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Demystifying Web Standards and the W3C with Lola Odelola

Explaining what web standards are, how they’re created, and how you can get involved.

Our guest talk series continues. After listening to speakers like professor Felienne Hermans talk about how to read code and developer Stuart Langridge explain why you might not need as much JavaScript as much as you think, yesterday, we had the pleasure of being joined by Lola Odelola, web developer advocate at Samsung and the W3C.

Lola’s talk focused on web standards, from what they are to how they can impact the internet, and by extension, a developer’s day-to-day — a subject bound to interest the prospective developers in our Web Development and JavaScript bootcamps, as they complete their last week of bootcamp.

After studying literature, Lola herself transitioned into tech through a Ruby coding bootcamp, putting her in an ideal position to understand and address our developers-in-training.

Web Standards

The Web: we use it all the time, but if we take a step back, how can we define it succinctly. Lola explains that the Web is this network of documents connected through links. Alright, so it’s this global infrastructure of navigable sites. But how does it work, and perhaps more importantly, who decides how it should work?

That’s where web standards come into play. Web standards are rules or guidelines, some stricter than others, that define how the Web should work. And there isn’t just one, but a flurry of web standards.

HTML, for instance, whose origins were discussed by developer Bruce Lawson in a previous talk, uses tags to structure web pages and give meaning to its different components. But for HTML to be usable, we have among others to agree on the meaning and usage of each tag. And that’s precisely the role of the HTML standard.

W3C

So standards guide the functioning of the Web, and there are many of them. But that doesn’t tell us where they come from. Well, there’s an organization in charge of coordinating the effort to develop web standards: the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C for short.

Standards can be seen as global agreements, so unsurprisingly, the process to define a standard is highly collaborative. Before a proposal can turn into a standard, many voices need to be heard: proposals undergo a long process akin to peer-review in the research fields, where they’re iteratively refined until they’re ready to be published.

And this gargantuan task (again, there are many standards to deal with) is handled by various groups within W3C, including the:

  • Technical Architecture Group: A small group of nominated technical decision makers with authority to say whether a proposal has met the bar for publication.
  • Working Groups: Groups consisting of experts backed by member organizations to help create, iron out, and fine-tune proposals until they’re fit for release.
  • Community Groups: Open groups that anyone can join, where the tentative first steps toward building a formal proposal can be taken, like need-gathering and scoping.

In addition to walking us through what web standards and the W3C are, Lola addressed the following questions and spent half the presentation answering more interrogations from learners:

  • What’s the difference between the internet and the Web?
  • Which standards does the W3C handle, and which not?
  • How can one get involved in W3C community groups?

So if you’d like to learn more about web standards and maybe even contribute to them, watch Lola’s excellent talk below.

Manoel Cortes Mendez Profile Image

Manoel Cortes Mendez

Software engineer and online graduate student in computer science passionate about education, technology, and their intersection.

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