Day-to-day work at W3C

An author for IEEE asked me last week, for an article he’s writing, to write a high level introduction to the World Wide Web Consortium, and what its day-to-day work looks like.

Most of the time when we get asked, we pull from boilerplate descriptions, and/or from the website, and send a copy-paste and links. It takes less than a minute. But every now and then, I write something from scratch. It brings me right back to why I am in awe of what the web community does at the Consortium, and why I am so proud and grateful to be a small part of it.

Then that particular write-up becomes my favourite until the next time I’m in the mood to write another version. Here’s my current best high level introduction to the World Wide Web Consortium, and what its day-to-day work looks like, which I have adorned with home-made illustrations I showed during a conference talk a few years ago.

World Wide What Consortium?

The World Wide Web Consortium was created in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee, a few years after he had invented the Word Wide Web. He did so in order for the interests of the Web to be in the hands of the community.

“If I had turned the Web into a product, it would have been in people’s interest to create an incompatible version of it.”

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web

So for almost 28 years, W3C has been developing standards and guidelines to help everyone build a web that is based on crucial and inclusive values: accessibility, internationalization, privacy and security, and the principle of interoperability. Pretty neat, huh? Pretty broad too!

From the start W3C has been an international community where member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together in the open.

Graphic with illustrations showing that the public and members contribute to 52 work groups, and that 56 people in the w3c staff help create web standards of which there were 400 at the time I made this drawing
W3C Overview

The sausage

In the web standards folklore, the product –web standards– are called “the sausage” with tongue in cheek. (That’s one of the reasons behind having made black aprons with a white embroidered W3C icon on the front, as a gift to our Members and group participants when a big meeting took place in Lyon, the capital of French cuisine.)

Since 1994, W3C Members have produced 454 standards. The most well-known are HTML and CSS because they have been so core to the web for so long, but in recent years, in particular since the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve heard a lot about WebRTC which turns terminals and devices into communication tools by enabling real-time audio/video, and other well-known standards include XML which powers vast data systems on the web, or WebAuthn which significantly improves security while interacting with sites, or Web Content Authoring Guidelines which puts web accessibility to the fore and is critical to make the web available to people of all disabilities and all abilities.

The sausage factory

The day to day work we do is really of setting the stages to bring various groups together in parallel to progress on nearly 400 specifications (at the moment), developed in over 50 different groups.

There are 2,000 participants from W3C Members in those groups, and over 13,000 participants in the public groups that anyone can create and join and where typically specifications are socialized and incubated.

There are about 50 persons in the W3C staff, a fourth of which dedicate time as helpers to advise on the work, technologies, and to ensure easy “travel” on the Recommendation track, for groups which advance the web specifications following the W3C process (the steps through which specs must progress.)

Graphic showing a stick figure with 16 arms and smaller drawings of stick figure at a computer, stick figure talking to people, and stick figure next to documents. The graphic lists nine different roles: super interface, representation of w3c in groups, participation and contribution, technical expertise, mastering the process, creation of groups and their management, liaison with other technical groups, being consensual.
Role of the W3C staff in work groups

The rest of the staff operate at the level of strategy setting and tracking for technical work, soundness of technical integrity of the global work, meeting the particular needs of industries which rely on the web or leverage it, integrity of the work with regard to the values that drive us: accessibility, internationalization, privacy and security; and finally, recruiting members, doing marketing and communications (that’s where I fit!), running events for the work groups to meet, and general administrative support.

Graphic with stick figures representing Tim Berners-Lee, the CEO and the team, and four areas of help: support, strategy, architecture & technology, industry, project.
W3C team

Why does it work?

Several of the unique strengths of W3C are our proven process which is optimized to seek consensus and aim for quality work; and our ground-breaking Patent Policy whose royalty-free commitments boosts broad adoption: W3C standards may be used by any corporation, anyone, at no cost: if they were not free, developers would ignore them.

Graphic showing the steps from an idea to a web standard
From an idea to a standard

There are other strengths but in the interest of time, I’ll stop at the top two. There are countless stories and many other facets, but that would be for another time.

