Decentralized Ecosystem Pulse: All Hail The W3C! (25th Anniversary Update)

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On October 1st, the World Wide Web Consortium celebrated 25 years of foundation. It was envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web itself and Director of the W3C since 1994.

The W3C has accomplished its goal of “convening industry, researchers, and the global community of Web developers to create freely available and open standards that ensure that the Web remains open, accessible, and interoperable for everyone around the globe.”

These standards enable the vast and deep volume of interactions made possible by different kinds of systems: Browsers, servers and all kinds of internet-connected applications and gadgets. Its guidelines are open, far reaching and thoughtfully design for performance and usability. NASA implements it in the software that powers Mars rovers.

The guidelines, which follow an intellectual property policy also designed by W3C, remain open and free to use. They have been to a great extent the result of volunteer contributions.
Composition of the World Wide Web Consortium — And the internet itself

You owe the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) more than you might realize. And if you did, get ready to owe them even more.

After inventing the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee founded W3C. Academic and government players joined settle on shared specifications for hypertext. The rest is history. Since then, W3C has been the universal language unifier. Accessibility, while not its only area, became an early and longstanding focus, beginning with WCAG 1.0 in 1999. Later on they became responsible for obscure and popular guidelines alike:

  • Mathematical Markup (MathML)
  • Document Object Model (DOM)
  • User Agent
  • SVG
  • Voice, Speech Recognition and Grammar Specification
  • CSS
  • JSON
  • RDF (Metadata)
  • HTML5
  • Web Notifications
  • Web Storage
  • Geolocation
  • Cryptography
  • ActivityPub (The standard MoodleNet will use)
  • Web Computer Graphics
  • Emotion Markup Language (EmotionML)

And of course, the architecture of the World Wide Web itself.

Moving from the specification history lesson onto the future, we have the coming exciting new standards. It must be acknowledged that W3C working group members are volunteers, many of which are big tech employees. (Although it is not clear if the companies sponsor their contributions W3C every time.)

Web Authentication and Verifiable claims (proof of identity online)

At the core of the decentralization is the user’s ability to control the services they can access, and they information those services have available. This makes the Web Authentication (Public Key Credentials) work, and its latest draft, essential reading for enthusiasts of Open Edtech ecosystems.

The ecosystem paradigm could go in many possible ways, but most designs follow one of two ways:

  • A “Hub” that has the basic elements of the experience, and to where every service connects to serve the user.
  • A method to exchange credentials between different services that also update the service regarding relevant changes in the user information.

It is not a reach to see how the LMS is the ideal hub for this kind of decentralized setup. As long as the user is able to switch hubs without compromising access to other services, the setup remains decentralized. Open Source is set to play a key role, as are customer demands for digital freedom.

At the epicenter of safe digital identification credentials standard specifications is W3C’s Verifiable Claims Working Group. A dedicated site documents the progress on drafts, use cases and roadpmap.

Payments: Dream delayed?

A consistent and safe method to interact with digital payment methods has been envisioned for so long that it’s starting to sound like an utopia. There has been a “Web Payments” working draft since at least 2016. Only in May this year a “Payment Handler” document was updated, adding to other specs such as “Payment Request API” and “Payment Methods.”

Together, they could provide a way to increase the volume of transactions and make it easier for existing and new payment methods to join. An ideal ecosystem would look something like this:

  • An online store lets you buy, probably by adding items to a shopping cart.
  • The store uses the specification that allows them to connect to any compatible payment method.
  • To enter your personal payment information, you can take advantage of third-party “Payment Handlers,” similar to the existing password manager. The service could also be offered by browsers, as Google’s Chrome is by providing Payment Handling compatibility.
  • The Payment Handler could incorporate many security and compatibility features. Online stores would no longer need to store your payment information.

Accessible CAPTCHA

Despite its efforts, W3C is the first to admit that the work from accessibility is far from being over. And no place reflects the fine issues the Consortium will continue to deal with than in the juxtaposition of standards, security and accessibility.

The problem could be framed like this: Many people cannot pass the Turing test as it is currently designed. CAPTCHA often only present visual tasks. In fact, it is shown that the denial of service to actual humans in no way deters sophisticated automated attacks. As a result, the W3C published a first outline with challenges, possible solutions and the current state of Accessible Turing test approaches. While still a working product, plenty of attention is given to multi-party approaches, which include multi-factor authentication (2FA and MFA).

Accessibility is also under work in other fronts:

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