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W3C Standards and You and Me
by Denny Lancaster
-- August 20, 2003
A HTML Short History

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is the computer language sent from your web server to the web browser on your users' computer which display the pages that make up your web site creation.  The World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org)  manages the HTML specification.  One major objective of HTML is to provide the ability for anyone from anywhere to access information on the World Wide Web.

 

Denny Lancaster

This concept generally holds true if you conform strictly to the relevant version of the HTML specification that you will support. Unfortunately, in the real world, it is possible for a developer to inadvertently use a proprietary HTML tag that may not work for all of your intended users.
HTML has been in use by the World-Wide Web (WWW) global information initiative since 1990. Previously, informal documentation on HTML has been available from a number of sources on the Internet. This specification brings together, clarifies, and formalizes a set of features that roughly corresponds to the capabilities of HTML in common use prior to June 1994. This is a common statement that accompanies each version change: Certain features of the language are necessary for compatibility with earlier versions of the specification, but they tend to be used and implemented inconsistently, and their use is deprecated. This feature test entity enables a document type definition that allows these features. We can therefore appreciate the fact that what is called "depreciated use" was widely used by authors, inherent in browser software and or required by servers which handle and display HTML documents, literally meant that certain proprietary documents were not available to all viewers, hence not acceptable for general use.

Verification of HTML

Verifying HTML is simple in concept but can be very time consuming in practice. A good place to start is with the World Wide Web Consortium's free HTML Validation Service (http://validator.w3.org). There are also other online and downloadable applications to help in this area such as Net Mechanic (http://www.netmechanic.com). There are two main aspects of verifying the validity of your HTML. First, you want to make sure that your syntax is correct, such as verifying that all opening and closing tags match, etc. Secondly, you want to verify how your pages look in different browsers, at different screen resolutions, and on different operating systems. Create a profile of your target audience and make some decisions on what browsers you will support, on which operating systems, and at what screen resolutions. The WDG portion of the W3C verification permits a more detailed "look" at our code by using lint features or syntax. Specifically the proper beginning and ending tags for the differing document elements, like headers and so forth.

Browsers and HTML

In general, the later versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer are very forgiving. If your development has only been using Internet Explorer 5.5 on high-resolution monitors, you may be unpleasantly surprised when you see your web application on a typical user's computer. The sooner you start verifying your HTML, the better off your web application will be. Much has been said, and will be said about the recent demise of Netscape and the announced non support of Internet Explorer, and does the impact our "rush to standards."

So please consider the following as you contemplate whether the significant effort, which is required to bring any online publication "up to standard", is worth the effort. All prior versions of both the most popular browsers will be in continued use for many years to come, which may cause you to wonder why? Just because a new browser version was free to download, would in a significant number of instances not be compatible with the operating system or hardware configurations of the end user, so older browser versions will be in continued use. Those who will continue with browser development have learned from the "browser wars of the late 1990s" that building and maintains a browser which will not afford the viewing of a majority of "valid" documents is counter productive in terms of cost and not in the long term desirable for the continued growth of the World Wide Web. Therefore future generations of browsers may or may not be "forgiving" of our coding errors.

A Doctype Statement

Unicode is the World's standard for encoding text. Most all of the characters used in modern writing systems have already been assigned to unique code positions and work is under way to add some fairly exotic modern scripts as well as provide standardized encoding for ancient scripts. If your browser has multilingual capabilities, it probably uses Unicode to address the various letters, characters, and symbols shown on your screen.

Evolution of W3C as a World Wide Community

In 1969 a key step was taken by S. Crocker (then at UCLA) in establishing the Request for Comments (or RFC) series of notes. These memos were intended to be an informal fast distribution way to share ideas with other network researchers. At first the RFCs were printed on paper and distributed via snail mail. As the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) came into use, the RFCs were prepared as online files and accessed via FTP. Now, of course, the RFCs are easily accessed via the World Wide Web at dozens of sites around the world.

In the late 1970's, recognizing that the growth of the Internet was accompanied by a growth in the size of the interested research community and therefore an increased need for coordination mechanisms, Vint Cerf, then manager of the Internet Program at DARPA, formed several coordination bodies - an International Cooperation Board (ICB), chaired by Peter Kirstein of UCL, to coordinate activities with some cooperating European countries centered on Packet Satellite research, an Internet Research Group which was an inclusive group providing an environment for general exchange of information, and an Internet Configuration Control Board (ICCB), chaired by Clark. The ICCB was an invitational body to assist Cerf in managing the burgeoning Internet activity.

The growth in the commercial sector brought with it increased concern regarding the standards process it. Starting in the early 1980's and continuing to this day, the Internet grew beyond its primarily research roots to include both a broad user community and increased commercial activity. Increased attention was paid to making the process open and fair. This coupled with a recognized need for community support of the Internet eventually led to the formation of the Internet Society in 1991, under the auspices of Kahn's Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) and the leadership of Cerf, then with CNRI.