Sorry, it turned out to be a bit long because it’s hard to do a quick intro; there is so much work. If you’re still with me (hi!), did you learn anything from this post?

Mes lightning talks à Paris Web

Paris Web 2014

C’est là qu’est l’os (Paris Web 2014, lightning talk) [slides]

Lightning talks from Paris Web on Vimeo.

Paris Web 2016

Je l’ai annoncé, puis je l’ai présenté : Le rôle du staff W3C pour continuer de réinventer le Web de demain (Paris Web 2016, lightning talk) [slides]

Lightning talks from Paris Web on Vimeo.

Photo of me on stage at a transparent pulpit with microphone. I am a woman with short auburn curly hair. I wear a white shirt and blue jeans. I am looking at the audience. Behind me on the large screen is the bottom right of a slide where I hand wrote in white my name, affiliation and handle.
Coralie Mercier, Paris Web 2016, Photo by Emmanuelle Legrand

#ParisWeb 2016: notes and thoughts (day 2)

[Read my notes and thoughts about Day 1.]

I attended Paris Web 2016 on 29-30 September, a two-track conference followed by a day of workshops. I heard about the French Web conference in 2006 for its first edition, but I’ve attended only the last 3 editions. It’s such a great conference. The people are passionate and respectful –no, they are caring and it makes the conference extra special. The staff is dedicated and wonderful. The speakers are excellent. It’s probably the most inclusive conference; as far as I can tell, it’s the only conference that has:

  1. live French sign language,
  2. live translation into French of English presentations, and
  3. transcriptions projected on screen.

In addition, the conferences are filmed for streaming and posterity.

I am not a Web {developer,designer}, but I’m interested for my work in taking the pulse of the Web Community as far as Web Standards are concerned. Each of the two parallel tracks of the conference were appealing and I am looking forward to watching the videos of the talks I could not attend.

Here are my notes and thoughts from the second day:

Web Accessibility

09:00: L’accessibilité décomplexée – ce qu’elle peut faire pour vous. Adoptons un point de vue iconoclaste, voire… totalement décomplexé, sur l’accessibilité !

Par Nicolas Hoffmann

Nicolas packages accessible plug-ins, shares them on Github, and encourages everyone to do the same. Accessibility brought Nicolas technical knowledge (that should put to rest all the lame excuses from whiners who wait to accrue technical knowledge *before* they think they can tackle accessibility.)
Any contribution is worthwhile and an investment, bound to reap benefits. Nicolas concluded with a question: “What can accessibility do… for you?”
from Nicolas’ slides:

  • Evangelise accessibility
    • Avoid negative impressions (e.g. showing demos that fail)
    • Show positive stuff instead
  • Center your vision on “others” rather than “self”
  • Start small (but start)

Static Websites

10:00: Ne passons pas à côté des choses simples. Quels sont les secrets de la vogue pour les gestionnaires de sites statiques.
Par Frank Taillandier et
Bertrand Keller

Frank and Bertrand held a conversation on stage where one convinced the other that not all data requires a base, and that HTML, CSS and Javascript in some cases can generate simple and light sites that perform well. It’s high time to “Keep It Static Simple”
I used to keep a local diary powered by Blosxom a decade ago and like how simple it was to use from the command line. I then tried Nikola and Pelican several years ago between Christmas and the New Year, determined to change the way I updated my website, but after several days wrestling, I gave up, sad and frustrated. As soon as I can realistically make time, I’ll look again at what generator(s) might be suitable for me.
from slides linked off Frank’s article:

  • “serverless” movement
  • some say 80% of the Web does not require any database
  • Static website
  • Contribution, update via a headless CMS (or use an online service)
  • Role of APIs
  • Yet, ‘simple’ does not mean ‘easy’
  • A plethora of generators: Jekyll, hexo, hugo, pelican, brunch, middleman, metalsmith, gatsby, harp, grav, assemble, lekto, roots, nanoc, phenomic, etc.

wysiwyg CSS? holy cow!

