The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) welcomes the initiative from United Nations Secretary-General to launch a new platform for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue -- the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), as a continuation of the WSIS. We are pleased to participate and respond to the call for comments on how the IGF should operate, what should be its scope and first issues to work on.
At the operational level, we think that the IGF would benefit from including in its steering/advisory group representatives from existing Internet organizations such as W3C, ICANN or IETF, and share their experience in consensus building mechanisms.
In considering the IGF agenda, we propose that the issues of Internet/Web Standardization and Content selection and filtering (aka the Semantic Web) be put on the table as soon as possible.
Finally, we think the IGF represents a real opportunity for the policy-making community worlwide to showcase the power of Open Internet online tools and the use of Open standards as a way to help consensus building among all parties involved.
(In this paper, the names Internet, Net, or Internet/Web, are used interchangeably to identify the same thing -- the network of networks and the stack of technologies that have allowed individuals and organizations worldwide to connect to each other through computers exchanging standardized data.)
By increasing its worldwide presence 1 W3C is continuously trying to increase its presence and outreach to new countries and world regions.
Our work on Internationalization and Accessibility, our offices in 18 locations (with more planned), our sliding-scale fees, our translations into ~40 languages, our public fora, and our liaisons with over 40 national and international organizations -- all collectively demonstrate our desire to be inclusive of all users, all cultures, and to outreach and gather the right constituencies for the future development of this revolutionary platform. [1: http://www.w3.org/2005/02/W3C-Global-Focus.html ]
W3C recognizes the importance of the WSIS Declaration of Principles 2 and strongly shares the vision of an Information Society in which everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge. As we "collectively enter a new era of enormous potential" (to quote the last article of the declaration), we are convinced that the W3C mission of "leading the Web to its full potential" is in line with the goal of building this new knowledge society. [2: http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html ]
The creation of an ongoing international platform to discuss matters related to Internet Governance and the interfacing between technologists, end-users, and policy makers, is a welcome move from the UN. We hope the IGF will help the various stake-holders to understand how the Internet and the Web came to be and how to move forward in this new global landscape of open communication.
We hope that the IGF main roles will be to encourage and stimulate exchanges of views, ideas and information concerning information society issues, and to organize educational programs, seminars and other activities to promote understanding of legal and technological trends relating to the Net. We suggest the IGF should produce reports and best practices in policy development that will act as recommendations for the stake-holders to move together in the same direction.
An example of such policy best practice report from the IGF would be to foster the development and adoption of a common international (and localized) ontology/vocabulary to support the objective characterization of content, (such as the level of nudity, violence, etc.) on a given Web page or site.
Because of our historical and active role as Internet/Web technology makers, we propose that W3C and IETF/ISOC both be given permanent representation on the IGF multistakeholder advisory group. In that way, policy makers and civil societies would get the necessary technical information they need at the source, rather than through intermediaries, and our technical communities would be better informed of policy goals and issues.
The W3C already operates in a multi-stakeholder international environment to make global standardization a reality for the Web. Although a technical body, not policy-oriented, we hope to share our experience with inventing the foundational web technologies in a highly-distributed, international, consensus-oriented environment.
The IGF should look closely at the operational and procedural mechanisms that have been put in place in the past in existing Internet organisations such as W3C, ICANN and IETF, and benefit from their prior experience in gathering a set of multistakeholder constituancies.
In addition, W3C would like to see the following items considered on the IGF agenda sooner rather than later.
The WSIS Declaration of Principles states that "Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society." and that "International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.?
Although IETF and W3C have always had primary responsibilities for the design and the specification of Internet and Web standards, they still are not considered official by many governmental bodies. In order to expedite rapid and necessary integration of the Internet/Web technologies in all layers of our societies (e.g., from accessing adult content to paying taxes online), it becomes important that credit and recognition be given to the Internet organizations that have made and continue to make the Internet a reality. Without governmental support and official adoption, a lot of players will lose precious time in their Net adoption agenda. We suggest the IGF formalize recognition of IETF and W3C technical standards.
We believe that Internet standardization is one of the most important topics that the IGF should discuss soon. We suggest this will be best achieved with the voluntary participation of all stake-holders in the technical and procedural setting of organizations such as W3C. Interested parties should not just watch from the outside, but should participate in future developments. Those who are 'in the room' will determine the direction of these technologies. We are very excited by the opportunity to welcome even more participants and views from organizations and individuals not yet involved in the development of Web standards and good practices.
