Back in the “old days,” the Internet was a lot like the Wild West. There were few standards for coding, page design, and browser compatibility. Many different web browsers vied for market dominance. And with the lack of standards, most websites did not work well with all browsers. If you needed information from a web site that didn’t work on your browser, you either had to buy a different browser or get that information elsewhere.
Fortunately, along came the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to bring some law and order to the wild cyber-frontier. Created in 1994, W3C is an international community of member organizations that articulates web standards so that websites look and work the same in all web browsers. Its mission is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing standards, protocols and guidelines that ensure its long-term growth.
To achieve its mission, W3C employs a full-time staff that works with the public to make the web accessible to all users despite differences in culture, education, ability, resources, and physical limitations. W3C also coordinates its work with other standards organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Wireless Application Protocols (WAP) Forum, and the Unicode Consortium. W3C receives funding through research grants, individual donations of money and equipment, and other sources of private and public funding. W3C’s primary focus is developing protocols and guidelines for key aspects of the web ranging from HTML and CSS coding to web architecture, XLM technology, web devices, and web browsing and authoring tools.
So far, W3C has generated more than 90 standards, also called “recommendations,” that have passed through its rigorous process of review, formulation and implementation. Why are these standards important to web designers and web users? Because they ensure that the web works equally well for everyone, regardless of their location or technology.
In particular, W3C standards for XML and CSS ensure that every website will function the same on any browser. Using W3C-compliant XML and CSS coding also improves search engine optimization by allowing search engine robots to “crawl” through websites quicker and more efficiently. W3C standards also improve issues of accessibility, privacy, security, and internationalization, while helping to balance speed, fairness, public accountability, and quality on the Internet. W3C-compliant websites are cross-platform compatible. This means that, in addition to working on any browser, they can also be accessed via mobile phones, screen readers and text browsers, interactive televisions, and other devices. Websites that use XML/CSS markup are cheaper to run because they use less bandwidth. And W3C’s royalty-free patent licensing commitments ensure that everyone has access to the technology they need to build their websites with the desired functionality.
W3C standard technologies are downloadable at no cost, maintained in a predictable fashion, and strengthened through rigorous interoperability testing. Conversely, websites that don’t use W3C protocols will be slow to load, which can frustrate visitors. They won’t work well with all browsers, which could eliminate many potential viewers. And they won’t work as efficiently with search engines, which could lower search rankings and make it harder for people to find the site. W3C standards are the primary reason the web works so well today and will work even better in the future. They’re good for web designers and for web users, and should be an integral part of every web design project.