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W3C Launches Community and Business Groups

by Abel Avram on Aug 16, 2011 |

W3C has opened up their infrastructure and expertise to the world so others can create Community and Business Groups useful to develop specifications and tests or simply hold discussions around web technologies. W3C Community Groups are open and do not require any fee, and all proceedings are public, while Business Groups do require a fee, the group may choose to stay private and can use W3C’s teleconference facilities.

InfoQ has talked to Ian Jacobs, Head of W3C Marketing and Communications, in order to find out details about the new groups.

InfoQ: Why Community Groups?

W3C created Community Groups to make it easier for people to participate in W3C and to connect with an international network of Web experts. People can create groups rapidly and develop specifications under permissive copyright and royalty-free patent agreements. We think this will make us more useful to the developer community, encourage people to bring in new ideas, and improve the overall quality of our work.

We didn't invent Community Groups from scratch. We spoke with a number of people inside and outside the organization about how to increase participation and provide value, and we learned a lot from our current "Incubator Group" program, which has similar goals but is more Member-focused.

InfoQ: Are these groups intended for web-related technologies or for other industries as well?

Our focus is the Web, but not just core Web formats and protocols. For instance, we expect some groups will work on the application of Web technology to a particular industry. They might want to create a vocabulary for their industry that is based on W3C standards. There is so much industry convergence to the Web that I think there will be no shortage of diverse, but still Web-related topics.

InfoQ: Do you expect at least some of these to generate specs/standards that eventually will be endorsed by W3C?

Yes. That is an explicit goal: make it easy to start work and then move mature work to the standards track when there is community support, and with all the necessary patent and copyright agreements in place.

InfoQ: Do Community members have to provide licenses for any patents involved free of charge? How about Business members?

Community and Business Groups operate under nearly the same policies.

For copyright, Community Group Specifications are made available under a permissive license. Business Groups may publish Specifications under the same copyright license or the W3C Document License.

For patents, the groups operate under the same royalty-free patent policies. We've designed the policies to make it possible to start and join groups quickly. People sign a Contributor License Agreement (CLA) when they join a group, agreeing to license (just) their Contributions under royalty-free terms. These terms are the same as those of the W3C Patent Policy, and that compatibility is one way we ease later transition to the standards track. To increase patent safety around the Specification, a group can call for participants to sign (voluntarily) a "Final Specification Agreement" where they agree to the same licensing terms, but over the entire specification.

There are other elements to these policies designed to strike a balance between the goals of patent holders participating in these groups and the needs of developers to use specifications with confidence.

InfoQ: What are the main benefits of W3C membership over Business Groups over Community Groups?

W3C Members play a fundamental role in setting the technical and strategic direction of the organization. Through proposals for new standards work, strategic planning meetings, and ongoing discussion, the Members work with the staff to set the organization's standards agenda. Members can participate in any Working Group or Interest Group, and in any Community Group or Business Group (with no fee).

Community Groups are designed for broad participation, including Members and non-Members, but do not offer the same opportunities to influence the standards agenda.

Business Groups offer some extra benefits in between Community Groups and Membership (which is why there is a fee for non-Members and individuals to participate in Business Groups). Those extra benefits includes additional staff support and coordination.

W3C Members pay an annual fee of 68,500 USD if their organization has an annual gross revenue of more than 50M USD, and it is 7,900 USD for other organizations including non-profit ones and government agencies. To be part of a Business Group, a large (non-Member) organization (with revenue over 50M USD) has to pay 10,000 USD, while the other organizations pay 2,000 USD. Unaffiliated individuals pay $300. Community Groups are free, and W3C Members can join any group without having to pay anything extra.

There are a number of groups set up already: Colloquial Web Community Group – evaluating current web technologies practices, Declarative 3D for the Web Architecture Community Group – interactive 3D graphics requirements, ODRL Initiative Community Group – Open Digital Rights Language, Web Payments Community Group – creating standards for universal payments, Oil, Gas and Chemicals Business Group – using semantic web technologies for the respective industries, and others.

The software community is invited to join these groups in order to develop new widely-accepted specifications and standards regarding web technologies used in various industries.

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