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Consortium guards Web growth.

The Internet can offer boundless information or millions of blind alleys. Under the direction of Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) works to make sure that every path remains a through street.

Based at MIT, the W3C opened its doors in 1990 and now has two branches at partner institutions. The European branch is located at INRIA, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control with five locations around France, while the Asian branch is headquartered at Keio Univ. near Tokyo, Japan.

"We want to see that the Web evolves in an organized fashion," says Albert Vezza, founding chairman of the W3C and associate director of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. Jean-Francois Abramatic recently assumed the role of W3C chairman.

The W3C hopes to coordinate universal access to sites without requiring gateway software. Vezza recognizes that this cannot always be done. "Without the W3C it is impossible to even get the 80% to 90% access that we achieve," he says.

Currently, 150 companies are members of the W3C, working together to establish consistent protocols and improve the Web. No independent parties can join. Members must pay fees and agree to use W3C project developments only after they are officially released. Source codes are made public one month after members receive them.

Because the W3C is an independent organization, it performs three unique functions, Vezza says. It quickly distributes solutions to common Web problems, uses contacts at MIT and other university computer laboratories to solve research dilemmas, and acts as a mediator to establish,common protocols.

"We apply just a little bit of pressure in just the right spot - write a paper here, some code there, get two people to talk to each other, speak to an audience - and as a result, the resources of 140-plus member organizations are applied to realizing that vision," says Dan Connolly, leader of architecture areas for the W3C.

The consortium gathers information about the Web for developers and users, implements reference codes to promote universal standards, and creates prototype applications to demonstrate new technology uses.

The W3C has done well at assembling a group of intelligent people to work through problems, says Wayne Gramlich, W3C liaison for Sun Microsystems. "They have been getting increasingly better at releasing workable standards and technologies."

Projects grow out of an array of W3C groups that concentrate on areas related to the World Wide Web. Among them are the Spoken Language: System Group, which refines linguistic understanding so that it can be patterned for voice-recognition software. The Personal Interface Architecture Group works on the Livingroom of Tomorrow project to redesign living spaces so they will comfortably sort and deliver data. The Cryptography Group strives to develop ways to encode secret transmissions to increase trust in the authenticity of Web documents.

MIT students also are involved in the consortium, with 5-10 students supervised on Web projects at a time, Connolly says. Occasionally, W3C researchers also teach classes at MIT. "Through workshops, and forums, we keep in touch with the research community at large, as well," he says.

By pooling ideas from many sources, the W3C speeds research and secures gateways on the Web, Connolly says. Because it is an independent organization, it can network industry leaders who are otherwise in hot competition in the market.

"The W3C provides a place for implementors, users, and content providers to exchange ideas and ensure that the Web continues to be a place where information is available regardless of one's operating system, computing platform, or geographical location," says John Patrick, VP/Internet technology for IBM Corp.

"IBM is interested in broadening the reach of the Web and making it a place where our customers can do business with their customers. We find the W3C provides the framework to make this happen across the industry," he says.

For more information, visit the W3C Web site at
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Title Annotation:World Wide Web Consortium
Author:Vandendorpe, Laura
Publication:R & D
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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