By anyone’s measure, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been one of the most important and influential standards development organizations of the information technology age. Without its efforts, the Web would literally not exist as we know it. But times change, and with change, even venerable – indeed, especially venerable – institutions must change with it.
Yesterday the W3C announced the launch of a light-weight way for non-members as well as members to initiate new development projects. It allows participants to take advantage of streamlined, off the shelf tools and policies to support their efforts, as well as the intellectual support of the W3C staff and member community. Where appropriate, a project can graduate to the formal W3C development process as well. The new programs are the result of extensive discussion and consensus building that began in two ad hoc working groups in which I was pleased to be invited to participate.
The announcement is notable not only for the resources that will now be available to a broader community, but also because it demonstrates the W3C’s willingness to adapt to remain as relevant and useful as possible, part of an over-all process of reinvention that is being led by the W3C’s new CEO, Jeff Jaffe.
The new groups are briefly described at the W3C Website as follows (the full press release and links appear at the end of this blog entry):
To support the rapid evolution of Web technology, W3C today announced Community Groups, an agile track for developers and businesses to create Web technology within W3C's international community of experts. Community Groups are open to all, anyone may propose a group, and there is no fee to participate….W3C also launched Business Groups today, which provide W3C Members and non-Members a vendor-neutral forum for the development of market-specific technologies and the means to have a powerful impact on the direction of Web standards.
The impetus for the new programs comes in part from the proliferation over the past several years of more and more ad hoc development efforts focusing on individual protocols and other Web standards. These efforts have typically been very bare bones, utilizing the same techniques employed by open source projects (indeed, they have often been launched by the same developers). In contrast to traditional standards development, such a project involved no more than a Wiki and perhaps a few additional Web pages. Not surprisingly, they have also often been launched by teams that have had little or no prior experience with the traditional standards development process, or the reasons why that process has evolved to operate in the way that it does.
This utilitarian approach allowed for very rapid development, but it also meant that the resulting work product was created without the benefit of any of the supporting infrastructure, tools and protections that a traditional standards development project provides:
- The developers were not bound by the terms of an intellectual property rights policy, meaning that a participant with ill intent could set up a “submarine patent” trap without worrying about the legal consequences.
- There is no legal organization to own a trademark in the protocol to ensure that claims of compliance cannot be made when in fact a product is not compliant, thus jeopardizing the credibility of the protocol or standard.
- There may be no one to provide ongoing support for the effort if the participants later drift away.
- There is no organization to promote the work product, or to lend credibility to the result.
- There is no in-place pool of members to provide breadth of input to maximize the quality of the result, or to act as a springboard for broad and rapid adoption when the effort is complete.
The result is that a given protocol or other standard may be much less likely to become broadly adopted, because vendors will be unsure of the quality of the work product and the likelihood that it will be adopted by others. Most importantly, they will also worry about the infringement risk that may result from incorporating the technology into their products.
One response to this phenomenon was the formation of the Open Web Foundation, which has worked to provide appropriate and appealing IPR frameworks which such groups can utilize to support their processes. But these tools address only part of the gap between a protocol group and a traditional standards organization.
It would be fair to ask, then, why the same individuals that have been launching protocol groups have not simply gone to the W3C’s of the world to begin with?
The answers are several, including the fact that many of these organizations accept only corporate, government and non-profit members, and many of the protocol groups have been launched by individuals. Most of the time, there are also dues to be paid. In some organizations (including the W3C), the process between idea and adoption has become lengthy and bureaucratic, contrasting poorly with the quick pivot and shoot culture of open source development.
It’s good news, then, that the W3C is rolling out the red carpet for rapid innovation. Now, individuals will be able to utilize W3C resources to launch an activity at no cost, and without hindering their efforts. If the initiative is successful and appropriate to the mission of the W3C, those that launched the effort will have the opportunity to propose further development within the more formal process of the organization.
In this context, it’s worth noting that the W3C has been busy addressing both ends of the standards development pipeline. Last November, it announced that it has become an ISO/IEC PAS process submitter, and expects that it will now offer most or all of its standards for adoption by the ISO/IEC, thereby gaining an added layer of credibility in the eyes of some potential customers (e.g., the governments of some countries).
With this latest announcement, the W3C has completed the linkage from grass roots efforts through to adoption by the traditional global standards bodies, offering “one stop shopping” (if you will) for all your standards development needs.
The remaining question is this: now that the W3C has built their new community process, will the community embrace it?
Hopefully, the answer will be yes. The press release lists, and links to, eight Community Groups that have already been launched, and one Business Group.
My personal hope is that existing protocol groups will consider transferring their efforts over to the W3C, and that new efforts will preferentially begin their projects there. After all, there’s everything to gain, and nothing to lose.
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W3C Launches Agile Track to Speed Web Innovation
Community and Business Groups Encourage Broad Participation in Technology Development
Translations | Testimonials | W3C Press Release Archive
http://www.w3.org/ — 16 August 2011 — To support the rapid evolution of Web technology, W3C announced today an agile track for developers and businesses to create Web technology within W3C's international community of experts. Because innovation can come from organizations as well as individuals, W3C has designed W3C Community Groups to promote diverse participation: anyone may propose a group, and groups start quickly as soon as there is a small measure of peer support. There are no fees to participate and active groups may work indefinitely. Lightweight participation policies let groups decide most aspects of how they work. The larger implementer community benefits from specifications available under royalty-free patent terms and permissive copyright.
"Innovation and standardization build on each other," said Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO. "The stable Web platform provided by W3C has always encouraged innovation. As the pace of innovation accelerates and more industries embrace W3C's Open Web Platform, Community Groups will accelerate incorporation of innovative technologies into the Web."
With the launch of Community Groups, W3C now offers a smooth path from innovation to open standardization to recognition as an ISO/IEC International Standard. W3C's goals differ at each of these complementary stages, but they all contribute to the organization's mission of developing interoperable standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web.
W3C also announced today the launch of Business Groups, which provide W3C Members and non-Members a vendor-neutral forum for the development of market-specific technologies and the means to have a powerful impact on the direction of Web standards. W3C staff work with Business Groups to help them achieve their goals and to provide connectivity among groups with shared interests. For instance, a Business Group might compile industry-specific requirements or use cases as input to a W3C Working Group.
"W3C is now open for crowd-sourcing the development of Web technology," said Harry Halpin, Community Development Lead. "Through these groups, people can reach influential companies, research groups,and government agencies. Developers can propose ideas to the extensive W3C social network, and in a matter of minutes start to build mindshare using W3C's collaborative tools or their own. Creating a Community or Business Group doesn't mean giving up an existing identity; it means having an easier time promoting community-driven work for future standardization."
Inaugural Community and Business Groups
The first groups to launch reflect a varied set of interests. W3C announces eight Community Groups:
and one Business Group: