The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) describes itself as “an international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards“.  But surprisingly the W3C doesn’t actually produce standards. RatherW3C develops technical specifications and guidelines through a process designed to maximize consensus about the content of a technical report, to ensure high technical and editorial quality, and to earn endorsement by W3C and the broader community.

But this is now changing.  The W3C recently announed that “Global Adoption of W3C Standards [is] Boosted by ISO/IEC Official Recognition“.  The announcement describes how “the International Standards Organization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) took steps that will encourage greater international adoption of W3C standards. W3C is now an ‘ISO/IEC JTC 1 PAS Submitter’ bringing ‘de jure’ standards communities closer to the Internet ecosystem.

What this means is that the W3C can submit their specifications directly for country voting to become ISO/IEC standards. The aims are to help avoid global market fragmentation;  to improve deployment within government use of W3C specifications and acceptance of a W3C specification when there is evidence of stability/market acceptance of the specification.

In their submission the W3C provided an overview of how they standardise a Web technology:

  1. W3C participants, members usually generate interest in a particular topic.
    W3C usually runs open workshops (events with a open call for papers) to identify new areas of work.
  2. When there is enough interest in a topic (e.g., after a successful Workshop and/or discussion on an Advisory Committee mailing list), the Director announces the development of a proposal for a new Activity or Working Group charter, depending on the breadth of the topic of interest.
    An Activity Proposal describes the scope, duration, and other characteristics of the intended work, and includes the charters of one or more groups (with requirements, deliverables, liaisons, etc) to carry out the work.
  3. When there is support within W3C for investing resources in the topic of interest, the Director approves the new Activity and groups get down to work.
    There are three types of Working Group participants: Member representatives, Invited Experts, and Team representatives. Team representatives both contribute to the technical work and help ensure the group’s proper integration with the rest of W3C.
  4. Working Groups create specifications based on consensus that undergo cycles of revision and review as they advance to W3C Recommendation status.
    The W3C process for producing specification includes significant review by the Members and public (every 3 months all drafts have to be made public on our Web site, and requirements that the Working Group be able to show implementation and interoperability experience.
  5. At the end of the process, the Advisory Committee (all members) reviews the mature specification, and if there is support, W3C publishes it as a Final Recommendation.
  6. The document enters what is called Life-after-Recommendation where the group/committee does maintenance, collects and publishes errata, considers minor changes, and if the technology is still evolving, prepares the next major version.

The W3C have not yet defined the selection criteria for identifying which specifications suitable for submission. I think it will be interesting to see how the market acceptance criteria will be used.  It will also be interesting to see what the timescales for such standardisation processes will be and whether the standardisation will be applied to recent W3C specification or older ones.  It seems, for example, that the ISO/IEC 15445:2000 standard for Information technology — Document description and processing languages — HyperText Markup Language (HTML) , which was first published in 2000 and updated in 2003, is the ISO standardisation of the HTML 4.0 specification. We can safely say that HTML 4 does have market acceptance, but the market place has  moved on with developers now interested in the HTML5 specification. Will the ISO standardisation take place several years after a standard has become ubiquitous, I wonder?