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.”

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