Technology, Knowledge, and Society’s Updates

The Group That Rules the Web

newyorker.com | Article Link | by Paul Ford

You might have read that, on October 28th, W3C officially recommended HTML5. And you might know that this has something to do with apps and the Web. The question is: Does this concern you?

The answer, at least for citizens of the Internet, is yes: it is worth understanding both what HTML5 is and who controls the W3C. And it is worth knowing a little bit about the mysterious, conflict-driven cultural process whereby HTML5 became a “recommendation.” Billions of humans will use the Web over the next decade, yet not many of those people are in a position to define what is “the Web” and what isn’t. The W3C is in that position. So who is in this cabal? What is it up to? Who writes the checks?

The Web is a Millennial. It was first proposed twenty-five years ago, in 1989. Six years later, Netscape’s I.P.O. kicked off the Silicon Valley circus. When the Web was brand new, many computer-savvy people despised it—compared to other hypertext-publishing systems, it was a primitive technology. For example, you could link from your Web page to any other page, but you couldn’t know when someone linked to your Web page. Nor did the Web allow you to edit pages in your browser. To élite hypertext thinkers and programmers, these were serious flaws.

The Web was, however, very easy to set up and learn. It contained the seeds of its own transmission—anyone could learn HyperText Markup Language by reading a Web page then viewing the raw HTML beneath. The Web was made up of simple documents and images that linked to other simple documents and images.

The religion of technology is featurism, however, and, so, people began adding everything they could to the Web. How about displaying things in 3-D? How about text that blinks or text that scrolls across the page as a marquee? What about turning every single Web page into software? Different browsers—with names like Mosaic, Netscape, Internet Explorer, Cyberdog, Spyglass, Lynx, and Amaya—appeared, each carving out its own cultural and market niches.

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  • Ashwin Kumar