The Internet is such a ubiquitous part of daily existence that its omission from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs must have been accidental. The last three decades of the World Wide Web have fueled technical innovation at a rate that could only be described by its own measurement metaphor -- Internet speed. The pace, however, has also resulted in a chaotic set of standards and practices for using the web. What’s a techie to do? Not to worry -- the standards organization W3C (news, site) is already on the job.

What is the W3C?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), led by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, is an international standards organization dedicated to developing protocols, standards, best practices and guidelines for the Internet. Yes, that’s kind of a big deal, which is probably why the W3C community is so extensive. The organization includes full-time staff, over 300 member organizations and the public, to ensure the work is holistic and conforms to the organization’s mission of creating “One Web.”

Open Web Platform -- HTML 5, CSS, It’s All in There

Defining specifications is one of the primary tasks for the W3C. The organization is involved with so many specifications it has grouped the work into a platform. The open web platform is a suite of more than 100 specifications by over 13 working groups -- and the number of standards is expected to grow. Before the seasoned among us release a collective sigh, these aren’t obscure specifications destined to be only feverishly debated by fanboys on blogs. The open web platform includes specifications such as HTML 5, CSS and ECMAScript that comprise the very basis of the web and are familiar to users, designers and developers. There is a timeline for completion for each standard, which includes review by experts and the public, before it becomes official.

With so much to do, it would be easy for the W3C to become lost in indecision and accomplish nothing. The organization has decided to combat the risk by publishing a list of priorities and milestones to guide its activities.

W3C 2011 Priorities, Milestones

The 2011 priorities are intended to help the organization stay results-focused. The priorities include multiple work items grouped into five areas:

Powerful Web Apps

Key technologies in this area include HTML 5, CSS and web fonts. But HTML 5 is the specification that garners the most attention. The standard has a significant amount of industry momentum the W3C can leverage to rapidly evolve the specification. HTML 5 is expected to advance to Last Call status in May 2011 and include support for accessibility and many new features. The W3C will be expanding efforts to ensure the standard is interoperable with the ever-growing list of Internet-capable devices. This should better position the standard to become the core technology for rich application development everywhere.

Data, Service Integration

This innocuous-sounding area includes a multiplicity of sophisticated emerging technologies for linking data on the web to provide humans and machines with more contextually accurate content. The data and service integration focus will address:

Learning Opportunities

  • RDF, the core standard for the semantic web
  • Open Government Data
  • Translational medicine
  • XML
  • Web services specifications such as SOAP over Java Message Service, WS-SOAP Assertions, WS-Transfer, WS-Eventing, WS-Event Descriptions, WS-Metadata Exchange and WS-Enumeration

Web of Trust

The W3C realizes that, as data continues to grow and include larger volumes of personal data paired with contextual details such as  location and search behavior, it will be possible to develop applications that raise new privacy and security concerns. In 2011, the organization will be working with developers, industry and regulators to define standards for managing identity as well as privacy and security. The W3C will be chartering a Web Application Security Working Group to work on specific technologies to enable more robust and secure web applications.

Television, Mobile, the Web of Devices

The W3C has consistently been a proponent of device independence, and technology has finally met its desires. The web is no longer just the domain of the PC. The web is now a critical component of mobile, tablets, touch screens, televisions and even more unusual items such as cameras and highway sensor devices. This year, the W3C will try to stay a step ahead of developments in these areas and define standards and guidelines to make the convergence of devices to the web go smoothly.

One Web for All

Universality has always been the promise of the web. The implementation, however, has in some ways been exclusionary. Accessibility and support for languages other than English are frequently late considerations. To ensure there are no barriers to taking advantage of Internet technology, the organization will be reviewing accessibility and internationalization standards in 2011.

The 2011 list of W3C priorities is somewhat astounding. But, doing things at Internet speed is what the web is all about, right?