The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an organisation dedicated to developing standard practices and guidelines to help the internet grow in a positive way.
The W3C produce recommendations about how to best apply a web programming language. Everything from current standards, such as XHTML, the mark-up language this website is coded in, to newer languages, such as Service Modeling Language, a language used to model complex services and systems, are explained in detail. These guidelines are only recommended after the endorsement of W3C members and its Director.
By complying with the W3C recommendations set out for web programming, a web designer can produce sites that are easily accessible to a user and compatible with the range of browsers that are available today. Why should the browser you're using effect how the web looks? Well, in a perfect world, it shouldn't, but different browsers support different programming languages to different degrees.
To aid web programmers in complying with the recommendations for HTML, the W3C provide a validator to check a designer's code against its own guidelines. This service shows errors and warnings if your code does not match the specific guidelines set out for HTML (or XHTML). Validators for CSS, hyperlinks and mobile devices, among others, are also provided.
Membership to the W3C is open to companies and individuals, of which there are over 400. The advantages of membership for a company is to get an early insight into market trends and emerging technologies, not to mention the kudos received for being an innovator within the industry and the networking possibilities.
To give you an idea of the sort of early insight we are talking about, the W3C launched the Mobile Web Initiative, to facilitate mobile web access, in May 2005, over a year and a half before the release of the iPhone. In February 1998, XML, the language used for RSS news feeds and blogs, became a W3C recommendation, five years before Google bought Blogspot.com.
Currently, the W3C is focusing on the tools to bring about a Semantic world wide web. This is a vision of the internet where data is easily accessible to a wide range of applications, rather than the model we have now, where applications control data.
Since its creation in October 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, the W3C has been at the forefront of the development of the web, and now, with the creation of the Web Science Research Initiative, the goal for the future is to "build synergies between Web Science and Web Standards - to ensure that the Web benefits all people on the planet". If you are anybody from a web enthusiast to an associate in a large corporation, news from the W3C and its associated bodies is always worth following.