The world wide web: huge possibilities for tomorrow

The world wide web has not only transformed our lives today, but offers huge possibilities for tomorrow. Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the World Wide Web Consortium, outlines the challenges of operating in today’s digital landscape and predicts what lies ahead in the future

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 04 January 2016
The world wide web: huge possibilities for tomorrow

This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of OnWindows.

In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed a universal linked information system which would allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards. Coining the term ‘World Wide Web’ just a year later, little did he know that the system he had just invented would go on to fundamentally change the way people lived and worked forever.

In October 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), with the mission to “lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web.”

“While our mission remains the same today, much has changed,” explains Jeff Jaffe, W3C’s CEO. “When the web began over 25 years ago, it was for information sharing alone. Since then, it has advanced tremendously. We see this in the rich media that exists, the broader set of devices that are available, the proliferation of social technologies and the dynamic applications that are being created.”

As a result, the role of the W3C has evolved. “We’ve had to strengthen our support systems and create more effective ways of developing standards,” Jaffe says. “Four years ago, we decided to grow our community via the creation of Community groups. In the past our Working groups worked on standards that were already advanced in their maturity. This meant that it was harder to get new, lesser-established standards created. So we started a parallel track for ­pre-standardisation work. In the four years since we set this up we have created over 200 community groups, supported by more than 6,000 engineers.”

The organisation has also begun to work more closely with vertical industries. “The web has become transformative for industries,” Jaffe says. “The media and entertainment industry is one example – people don’t just advertise on the web; the web is the delivery mechanism for media. Publishing is another example – digital publishing often now leads, with print following behind. With these changes in mind, we are ensuring we bring new and varied stakeholders into the multi-party discussions at W3C to ensure we can address the needs of web users right across the spectrum.”

One particular area of success that W3C has experienced is regarding the adoption of the HTML5 standard. This latest iteration of the markup language used for structuring and presenting content on the web was finalised, and published, in October last year.

“In most industries you define a standard and then, when everyone is happy with it, you implement it,” Jaffe explains. “It’s quite different with web technology. Implementation and experimentation are happening simultaneously as the standard is being developed. By the time we completed HTML 5 it was already implemented in browsers and most websites were using the technology. Acceptance was huge and immediate.”

But supporting the expansion of the web isn’t without its challenges. “Marshalling the resources of the web community to develop everything we need for the web platform is no easy feat,” Jaffe says. “It requires the effective coordination of a huge number of people.”

Securing the web is also a mammoth undertaking. “Security at a technical level relates to different technologies, how users interface with the system and how they use browser settings, passwords, along with a variety of other factors,” Jaffe says. “So there are both technical and social challenges for us to meet. It’s not a linear process, but it’s something we’re very committed to.”

Looking ahead, Jaffe is confident that W3C’s work will continue to evolve. “There are lots of new developments in the pipeline,” he enthuses. “For example, in order to progress further with HTML 5 we are currently looking at the possibility of changing the current monolithic structure and instead breaking it down into different modules. We’re also working on the creation of ready-made technology components which can be reused. And we’re also investing in better offline support.”

Jaffe also sees the web growing further, becoming even more ingrained in people’s lives. “There are huge changes taking place across every ­industry – changes which all rely heavily on the web,” he concludes. “The internet of things, as well as the move towards standardised web payments and cryptocurrencies, are just a few examples. As these new developments proliferate, so will the need for more exacting standards, in order to ensure that everyone can enjoy the full potential of the web.” 




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