The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have decided to go separate ways. There is now a risk of a power struggle emerging over the HTML standard that could cause it to fork. Everybody that has to develop websites knows that energy and therefore money is wasted in accommodating how different browsers variably implement the features of different HTML standards. Forking the HTML standard could lead to two parallel webs. Even if it did not, it certainly would be more complex and expensive to implement for multiple versions of two living standards rather than one. Two parallel standards would inevitably stifle innovation with energy wasted on duplicated effort.
The thing that enables the really useful ‘world wide’ part of the World Wide Web, just like any other sophisticated undertaking, is standardisation. Standardisation is what enables and makes affordable complex undertakings requiring many specialists. Microsoft, Apple, and other influential players that could, have undermined standardisation efforts using their market dominance to their own advantage. Failure to regulate adherence to standards is what allows them to place their petty commercial self-interest above progress and the greater good. Some things can be left to choice, but others are too important and must be regulated. Adherence to a single HTML standard should be regulated across the world to ensure progress.
The inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee says that although data about us is held and used by others we should have automated access to it so that we can make more use of it. He thinks that this will spawn useful new services. Sir Tim says that standardised data forms are required to simplify use of the data by these new services.
Some entities may be reluctant to provide access to this data because their businesses are built on it or they gain commercial advantage through it. It is not just the new breed of IT companies like Facebook that hold this data. Government, supermarkets, leisure groups, hoteliers, travel providers and many others hold our data and access to it is not easy.
The UK Data Protection Act allows for data access, but does not mandate automated access. Inevitably we will need legal rights of automated access to our data as well as technical solutions to exploit it. This Guardian article reports on Sir Tim’s thoughts and links to some audio of him.