The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

W3C Input to the United Nations "Enhanced Cooperation" Study.


This report was prepared by the W3C staff (World Wide Web Consortium) as input to the United Nations Under-Secretary General, on how the process toward enhanced cooperation should be pursued (invitation received in Decembre 2008, follow-up to an earlier letter in March 2008).

W3C has no reporting duties to the United Nations or any of its agencies, and in this context, the goal of this memo is only to share our understanding on the role we and other standard making organisations play regarding some important Internet Governance issues facing society today.

Main Points

Each professional community (techies, gov, civil society, industry) should do what they are best at, and cooperate with other communities that have different expertise. 

Engineering communities should continue define and develop technologies. Governments should define and enforce laws, and everybody need to understand the new technologies as they are developed. Engineers need to better understand social and ethical aspects of the new technologies being developed. All communities should keep in mind an overall mission of promoting the human rights of access to information and freedom of expression and communication.

Here's a summary of the situation as we see it with respect to Internet and Web Standards.

The technology infrastructure of the Internet and the World Wide Web has developped out of an open collaboration process in a multi-stakeholder environment, with participation from academia, industry, government (through funding orientation, not architecture orientation), advocacy groups (e.g., in the area of accessibility), and end-users (public review, quality, etc).

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develops the Web (HTML, CSS, XML, Web Services, WAI Guidelines, etc.).  The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops the Internet (TCP/IP, DNC, Email, etc.).  These organizations have different but related technical focus and expertise. W3C and IETF developed the HTTP protocol together and some other XML-related technologies, but there is generally a clear separation of technical responsibilities for both organizations. Other consortia, like Unicode, are equally important.

The IETF and W3C are not “industry consortia” and, in fact, work in most ways like formal standard organizations.  IETF and W3C are unique, non-for-profit global coordination bodies, in which experts from industry, academia, government and non-governmental organizations develop open technical standards. This work is given freely to the world, implemented by the industry and the open source community for the benefits of the public at large.

These technical standards have been, and are still, developed in a multi-stakeholders way, with an open and participative bottom-up style, based on simple principles such as interoperability (i.e., it should work on any hardware, with any operating system, and from any software), and universality (i.e., it should work irrespective of culture, language, character sets used; and it should be accessible to people with disabilities).

Governments should play an important role as sponsors and users of the Internet technologies, but not as network architects. Governments and civil society need to create enabling environments. No matter the brilliance of the technology, its benefits are unevenly distributed and ultimately depend on wise policy action to ensure an equality of access all around the world.

Recent activities

The most unique challenges base technology providers (e.g. ICANN, IETF/ISOC, W3C) face to is to develop a shared infrastructure of resources and standards dealing with issues that have significant social impact, but at the same time require technical expertise and operational consensus in order to be effectively addressed. We need to allow for flexibility and innovation, and at the same time focus on functional requirements, not technology-specific rules, business, political, social, which means a rich cross-layer coordination is required, and for a small structure like W3C, this is where most of our limited "policy" time is spent.

At the same time, we're trying to continue pushing the agenda of Open Standards by participating more actively in the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Open Standards, DCOS.

The WSIS Declaration of Principles states that "Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society." and we find it a priority that Internet organisations that have made and continue to make the Internet a reality are engaged in that debate.

W3C is also participating in the Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability, trying to improve synergy and coordination with our WAI project.

More generally, by increasing its worldwide presence, W3C is continuously trying to increase its presence and outreach to new countries and world regions in matter of Open Standards adoption. Our work on Internationalisation and Accessibility are examples of our desire to be inclusive of all users, all cultures, and to outreach and gather the right constituanties for the future development of this revolutionary platform.

In 2008, in the area of "enhanced cooperation", it is worth mentioning that W3C has finally come together to create a Web Foundation that we hope will help not only in providing additional resources for Web Standards and Science, including Internet Governance and policy liaison issues but also address the Digital Divide part of the Tunis agenda by starting Web for Society projects, to leverage the Web to empower people, especially in under-served populations. This foundation mission is to ensure that over the long term, the Web is accessible and useful to people, including people with disabilities, from different cultures, and language and literacy skills that span the range of the Earth's population.


Most of the things we do are about enhanced cooperation and consensus building. Inclusiveness is a key word at W3C.

We believe that Internet and Web Open Standardisation is one of the important topic that the IGF should discuss, but also that direct participation by any stake-holders in the setting of the technical and procedural agenda of organisations such as W3C should be encouraged. The UN should encourage governments, its members, to allocate more resources in every topic at the appropriate level (be it Standards, Accessibility, Privacy, etc).

People no longer have to watch things happening from the outside, and participation in future Internet and Web developments is and has always be open to everyone: this is the added-value provided by our virtual communities approach: we can overlap and mix part of the communities and operate even better.

W3C is already present on all continents, and is very excited by the involvement of even more participants and views from organizations and individuals not yet involved in the development of Web standards. Our new eGov activity for instance is designed to create even more connections between policy makers and technologists, so the citizen, the end-users, is best served.

W3C is also behind the creation of the Web Foundation, which we hope will soon become a leading actor in the Web technologies policy debates.

We hope this short report will be of use to the UN and we look forward to seeing the overall study results regarding cooperation and support for cooperation.

About the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

The W3C was created to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. It is an international consortium jointly run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) in the USA, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered in France and Keio University in Japan. Services provided by the Consortium include: a repository of information about the World Wide Web for developers and users, and various prototype and sample applications to demonstrate use of new technology. More than 350 organizations are Members of W3C. To learn more, see

Editor: Daniel Dardailler
Last modified: 3 Feb 2009

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