To that end, he worked on developing new Community Groups and Business Groups, which launched in August, to replace the Incubator Groups begun in 2005. The W3C still has its Working Groups designation; these groups are designed to produce standards and have permanent W3C staff assigned to them, he said. The others were created to address some of the changes in how communities want to work on the Web.

“We did this because we weren’t getting all the people we wanted contributing to the W3C,” Jacobs said. “We wanted to make it open to all, without a fee or a time limit, to make it possible to get people involved with the W3C and increase the quality of the work.”

Getting past limitations
A big barrier to entry, though, was the issue of patent protection. In 2004, the W3C implemented its Patent Policy for Working Groups, which Jacobs said was the industry’s first royalty-free patent protection policy. “It’s so important that Web standards be available to anyone royalty-free,” he explained.

The policy basically stated that if an individual in a working group is working on a standard and that standard gets published, any patents the individual holds can be released freely to anyone who wants to use the standard. Working groups are chartered, and the scope of the charter limits what documents the group can produce. Participants review that scope carefully, since ultimately their patent commitments will be over any specification the group creates.

That was fine for the Working Groups, but the Community Groups and Business Groups looking to start up quickly were slowed by the patent policy and the time it takes to determine how participants would commit their patents. Jacobs said the policy was tweaked to allow for faster startup, but still keep things palatable for patent holders. Community and Business Groups have no charters and less W3C support. Jacobs explained the organization wants participants “to make royalty-free licensing commitments over the entire text, not just their own contributions.”

What this means is that Working Groups are slower to start but provide the W3C with greater certainty about their outcome, as participants can “opt out” before the project is even under way. Conversely, Community and Business Groups are faster to start, but it is uncertain as to whether or not all participants will “opt in” to allow royalty-free use of their patents at the end, Jacobs explained.

Participation and inclusion were identified as top priorities by Jeff Jaffe, the organization’s CEO, who arrived in March 2010 after stints as president of Bell Labs Research and CTO of Novell, among other stops. After talking to members and non-members for months, Jacobs said, the W3C came to realize that communities want expertise, along with a great platform for collaboration.

“The W3C can’t keep up with the proliferation of cool tools out there,” Jacobs said. “We have a nice platform for collaboration, but it’s not cutting edge. What we have is the expertise: thousands of participants, a long history, experience in getting work done. The infrastructure’s not the main piece.”

It’s hard to tell what the next thing for the Web will be, Jacobs said, but he acknowledged the W3C will need new mechanisms in place to deal with the changing Web, and to understand how to allocate its resources.