11:00: CSS et édition WYSIWYG, l’amour vache. CSS et édition Wysiwyg, c’est l’amour vache. Difficile à implémenter et compliqué à matérialiser en UI. Pourquoi et comment ?
Par Daniel Glazman

Daniel demonstrated the subtleties around the particular points that make it hard to do wysiwyg CSS.
I believe there are 10 sorts of people. Those who grok CSS and those like me who weep and swear when they have to do some CSS. (Usually the former are quite snotty about that achievement, as they have all the rights to be. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.)
When it comes to CSS, I have no idea what I’m doing. Really. Often do I find myself thinking “hmmm, I have no idea what I’m doing…” but that statement is completely true only as far as CSS in concerned. It’s like I lack the gene to even grasp it. There isn’t one way to do something in CSS, there is *choice*. I would hate it less if I understood why one choice makes sense because $type-here-the-enlightened-wisdom.
The first time I worked in earnest on a style sheet was a fine but cold Sunday in January 2005. It was also the last time. THE DAMN THING TOOK ME 8 HOURS! Behold the comment I left in that style sheet:

/*Here is downtown2.css, a variation of downtown.css
that I made 2 days ago for my W3C People page. As a beginner 
in CSS  I was exposing to a colleague how I wanted images  
to spring out on mouse hover without knowing if that was 
at all feasible ; I was  pointed to 
and was told "I think it does  what you want." I was told it 
was a bit tricky. The style at is exactly 
the one I was looking for! --05jan2005
"Based on stylesheets from, copyright (c) 
2004 Mark Pilgrim.  
Used here with permission" 
--memento background-color:
purple: a880bd
rosy: ecdeff--
Opera 7.54u1:mac displays a scaled flower in the top square 
on the left.--09jan2005*/
Then, I discovered Westciv’s *StyleMaster*, a style sheet editor that let me apply sheets to web pages, experiment and debug. Yet, not without great effort –remember the missing CSS gene. I haven’t used it in years, mostly because I no longer have to create style sheets from scratch, but I was thoroughly enthused by it.
My question to Daniel, had I had the time to ask it, “Isn’t Style Master a wysiwyg CSS editor and if so, how does it work around the challenges you exposed?”
from Daniel’s slides:

  • [history of wysiwyg]
  • Question about copy/paste: should the style be copied and pasted?
  • What about CSS files that are not local and thus can’t be edited?
  • No FileAPI (File System API is defunct and Web Platform WG might take up work on File API)
  • Conclusion:
    • There is a half wysiwyg CSS editor on the market (BlueGriffon, Daniel’s editor).
    • CSS has been thought for rendering engines but not for editors; and it is not getting any better.
    • There are cases when what to do via a client can’t be done: the user will have to make a choice.

Progressive WebApps

11:45: Progressive Web Apps : le futur du web arrive. Venez découvrir comment le Web peut proposer une expérience proche du natif sur mobile sans les inconvénients des magasins d’applications.
Par Hubert Sablonnière

Hubert is a great story teller; I loved Hubert’s slides and talk!
(slides not found)

  • Desktop vs Mobile vs hybrid apps
  • … Choice depends on context of the user
  • Hubert Sablonnière: “Les URLs, c’est la vie !”
  • New buzzword: Progressive Web Apps (not a new technology but a marketing term)
  • Service Workers – works only in HTTPS
  • See (by Opera DevRel)

A11Y beyond reference frames

13:30: Vers l’infini et au delà des référentiels. Les trucs et astuces pour améliorer l’accessibilité de vos sites au delà de la simple conformité RGAA
Par Eric Gateau et
Aurélien Lévy

(slides not found)

  • RGAA is not a panacea: test for SVG, Canvas, ARIA only
  • Furthermore, accessibility isn’t just voice over, so RGAA doesn’t cover all aspects of a11y
  • Tests with users
  • Ergonomy
  • Fitts’s law: the biggest and closest the target, the easiest it is to hit.
  • Hick’s law: the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.
  • Gestalt laws: near elements are associated, elements that are alike are associated
  • “When UX doesn’t consider ALL users: “some user experience” = SUX” –Billy Gregory

13:30: – where do we go from here? Deque System’s Principal Accessibility Strategist John Foliot provides some insights and future milestones towards
By John Foliot

