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What is the W3C?

An Explanation of the Standards of the Web and the Group Who Determines Them

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The Web and HTML have been around a long time now, and you may not realize that the language you are writing your Web page in was standardized by a group of around 500 member organizations from around the world. This group is the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C.

The W3C was created in October 1994, to

"lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability."

About the W3C

They wanted to ensure that the Web continued to work no matter what business or organization built tools to support it. Thus, while there might be browser wars in the features that various Web browsers offer, they all can communicate across the same medium - the World Wide Web.

Most Web Developers look to the W3C for standards and new technology. This is where the XHTML recommendation came from, and many XML specifications and languages. However, if you go to the W3C Web site (http://www.w3.org/), you may find a lot of jargon that is unfamiliar and somewhat confusing.

Vocabulary of the W3C

  • Recommendation
    A recommendation is a specification that has been approved by the committee members and made public. This is the highest rating a specification can receive. If a specification is recommended by the W3C, chances are it will become the standard, if it isn't already.
    When you're on the W3C, look for recommendations if you want to work with technology that is ready to go.
  • Proposed Recommendation
    A proposed recommendation has been submitted for review to be formalized into a W3C recommendation. These specifications are typically nearly ready for full release and are only awaiting approval to become recommendations.
    Look at proposed recommendations if you want to be a little ahead of what's coming.
  • Candidate Recommendation
    Before a recommendation becomes proposed and then final, it is submitted to the users to review and submit technical feedback. They are typically in the candidate recommendation phase for several months.
    Candidate recommendations are not always supported, but reading them can put you on the cutting edge of Web development.
  • Working Draft
    Sometimes called a "public working draft". A working draft is a specification that is still being worked on by the committee for that specification. This allows developers to get a sense of where the technology behind the Web may be heading. Working drafts are works in progress, and should not be considered final in any way. In fact, many draft specifications never see the light as true Recommendations.
    Working drafts can take a long time to become candidate recommendations, but some browser manufacturers support parts of them. It can be frustrating to work with working drafts, as they change fairly often.
  • Note
    Notes in the W3C are often addendums or additional information to help developers work with various specifications. They may also be suggestions for directions that new or existing specifications might take.
  • Specification
    A specification is the rules behind a new technology. Specifications define how the technology will function, who the authors are, a short description of the technology, and related specifications, working drafts, and recommendations.
  • Interoperability
    The goal of the Web is to work no matter what hardware you have. Interoperability allows people the freedom to choose the OS, hardware, and software they want to use, but still have those items work effectively on the Internet.
  • Deprecated
    When an object, element or specification is deemed not useful or even detrimental to the standard, it is marked as deprecated. This is the first step to removing that item completely from the standards listed on the W3C. In XHTML, when an element has been deprecated, there is typically a lag period where browsers continue to support the element. But eventually, that element will no longer be used. It is a good idea to stop using items that have been deprecated so that your code continues to be interoperable in the future.

Useful W3C Links

Recommendations
These are the recommendations that the W3C has approved. You'll find things like XHTML 1.0, CSS Level 1, and XML in this listing.

Mailing Lists
There are many public mailing lists available to allow you to join in the discussion about Web technologies.

W3C FAQ
If you have more questions, the FAQ is the place to start.

How to Participate
The W3C is only open to corporations - but there are ways for individuals to participate.

Member List
The list of corporations that are members of the W3C.

How to Join
Learn what it takes to become a member of the W3C.

Additional W3C Links
There is a lot of information on the World Wide Web Consortium Web site, and these links are some of the key elements.

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