Promoting Web Payment Standards and Interoperability With the W3C

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Image source: Web standards for the future (W3C video)

Ripple Labs has joined the W3C Web Payment Interest Group as we continue our mission to enable the world to move money as easily as information moves on the web today. Just as the information web requires open, neutral, and transparent standards (like HTTP), so does the value web. The purpose of the group will be to increase the adoption and use of web payments by improving conditions such as the interoperability of systems.

The Group also currently includes four task forces. Ripple Labs is spearheading the Value Web and Web Settlement Task Force, which will explore how the web can connect new and existing value network and enable cross-network clearing and settlement that is secure, low-cost, and fast.

To get a sense of what all of this means, I sat down to chat with Ripple Labs CTO Stefan Thomas.

How did this all come together?

Stefan: As stewards of web standards, the W3C are tasked with safeguarding the openness, accessibility, and freedom of the World Wide Web from a technical perspective. It’s very encouraging to see that they have recognized the opportunity in transferring value and have done a great job bringing together an incredible group of contributors from all aspects of tech and the financial industry.

Ripple Labs is also in a unique position because on the one hand, we’re a startup but on the other hand, we also have deep connections with financial institutions. Our team has experience at places like Google and Apple but also the Federal Reserve and the SEC and Goldman Sachs. So we have this combination of tech and finance that brings a diverse perspective to the table.

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Ripple Labs software engineer Evan Schwartz in Utrecht, Netherlands with the W3C Web Payment Interest Group. Other participants include the Minneapolis Fed, Bloomberg, Rabobank, Standard Treasury, and others. (See full list here.)

Understandably, there are a lot of parallels with the birth of the web.

Tim Berners-Lee was looking at documentation systems when he noticed that everything was disconnected, that information was stuck in these proprietary silos. At the time, the trend was creating a global documentation system, essentially one giant silo that everyone used.

The brilliant idea that Berners-Lee had was that you didn’t need this huge, cumbersome global system—as long as you came up with standards so people could talk to each other laterally. It wasn’t just the mechanism for passing documents around, however. There was also the genius idea of the hyperlink as a way to organize information—not hierarchically, but laterally. This enables the potential for new tools and innovations like a universal search engine.

How does this crossover to the idea of the “value web”?

There are plenty of ways to settle transactions out there. In noticing all this diversity in methods for settlement, what we want to encourage is standardization not of settlement protocols but rather the interfaces they use to communicate. Subsequently, people can choose the technology that best serves their individual use case. This increases access and efficiency while decreasing friction within the system and promoting competition.

Where do we go from here?

For advocates of the value web vision, it’s important for us to come together and focus on determining the set of principles that we operate under.

What I’m really excited about is just this concept of applying the genius of the web to this new problem of payments—especially if you consider that this is a problem the original architects of the World Wide Web intended to tackle but either never got around to it or weren’t able to figure out a viable solution.

This is evidenced by HTTP error code 402, which is labeled “Payment Required” and was “reserved for future use.” As we know, that functionality was never developed. Twenty-five years later, we have this once-in-a-lifetime chance to settle unfinished business.

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