In an effort to better acquaint Web developers with the open technologies that can be used to build Web applications, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has launched a Web site with tutorials and other documentation that cover most of today's Web standards, including the emerging HTML5 set of standards. The site has also been designed to provide more user feedback to the developers of the Web standards themselves.
"Although we have produced material for designers and developers in the past, this is the W3C's biggest scale effort specifically for documentation," said Ian Jacobs, the W3C head of marketing and communications.
Internet industry players such as Adobe, Facebook, Google, HP, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nokia and Opera have contributed to the project, called Web Platform Docs. Many of these companies have made long-term pledges of monetary contributions or staff hours, Jacobs said.
The W3C is positioning Web Platform Docs as a one-stop shop for learning the Web technologies and their underlying standards. Originally, the W3C has left much of the documentation of its standards to third parties, such as instructional Web sites, book publishers and vendors themselves, Jacobs explained. This effort, however, will offer a way for these different parties to consolidate their efforts, reducing duplicative effort. "Often they have relatively small teams who have a hard time keeping up with the rapid pace in standards," Jacobs said. "So for them, there is a benefit of better using their resources at the vendor neutral W3C."
Through Web chats and discussion forums, the site should also provide a tighter feedback loop between those who write the standards and those who use the standards: Users will enjoy current information about a standard's state of development and implementation, and the standard developers can use the feedback from the user community to shape their own work. "If there is more community input that a working group would have access to easily, that may give them important feedback and improve the standard," Jacobs said.
The site will provide in-depth detail on how to use technologies such as HTML5, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and the various audio, video and animation tags. Image manipulation tools such as the Canvas tag, WebGL, and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) image are covered. So are data storage and retrieval technologies such as media queries, IndexedDB and the File API.
The tutorials are designed to teach developers how to deploy these technologies in such a way that they can run across multiple platforms. They provide syntax and examples, as well as the latest on development and implementation status for each technology.
The W3C currently lists this site as an alpha release. Adobe, Facebook, Microsoft and others contributed raw material for the site, and the W3C, which will oversee the project, is encouraging volunteers to reshape the material in ways that would be most educational overall for Web application developers. The site has been set up in a manner similar to Wikipedia, in which users can flag areas that need improvement, as well as easily provide material and changes themselves.
"It has been a great start, but this is [only] the beginning of the effort. It is not a finished product," said Michael Champion, who is the Microsoft senior program manager for Microsoft Open Technologies subsidiary. Champion is also a representative to the W3C advisory committee and an elected member of the W3C advisory board. Microsoft itself has donated material on over 3,200 topics to the project, taken from its own MSDN (Microsoft Software Developer Network).
Champion likened the effort to Wikipedia, where "the entire community can help out," he said, noting that, in particular, a lot of the visitors have asked about when the site's content would be translated into other languages, which would be a task uniquely suited for global volunteers.
Overall, Champion appreciates how the project brings together all of the major browser developers in the Web application space. "A broad collaboration shows that we all have a shared commitment an interoperable platform," he said.