Why Get Involved in Web Standards?

Image credit: wpc.guide

Post originally appeared on dev.to.

The web is going through an unprecedented period of change and evolution. New features, new technologies and new ideas are coming to the web. Luckily, it’s a platform that, since its invention in 1992 by Tim Berners-Lee, continues to be able to incorporate new capabilities as it develops. Unique among computing platforms, the web is built on top of open, royalty free standards. While there are definitely dominant players, the web is not controlled by any one corporate entity or organisation. 

But where do new web standards come from? Many web developers think of standards as something that happens to them, by people in some room over there. Historically speaking, they’re not wrong. The culture of the groups that worked on some of the original web standards were born from the culture of the people creating Internet standards: elite groups of technical architects. I used to be one of those people. But I’ve been on a mission to broaden access to web standards, and to increase transparency and participation by web developers. This web we have doesn’t belong to elite architects. It belongs to the people who build it and the people who use it. there has never been a more opportune time to get involved. 

If you’re looking for a much more complete primer on different web standards organisations, where they fit together, what work happens where, and how to get involved, I suggest you take a look at this great site put together by the people at Bocoup: the Web Platform Contribution Guide.

For many reasons, such as “because we have lawyers and patents”, Web standards need to be built according to rules. Different standards groups have different sets of rules and different licenses (analogous to open source licenses) that they apply to the standards they produce. They also have different codes of conduct and decision making processes. One venue where web standards are developed is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – the organisation that was founded by Tim Berners-Lee in 1994 (around the same time I started working on the web – whoosh). The W3C is comprised of many “working groups” which work on different parts of the web platform – the “CSS working group” and the “Web Applications working group”, for example. Every year, the W3C brings these groups together in one place for something called Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee week – which was too long to say, so we shortened it to TPAC (pronounced tea pack). Apart from the working group meetings, TPAC also has breakout sessions, which in practice are more like an un-conference: anyone from the community can suggest a topic and people can show up to hear a talk and/or discuss that topic. These breakouts are often where new ideas are germinated. They also function as a way for people working in one area of web technology to learn about, and input into, what’s going on somewhere else.

This year, of course, everything is virtual, and TPAC is no exception. Because of this, and also because many people have been encouraging greater openness to the developer community at TPAC, W3C have decided to open up the TPAC breakout schedule for free to web developers world wide.

I want to make a special shout out to developers from under-represented groups or marginalised communities. The diversity in the web standards community is not great. And this means we don’t have the benefit of those diverse viewpoints when new standards are being created. To put it bluntly: the web needs you.

Getting involved in web standards can also give you increased insight into the tools you use, connect you with a global community of practice and help you build your career. You can put your mark on the web. 

If you got this far you may be saying “sounds good but I have questions.” And this is why I’ll be participating in a live session on Monday the 19th of October at 16:00 London time (15:00 UTC). I hope you’ll join me with Dom from W3C and Sheila from Bocoup for a briefing and Q&A that will hopefully answer your questions. If you can’t make this session, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.

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