John gave a well laid-out presentation of W3C Web Accessibility groups current thinking (where ‘current’ dates back a week prior to John’s talk, when the groups met during the W3C TPAC 2016).
One of my take-aways from John’s talk is that Web Accessibility *requirements need to be testable*.
(slides not found)

  • Assessment: we need to blend the guidelines from WCAG, UAAG and ATAG
  • Project Silver: AG = Accessibility Guidelines – Decision by the end of 2016
    • Engage broadly, easily and openly
    • Communicate on that effort
    • Define and engage stakeholders
    • Make decisions based on evidence and data
    • Lifecycle (keep the standards Up-to-date)
    • Broaden the scope of applicability
    • Establish clear milestones
    • Likely to take 5-7 years
  • … in the meantime: WCAG 2.x
  • Task forces:
    • Mobile
    • Low Vision
    • Cognitive
  • New Guideline?: Device Manipulation
  • New Success Criteria Requirements:
    1. clear, measurable
    2. Documentation for developers to understand why the requirement exists
    3. At least 1 technique for success

#ParisWeb 2016: notes and thoughts (day 1)

I attended Paris Web 2016 on 29-30 September, a two-track conference followed by a day of workshops. I heard about the French Web conference in 2006 for its first edition, but I’ve attended only the last 3 editions. It’s such a great conference. The people are passionate and respectful –no, they are caring and it makes the conference extra special. The staff is dedicated and wonderful. The speakers are excellent. It’s probably the most inclusive conference; as far as I can tell, it’s the only conference that has:

  1. live French sign language,
  2. live translation into French of English presentations, and
  3. transcriptions projected on screen.

In addition, the conferences are filmed for streaming and posterity.

I am not a Web {developer,designer}, but I’m interested for my work in taking the pulse of the Web Community as far as Web Standards are concerned. Each of the two parallel tracks of the conference were appealing and I am looking forward to watching the videos of the talks I could not attend.

Here are my notes and thoughts:


09:30: WebAssembly, une nouvelle cible de compilation destinée au web pour transpiler des programmes natifs vers le Web, nous dévoile ses secrets.

Par Benjamin Bouvier (Mozilla)

The description of the presentation stated that WebAssembly was a W3C Standard. That inaccurate statement piqued my interest. WebAssembly had buzzed in June 2015, but that had died out after a few weeks and if it has buzzed again, I have not heard.
I stood up at the microphone at the end and told Benjamin Bouvier that WebAssembly is being incubated in a W3C Community Group and that the group operates independently from the core W3C-staffed Working Groups and Interest Groups which create Web standards.
from Benjamin’s slides:

  • to port native applications on the Web
  • e.g. Telegram web app uses a small AMS module
  • threads (which JS doesn’t do)
  • sandboxed
  • [Demos of video games]
  • When is WebAssembly going to be released?
    • it’s being implemented by browsers
    • could be available early 2017

e-commerce best practices

10:20: Y’a pas d’avancement, pas de grimaces ! Suggestion de bonnes pratiques à adopter pour des sites e-commerce qui souhaitent épargner des grimaces à leurs utilisateurs.

Par Thomas Gasc

A series of sensible and most relevant Opquast Best Practices for e-commerce sites, illustrated by hand-made slides with graphs and examples.

Cartography on the Web

10:45: L’épopée d’un développeur front au pays des cartes

Par Erik Escoffier

Open cartography on the Web is Erik’s passion. I have heard a lot about the topic in the past decade or so, in particular OSM, without falling for it. BUT, if I had, I already had a user name for myself: osm117 (inside joke: French movie about a dubious spy).
from Erik’s slides:

  • Cartography on the Web
  • Open alternative to Google Maps
  • OSM (the wikipedia for maps)
  • “Open” enables data visualisation. Loads of them.
  • Mapbox [etc.]

DIY Mobile Usability Testing

11:20: DIY Mobile Usability Testing. A cheap, portable, easy to make and outrageously fun way of capturing your usability studies with mobile devices. What’s not to like!

