Today the World Wide Web Consortium ( ) is celebrating its 20th anniversary as an organization. Luminaries and participants in the open standards effort will be gathering in Santa Clara, CA, this afternoon for a Future of the Web Symposium and then a Gala Dinner. I’m in New York, unfortunately, but I’ll be thinking of the times I spent on the standards, and the politics that changed the way we do technology today.
Here are some memories and thoughts.
- The earliest mention I can find of my involvement in the W3C is a note from Ron Whitney on July 11, 1996, stating that I had joined the new standards effort around the Mathematical Markup Language (MathML).
- The MathML group was composed of mathematicians, publishers, software developers, and some other unlikely people to be thrown together to produce “a web standard.” When MathML was eventually made an official Recommendation, we believed that it was the first standard from the W3C to use XML, other than XML itself. It’s still a cool standard, but its implementation in browsers is still sketchy nearly 20 years later. MathML is part of HTML5, so I hope it will finally get the first class treatment it deserves.
- Lauren Wood did a brilliant job of keeping the working group members, many with competing commercial interests, in line and directed toward the final standards product.
- Though I had done significant coding on a Netscape plugin, I often felt out of my depth compared with people from Netscape, , and other browser makers.
- I was amazed that the Netscape and Microsoft people spoke civilly to each other, given all the press about their competition and supposedly acrimonious relationship.
- Chris Wilson of Microsoft once said of a proposed new feature that it would break the browsing experience for millions of users. The scale of the web and how the standard would be used really struck me then, but at that point I had no problem breaking things in order to get to a better, more elegant solution.
- I first met Tim Berners-Lee in his office at MIT on a cold day. He was brilliant, focused, and all consumed with doing the right thing for the web. No other leader could have gotten us to where we are today, and that’s a very good thing.
- I also met Janet Daly at about the same time. She was also brilliant and committed to driving the right messages about the W3C to not just put it in a good light, but to change the world. The W3C and the standards world needed her at that right time and right place.
- As my position in changed from someone who created standards to someone who helped manage the creation of them on behalf of a company, so too did my relationship with the W3C. Let’s just say there was some tension regarding and the W3C and where new work was to be done. In all that time, however, W3C reps and employees were solidly professional and driven to do the right thing, despite what might benefit any particular commercial entity. I applaud them for that.
- Royalty-free licensing: kudos to Tim and the organization for raising the issue and forcing the rest of us to play along.
- I’m still not convinced about RDF and the whole Semantic Web thing, but then again, nobody asked me. :-)
So, finally, my heartiest congratulations to Tim and the W3C staff, past and present! It’s been an honor for IBM and me personally to have worked with you these twenty years.