The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community dedicated to web standards that’s headed by Tim Berners-Lee out of MIT, is making a move into China this week. Later today, a new center for W3C technical staff will open officially at Beijing’s Beihang University 1, which will welcome Chinese companies, academics, and developers to help shape the future of web standards.
W3C’s head of communications, Ian Jacobs, tells TechinAsia that the new base at Beihang University is the second in Asia, coming after Keio University in Japan. The facility’s goal is to have “seven to ten W3C staff by the end of the year – and that will grow along with the size of Chinese membership” as, it is hoped, local research institutes and major web companies give their input too. Ian adds:
There are a confluence of events that make it a good time to engage more with web developers on the ground in China. Plus, there’s [now] increased participation from Chinese web companies in international web standards.
In today’s announcement, W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe says that “China is in the midst of an innovation boom,” and explains:
In IT, Chinese companies have excelled in instant messaging, online games, smartphones, and search, and there is a flourishing Chinese browser ecosystem. In the past two years W3C has benefited from greater Chinese participation, and we look forward to that trend accelerating through the efforts of local industry and Beihang University. Global participation in W3C enables our community to identify global needs for the web, and drive solutions.
So the W3C sees the new Beihang base as a chance for web development to get, Ian says, “expertise specific to the region” that will actually help to make the web more truly international. Essentially, China can better shape its own standards innovation by participation in this, alongside experts at MIT and from dozens of other nations. Ian cites the example of how the web “must support layout of Chinese and Asian text” more thoroughly, and incorporate support for these scripts in web styles like CSS.
Killing off IE6
China’s web often feels like it’s taking the “inter” out of the “internet”; quite apart from rampant censorship, even very technical things like web standards seem to be at a disconnect from how they’re evolving in much of the rest of the world. A highly-visible example is how China remains the last bastion of the decade-old Internet Explorer 6 browser. Microsoft’s own ‘IE6 countdown’ site points out that, right now, China still has 21 percent of the world’s users of that ancient browser – more than any other nation. Since it has monopolized much of the web’s growth in the country in the past ten years, most banks do not support anything other than Microsoft’s older desktop browsers.
According to Ian, the W3C’s new center – as well as its previous work in China – will help create practical and tangible improvements in these technical areas that will affect all of China’s 564 million web users. “There’s a flourishing browser market in China,” he tells us, “and competition drives innovation. The browser landscape can change quickly – there’s critical mass behind moving past IE6. Even companies want to move past that.”
By working with local companies that make browsers, such as UCWeb, Maxthon, and Qihoo, the consortium is involved in the dialogue about evolving standards in the country, and sees promise in some China-made browsers incorporating things like multiple rendering engines so that they can support newer modes like HTML5 while also working with paleolithic online banks.
W3C chose Beihang – rather than other prestigious institutions in Beijing, such as, say, Tsinghua – because the group has worked with them before, including for the 17th International World Wide Web Conference back in 2008. Beihang and the W3C have a different major conference planned for later this year.
There will be an official opening ceremony at 3PM Beijing time for the new W3C-Beihang office.
Previously known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. ↩