By Bernard Tyers

and Belén Barros Pena

A supercharged and well-delivered talk that didn’t speak much to me, because I don’t have anything to test on mobile personally, but that I found interesting nonetheless.

from Belén’s slides:

  • user is an abstract entity
  • usability sessions are recorded (memory aid)
  • Testing in a lab is better than no testing at all
  • [slides on ideal recording setup]
    • expensive (costs up to USD 3250)
    • vs. Meccano elements + Blu-Tack approach costs less than EUR 70
  • [live demo of usability testing and recording on stage]


12:20: Pourquoi le web devrait s’intéresser au livre numérique. Beaucoup de spécifications sur la publication numérique pourraient se décider sans vous. Il n’est pas certain que vous le vouliez vraiment…

Par Jiminy Panoz

The talk that spoke to me the most thus far, because of the involvement of the W3C in Digital Publishing. I was at home 🙂
from Jimini’s transcripted slides:

  • W3C digital publishing IG – lacks editors, so comes to us (IDPF)
  • IDPF (merger with W3C)
    • “Je ne sais pas où ça en est. il y a des différences de culture” –Jiminy [en: “I don’t know where that stands. There are cultural differences”]
  • Notable stuff:
    • CSS multi-column layout module
    • CSS figures
    • Latin Text Layout and Pagination (mentioned Dave Cramer)
    • [W3C CSS WG + TAG Houdini task force mentioned]
    • PWP
  • Digpub IG could work on Annotations and user settings.

Open Design

12:35: Open Design : les initiatives existantes et des pistes de collaboration autour du design graphique, des fontes libres et de l’objet libre.

Par My Lê

Hear, hear!
But then, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, because if you’re like me, you love when documentation exists, but you hate to write it yourself. My take-away, which is slightly higher-level than the scope of the talk, is that sharing how we work has at least two benefits:

  1. Sounding board: you’ll know to steer your work in the right direction
  2. Skills barter: you may get helpful feedback along the way and learn new skills or tips
(slides not found)

Designing for screenless experience

14:10: The Invisible Interface: Designing the Screenless Experience. “When we remove the screen, the experience becomes the product.” I will discuss how to create meaningful interactions for a screenless world.

By Avi Itzkovitch

We tend to constrain ourselves to the medium. In the case of the InternetWeb of Things and the everyday life objects, it is sometimes obvious. I think I’ve seen this talk before, or a variation of it. Regardless, it was enjoyable and inspiring. Avi chose a collection of pertinent examples to illustrate how a product needs to cater for its user, plainly and perfectly, and how we need to design for the experience.
from Avi’s slides:

  • Thinking beyond the screen
  • The best interface is no interface
  • quote from Mark Weiser (Xerox PARC): “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” (1991)
  • the world is an interface (with connected hardware)
  • how we display info: pull; push – design what makes sense

Environmentally-friendly Webdesign

15:10: Éco-conception : mon site web au régime. Doper l’expérience utilisateur de vos sites grâce à l’écoconception.

Par Frédéric Bordage

Just as Avi taught us in his talk that it’s crucial to think when we design, Frédéric reminded us how ensnared we are with technology, how it makes us forget to Keep It Sweet and Simple (KISS), and why hoggish technology is so bad.
(slides not found)

  • The Web has become fat:
    • x115 in 20 years
    • x3 in 5 years
  • environmental footprint of the Internet is huge: x2 France
  • ISO 14062
  • Tools:
    • GT Metrix identify eco-conception good practices in place on the website
    • grade from 0 to 100 of environmental performances and technical footprint. (example: Paris-Web website, W3C Website)
  • Key good practices:
    • frugality
    • sobriety
    • Mobile First

CSS (hairy) selectors

16:35: Il n’y a pas que class et id dans la vie. La tendance est au lissage des CSS, avec des classes partout. Si on jouait avec de vrais sélecteurs bien poilus, pour voir les avantages ?

Par Gaël Poupard

Gaël delivered a perfect, thorough and well argued talk to emphasize the importance of some CSS selectors in HTML elements. So thorough that it felt like it lasted longer than 15 minutes.
I couldn’t take notes at this point –the subject was too hairy (his topic, not Gaël). But his slides are on the Web

To be continued…

I have fewer notes from the second day, but only slightly fewer. Yet, there was a talk related to CSS, and I have loads to say about it. I’ll post them in a follow-up entry.