RealTime IT News

Decade Later, W3C Ponders Continued Success

BOSTON -- A former colleague of Tim Berners-Lee was rummaging through his desk recently when he found an old memo from the World Wide Web inventor.

The document sketched the basics of a decentralized, yet interconnected, electronic system that could cross-reference reams of data. Atop this printout, the computer scientist scrawled his initial reaction: "Vague but exciting."

Berners-Lee relayed the anecdote at a gathering here marking the 10th anniversary of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body that has laid the foundation for the Web to change the way business, communications and research is done.

Based at MIT, the W3C has published more than 80 recommendations (including the HTML specification), which signal that a standard is stable, contributes to Web interoperability and has been reviewed by members.

Now chairman of the W3C, Berners-Lee delivered a brief overview of the development of the Web and the W3C to a crowd that was in a collegial and celebratory mood.

He hailed academics who devised ways to organize disparate data sources decades before computers became commonplace and credited technologists working at research institutions and corporations during the 1980s and 1990s whose work solved Web challenges.

Charles Vest, MIT's president, said today's event celebrates individual genius and collective effort.

He ranked the W3C among the top two examples of international cooperation that have worked toward the common good (the other being an agreement among developed nations to phase out use of ozone-eating emissions).

Vest, who helped bring the W3C to MIT, said the cooperative nature of the organization is noteworthy during a time of tension among countries.

Another speaker, Denis Lacroix, director of development for e-Travel, the e-Commerce division of Amadeus, put it another way.

"We live in a world where countries can't agree on the metric system," he said.

Lee Rainie, founding director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said in the last 10 years the Web has gone mainstream. It's no longer the purview of highly educated, highly paid young men.

"[The Web] has woven way deeply into American lives and lives throughout the world," he said.

As support, Rainie cited figures collected just yesterday: 68 million Americans were online; 58 million sent e-mail; 38 million used search engines; and 35 million read news.

Addressing the W3C members, Rainie said on behalf of millions of Americans: "Thanks for doing this, we didn't even know how much we needed it."