Needs of a member-driven but public-interest global organization

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I have been looking at the impact of participation at the Web Consortium, and the impact of our work on humanity, as I am exploring how to improve our existing capabilities and develop new ones to make the web work for everyone, and to rise up to meet more of the challenges which the web faces.

Truly, participation at the World Wide Web Consortium is a key to success. Not just the success of the Consortium, but the success of the web as the single virtual platform that connects everyone in the world. Participation at W3C is one of the reasons why the web is increasingly more powerful and ubiquitous. Thousands of contributors extend the web in a coordinated fashion so that services and products inter-operate across a diversity of hardware, software, network infrastructures, native languages and writing systems, cultures, geographies, etc., in a way that is respectful of basic design principles: web accessibility, internationalization, privacy and security.

W3C itself can be seen as a sophisticated -- if not complex! -- ecosystem. Since its creation almost 30 years ago, it has adjusted its processes and policies to develop web standards through consensus in the open. As a member-driven public-interest non-profit organization, W3C convenes paying Members whose business is powered by, or accessed through, the web. Our standards development activities take place in public, are open to all who wish to participate, are transparent and follow due process, and are adopted voluntarily. The success also hinges on the W3C Patent Policy which requires that all Members commit to making their own patented inventions implicated by standards available on a royalty-free basis. This foundational principle has been instrumental to the accessibility and broad reach of the web, and to fostering innovation and experimentation, lowering barriers to entry and making the web a platform for all.

There is considerable energy and people-power fueling our standard development operations, and I am proud that the W3C Team facilitates this so deftly and expertly. Just consider that so much of our work is done through 14,700+ participants -- and that's only counting people who joined W3C work groups, but there are many more contributors via GitHub, public mailing lists, or Test Suite development -- which is facilitated by the 22 persons in the Project team of the W3C Staff. 35% of the active W3C community is composed by W3C Members: 2,200 W3C Member employees are assigned to W3C Working Groups, over 550 to W3C Interest Groups, and over 2,300 to W3C Community Groups (there are about 150 of them today) which are open to the public. In fact, they are meant to be started by the public, slightly outside of but close to the W3C formal process, as a way to conduct pre-standardization, incubate proposals, gauge interest or needs. Just counting the work of the formal groups, 12,880 specifications have been published since October 1994. Of these and in those almost 30 years, 497 are current standards. Today W3C work is split between 42 Working Groups and 9 Interest Groups.

There are considerable stakes on the line and therefore the impact is meaningful: W3C aspires to make the web work, for everyone. For the 5.4 Billion who are already online (almost 70%), but also for the 2.6 Billion who aren't yet. Perhaps we need to define the future web through the lens of what the remaining 30% of the world population need in order to enjoy its benefits. We aspire to that. It behooves us to connect both W3C Members and the public for exchange of ideas between the best and brightest in the field around the world, so that together we bring innovative solutions to global problems. We need to increase representation from a wider group of people, especially people from under-represented groups. It is vital for creating web standards that meet the needs of the wider web community.

I ponder the following questions as I survey both the impact that our Membership model has had, and our imperative as a young 501(c)(3) to demonstrably serve public interests: How to size the Consortium properly, which changes are coming, how better to engage our community and grow it, which mechanisms or contribution hubs will open us the doors to greater inclusion and diversity, and how do we diversify our income to enable this?

We have many opportunities ahead of us to further strengthen our membership and deepen/broaden participation in a way to ensure that there is one web for all, developed and shepherded at the Web Consortium: this is our future success.

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