The recent development and widespread deployment of the World Wide Web has brought with it a new community, as many of the people working on the WWW have not thought of themselves as primarily network researchers and developers. A new coordination organization was formed, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Initially led from MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science by Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the WWW) and Al Vezza, W3C has taken on the responsibility for evolving the various protocols and standards associated with the Web.

A Future of The World Wide Web

The most pressing question for the future of the Internet is not how the technology will change, but how the process of change and evolution itself will be managed. As this paper describes, the architecture of the Internet has always been driven by a core group of designers, but the form of that group has changed as the number of interested parties has grown. With the success of the Internet has come a proliferation of stakeholders - stakeholders now with an economic as well as an intellectual investment in the network. We now see, in the debates over control have the domain name space and the form of the next generation IP addresses, a struggle to find the next social structure that will guide the Internet in the future. The form of that structure will be harder to find, given the large number of concerned stakeholders. At the same time, the industry struggles to find the economic rationale for the large investment needed for the future growth, for example to upgrade residential access to a more suitable technology. If the Internet stumbles, it will not be because we lack for technology, vision, or motivation. It will be because we cannot set a direction and march collectively into the future.

Creation of The W3C

The World Wide Web Consortium was created in October 1994 to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. W3C has around 450 Member organizations from all over the world and has earned international recognition for its contributions to the growth of the Web.

W3C's long-term goals for the Web are:

  1. Universal Access: To make the Web accessible to all by promoting technologies that take into account the vast differences in culture, languages, education, ability, material resources, access devices, and physical limitations of users on all continents.

  2. Semantic Web: To develop a software environment that permits each user to make the best use of the resources available on the Web.

  3. Web of Trust: To guide the Web's development with careful consideration for the novel legal, commercial, and social issues raised by this technology.

Guided by these design principles, W3C has published more than forty Recommendations since its inception. Each Recommendation not only builds on the previous, but is designed so that it may be integrated with future specifications as well. W3C is transforming the architecture of the initial Web (essentially HTML, URIs, and HTTP) into the architecture of tomorrow's Web, built atop the solid foundation provided by XML.

W3C cannot ensure the implementation of its specifications unless the community of developers and users are convinced of their worth. Promotion and education are critical to W3C's success. Part of this effort includes publishing guidelines for good practices (including the Web Accessibility Guidelines already available), offering validation services (developed within W3C or by its partners), test suites, prototype and sample applications, and responsiveness to public input and questions. W3C's work does not stop when a Recommendation is published, but continues through the promotion, support, maintenance, and improvement of its specifications.

Through investment and active participation in W3C Activities, the Members ensure the strength and direction of the Consortium. Members include vendors of technology products and services, content providers, corporate users, research laboratories, standards bodies, and governments, all of who work to reach consensus on a direction for the Web. These organizations are typically investing significant resources into the web, in developing software products, in developing information products, or most commonly in its use as an enabling medium for their business or activity. There has been a strong desire that the stability of the Web should be maintained by a competent authority, and many prospective W3C Members have expressed their desire to provide funding in support of that effort. W3C is thus financed primary by its Members and, to a lesser extent, by public funds. W3C Membership is available to all organizations.

Thus, through the over two decades of Internet activity, we have seen a steady evolution of organizational structures designed to support and facilitate an ever-increasing community working collaboratively on Internet issues. So you have read dear reader that rather than being thrust upon us, being forced to adopt standards or being willy-nilly, standards have been with us much longer than most of our readers. Now perhaps you may wish to at least consider hopping on the band wagon as a steady hand leads us into the future with standards that truly make the World Wide Web available to everyone, on every continent, in every language with our varied backgrounds and religious inclinations.

References: ISOC, History of the Internet
History of Internet and WWW: The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History
1995-1998 by Gregory R. Gromov
Bailey, Charles W., Jr. "Electronic (Online) Publishing in Action, The Public-Access Computer Systems Review and Other Electronic Serials." ONLINE (1991-1994)
The History of the Internet, By Dave Kristula, March 1997
Hobbes' Internet Timeline Copyright 1993-2003 by Robert H Zakon.
Early Networking History by Zheng Wang
Information Management: A Proposal, by Tim Berners-Lee, CERN, March 1989, May 1990.

Denny Lancaster
Copyright 2003
All Rights Reserved

About the Author
Denny is the Compliance Manager of Award Sites!  He is also the owner of the Lancasters Laughing Place site and the elite Award Sites! 5.0 rated Talking Hands Award Program . . . and has excellent knowledge of W3C and WAI issues.  Professionally, he is a retired senior partner, tax attorney specializing in international finance.  Moreover, Denny administers a private foundation which builds free enabled computers for deaf and blind persons throughout the state of Alabama . . . and is a talented poet.

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