December 29, 2012

Governance and Web Standards

I promised I would write more about my personal priorities for W3C and the W3C TAG in a series of posts. This is the first. Please note that, as usual, these are my personal opinions. Comments, discussion, disagreements welcome.

A large and growing percentage of the world depends on the Internet as a critical shared resource for commerce, communication, and community. The primary value of the Internet is that it is common: there is one Internet, one Web, and everyone on the planet can communicate with everyone else. But whenever there is a shared resource, opportunities for conflict arise—different individuals, groups, companies, nations, want different things and act in ways that threaten this primary value. There are endless tussles in cyberspace, including conflicts over economics, social policy, technology, and intellectual property. While some of the conflicts are related to "whose technology wins," many are related to social policy, e.g., whether Internet use can be anonymous, private, promote or allow or censor prohibited speech, protect or allow use of copyrighted material.

Shared resources in conflict, unregulated, are ultimately unsustainable. The choices for sustainability are between voluntary community action and enforced government action; if community action fails, governments may step in; but government action is often slow to move and adapt to changes.

As the recent kerfuffle over ITU vs. "multi-stakeholder" governance of the Internet shows, increased Internet regulation is looming. If the Internet community does not govern itself or provide modes of governance, varying national regulations will be imposed, which will threaten the economic and social value of a common Internet. Resolving conflict between the stakeholders will require direct attention and dedicated resources.

Governance and W3C

Standards and community organizations are a logical venue for addressing most of Internet governance conflicts. This is primarily because "code is law":  the technical functioning of the Internet determines how governance can work, and separating governance from technology is usually impossible. Further, the community that gathers at IETF and W3C (whether members or not), are the most affected.

I think W3C needs increased effort and collaboration with ISOC and others to bring "governance" and "Web architecture for governance" to the forefront.

Governance and the W3C TAG

The recent TAG first public working draft, "Publishing and Linking on the Web" is an initial foray of the W3C TAG in this space. While some may argue that this work exceeds the charter of the TAG, I think it's valuable work that currently has no other venue, and should continue in the TAG.


  1. I think it is a bad idea to use the term "Internet governance", which implies the notion that someone can "control" the Internet.
    This would entail for instance imposing rules on the ISP on the way they carry traffic or keep logs, block traffic, censor content, share revenues, levy taxes etc.
    What makes sense for legislation is to care about what people do with the Internet, but this is already the subject of law, since legal responsibility is personal and there are plenty of laws that establish what is legal or not.
    Your TAG paper indeed explains quite clearly the acts that can be performed on the Web, so that legislators may understand what they talk about, in case they want to.
    I would not place it though under the title "Internet governance" or "Internet regulations".

    1. We looked for a while for a good term to talk about the broad range of controls, and "governance" was the best. At least as we use it, not all governance is in the form of legislative or regulatory acts by governments. Do you have a better word?

      And our existing laws written to control print publication, physical media distribution, broadcast and telephone communication -- these laws don't work well and need much creative interpretation when one attempts to apply them to Internet communication.

  2. Very important document. In order to provide clear information for non-technical users possible to give more detailed description of terms "request", "response", "upload" and show once the neutral "road" - telecommunication link (or the network). Controller - this is the owner+initial transformer, may be this is also possible to underline.

    1. The TAG ( got similar comments on "Publishing and Linking on the Web" -- we're going to try to define more of the terms, i think, or at least provide pointers.