What is the W3C?

by Richard G. Baldwin
Baldwin's Home Page

Dateline: 09/04/99


As I have mentioned before, one of the great things about being XML is that XML has something for everyone. Although XML is a technology in its own right, the purpose of XML is to solve other people's problems. Without those problems to be solved, XML is simply an empty specification.

A large percentage of all XML development invloves the Internet in general, and the WWW in particular. A very important organization relative to the WWW is an organization known as the W3C.

How much do you know about the W3C?

If you are like me, you don't know very much about the W3C. Simon St.Laurent would like to remedy that situation.

I recently learned of a very interesting article entitled "An Outsider's Guide to the W3C - FAQ" written by Simon St.Laurent. He also has a web site that contains a great deal of information on XML that you might find interesting.

I consider the information contained in St.Laurent's article to be very important to web developers. My article this week is a review of the article by St.Laurent. My objective is to tell you just enough of what he has to say to whet your appetite so that you will go and read the entire article for yourself.

According to St.Laurent, the W3C, home of much technology development for the WWW, is directed by Tim Berners-Lee. Berners-Lee is widely acclaimed as the inventor of the Web, and according to St.Laurent, "continues to exert considerable influence on the development of this key Internet technology through the W3C."

St.Laurent hints at a potential problem. In particular, most Web developers hear of the W3C's output without participating in its creation because "The W3C provides only limited opportunities for participation by non-members."

St.Laurent tells us that most of the results of the W3C's work are open to the public, but the discussions that generate that material are closed to non-members.

St.Laurent provides an outsider's guide to the W3C, explaining its processes and its output from the perspective of a non-member. He identifies areas where non-members can participate.

What is the W3C?

According to St.Laurent, "The W3C is a consortium, a gathering place where organizations can meet and work together without the appearance of antitrust problems." He goes on to explain that the W3C is actually not a legal entity. According to him, "The W3C has no responsibility except to its members, and even members have limited rights."

What does the W3C do?

St.Laurent tells us that "The W3C primarily creates recommendations for the Web, which are effectively (but not actually) standards documents."

He goes on to explain that "the W3C does not create standards." He explains the involvement of the ISO relative to the creation of standards, and the activities of a separate organization known as the Web Standards Project to encourage vendors to stick to the W3C recommendations.

He also tells us about the role of the IETF, which is an organization charged with development of standards for the Internet in general (not just the web). Then St.Laurent points us to some other documents that discuss the relationship among the W3C, the IETF and other organizations as well.

How do I find W3C projects?

St.Laurent gives us the answer, pointing out that some important XML projects including XLink, XPath, and XPointer can be difficult to locate.

What kinds of document does the W3C produce?

St.Laurent tells us that several kinds of documents are available from the W3C:

To understand the workings of the W3C, you will need to understand the differences between, and the purposes of each of these document types. You will find information in his article to help you to gain that understanding.

Beyond this, St.Laurent provides some information about the public areas of the W3C site and discusses the fact that Working Groups often post information about their work on a somewhat regular basis.

Who is the W3C?

In this section, St.Laurent provides some of the details about the organization and the members of the W3C as well as a few words about the privileges of membership.

According to St.Laurent, " Because the W3C has significant credibility, it's important to be aware of and participate in its work if you want to have an impact on Web standards."

Should I (or my company) join the W3C?

St.Laurent begins this section by telling us that membership is very expensive. How expensive is membership? I'll let you read that for yourself, but I can tell you that there probably aren't very many college professors like myself who are able to pay the tab.

After that, he gives us some reasons why we might want to become members. What it seems to boil down to in the final analysis is competitive advantage. Those member companies who are privy to inside information and able to predict what the W3C is likely to recommend may be in the best position to compete in the WWW arena next year or in the years following that.

What role can I play without becoming a W3C member?

Given the above sections as an introduction, and probably assuming that most small companies and individual developers won't become members of the W3C, the most import part of St.Laurent's article is advice on how to participate without being a member. This section contains a great deal of valuable information and advice on how to become part of the process.

How does the W3C operate internally, anyway?

If you don't know the rules, you can't play the game. In addition to the advice mentioned above, St.Laurent gives us quite a lot of information about the internal processes of the W3C organization and how it operates.


The article consists of facts, opinions, and advice, all of which are valuable.

A large portion of the factual information can be found on the web if you have the time to search for it. Fortunately, St.Laurent has done the legwork for us providing us with links to the sources for much of that factual information.

His advice seems to be well-founded, and in those cases where he may have let an opinion slip in, well, all of us can benefit occasionally from hearing the opinions of others.

In my opinion, St.Laurent's article is "must" reading if your livelihood depends on the WWW.

coming attractions...

In my next article I will probably resume the discussion of "XML and Java Objects", showing you more of the Java code that can be used to create the XML file based on the contents of the objects stored in the Vector. But then again, that will depend on whether or not something else grabs my attention in the meantime.

the XML octopus

Trying to wrap your brain around XML is sort of like trying to put an octopus in a bottle. Every time you think you have it under control, a new tentacle shows up. XML has many tentacles, reaching out in all directions. But, that's what makes it fun. As your XML host, I will do my best to lead you to the information that you need to keep the XML octopus under control.


This HTML page was produced using the WYSIWYG features of Microsoft Word 97. The images on this page were used with permission from the Microsoft Word 97 Clipart Gallery.


Copyright 2000, Richard G. Baldwin

About the author

Richard Baldwin is a college professor and private consultant whose primary focus is a combination of Java and XML. In addition to the many platform-independent benefits of Java applications, he believes that a combination of Java and XML will become the primary driving force in the delivery of structured information on the Web.

Richard has participated in numerous consulting projects involving Java, XML, or a combination of the two.  He frequently provides onsite Java and/or XML training at the high-tech companies located in and around Austin, Texas.  He is the author of Baldwin's Java Programming Tutorials, which has gained a worldwide following among experienced and aspiring Java programmers. He has also published articles on Java Programming in Java Pro magazine.

Richard holds an MSEE degree from Southern Methodist University and has many years of experience in the application of computer technology to real-world problems.

Baldwin's Home Page