W3C wishes to take the opportunity of the first IGF plenary meeting at the end of 2006 to present its process 3 and activities, in particular in the area of Semantic Web, Web Accessibility (WAI) and Multilingualism. [3: http://www.w3.org/Consortium/ ]
Facilitating the positive interaction of technology and policy has long been a goal of the W3C. In particular, the W3C has looked at the handling of harmful content on the Web. What is harmful content or criminal behavior on the Net? The definition varies between cultures and communities, so how do we -- technologists, users, and policy makers -- integrate those variations in this new global information society?
The global reach and local depth of the Internet has enabled an increasingly wide range of human activity to take advantage of networked communication and information sharing. As a result, it is only normal that some people don't like what others are doing on/with the Net.
The W3C has long been concerned about social impacts of these new technologies. In fact, "Content Selection and Filtering" was one of the first items on the W3C agenda as early as 1995 (PICS).4 Such topics have significant societal implications (e.g., censorship risk, protection of children), and at the same time, require technical expertise and operational consensus among all partners in order to be effectively addressed. As of today, we think it is best addressed by Semantic Web 5 technologies and Web metadata/ontology infrastructure, including trust and XML digital signature deployment. [4: http://www.w3.org/PICS/ and 5: http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/ ]
Governments and eGovernments should understand that recognizing and respecting those technical layers does not cede any policy decisions or legal authority. Rather, these are technology tools that can be used.
W3C suggests policy makers need to have a clear understanding of the functional layering for different pieces of technologies in that area of Internet and Web technologies. Understanding this flexibility will allow for innovative policy deployment (e.g., things that are doable today, that policy makers may ignore) and enable users, whether individuals or organizations responsible for individuals, to choose the appropriate combination of technologies to achieve their goals.
Although not a policy discussion per se, the issue of "how are we working together" is often under-estimated as a lever for good coordination and cooperation.
Effective Net Governance will only be achieved with a mindset that embraces the modus operandi that has created the Internet to start with: a transparent and traceable process for decision making, using Internet/Web technologies to communicate, based on consensual discussions and experiments. This is not to say that public policy issues should be treated the same as technical ones, but to insist on the use of the right online technologies for achieving this goal.
Our experience in designing open web standards in a highly international, competitive commercial and industrial environment shows that this can actually work, as long as:
a) all the stake-holders share the same overall mission, e.g., promoting access to information and freedom of expression and communication; and,
b) participants are provided with open Internet/Web tools with which to participate, such as: email, searchable archives, accessible and usable Web sites, rich hyperlink content (not just printable reports), minutes recorded for all committee meetings, instant messaging and group chat to enhance meeting participation, voice-over-IP technologies for distributed participation, blogs, online surveys, etc.
The IGF community, including its secretariat, should set a high standards for the rest of the policy-making community, by exploiting the power of Internet online tools as a way to help consensus building. Like the majority of government agencies or eGovernment projects nowadays, the IGF should require the use of Open Internet/Web technologies and formats to organize its activities (e.g., use of valid and accessible HTML markup).
ICT standardization has lots of policy implications (e.g., W3C Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines and official referencing in legislation, procurement). The W3C welcomes more awareness and cooperation with UN affiliated groups (UNESCO, ITU, UN Information System) and with eGovernment/Public agencies worldwide.
The Semantic Web is a new platform that the IGF should be aware of (e.g., toward solving the harmful content issues) and understand well in order to discuss policy and operational development of the Internet for the next ten years. W3C welcomes the opportunity to present its recent work -- also including Accessibility and Multilingualism -- at the first meeting of the forum.
We urge the Internet Governance Forum to demonstrate the power of the Web, by using the tools of the Internet to conduct its business.
The W3C looks forward to working with the IGF community on these
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. W3C primarily pursues its mission through the creation of Web standards and guidelines designed to ensure long-term growth for the Web. Over 400 organizations are Members of the Consortium. W3C is jointly run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) in the USA, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered in France, Keio University in Japan, and has additional Offices worldwide. For more information see http://www.w3.org/