofit organizations, universities, governmental entities, and individuals.
Membership requirements are transparent except for one requirement. An application for membership must be reviewed and approved by W3C. Many guidelines and requirements are stated in detail, but there is no final guideline about the process or standards by which membership might be finally approved or denied.
The cost of membership is given on a sliding scale, depending on the character of the organization applying and the country in which it is located. Countries are categorized by the World Bank’s most recent grouping by GNI (“Gross National Income”) per capita.
Domination by large organizations
The W3C has been criticized as being dominated by larger organizations and thus writing standards that represent their interests. For example, a member of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (WCAG WG) complained that: The process is stacked in favour of multinationals with expense accounts who can afford to talk on the phone for two hours a week and jet to world capitals for meetings.
A similar criticism, responding to large software company complaints about the slow pace of W3C’s formulation of XML/web services standards, appeared in Cnet’s news.com in 2002: “I’m not convinced that developers are too bothered,” said Edd Dumbill, editor of XML.com, who has worked as a software developer on Web services. “I think developers are being poorly served by the fact that the big companies have dominated the work of the W3C over the last year. The W3C does more or less what its members tell it to. So I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for the complaints of large companies.”