W3C and the Broken Process + Two Shining Examples of Committee-based Specification Development Done Right

by M. David Peterson

Update: Sylvain Hellegouarch brings out an interesting point in a comment below,

It seems that many people have used the Microformat example as a way things ought to be done but I stay careful.

Creating a standard in a fairly narrow area with no pressure for output is different from creating a whole standard body such as the W3C.


As per my follow-up,

This is a good point, though it would be tough to compare the development of something like hCard to the development of its parent format, XHTML (for those unaware, hCard is an XHTML-based implementation of vCard. See: http://microformats.org/wiki/hcard < for more detail.)

It seems to me that the current stage of the Microformats development era is comparable to that of the days when the W3C was just getting underway. I *think* it was Tim Berners-Lee that stated something similar to,

"The development of XML came at a time when we were able to slip under the radar of most. XML could not be developed in todays W3C."


PLEASE NOTE: This is completely from memory of which is based on reading the quote once, several years back. While I am pretty sure it was Tim Berners Lee that stated it, even that I am not completely certain of. With this in mind, PLEASE DO NOT use the above for anything other than general reference, and even that you should be cautious of.
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Update: Gregor J. Rothfuss brings out a couple of interesting points when he writes,

both of your "shining examples" where done at the IETF, not the W3C, and i agree they shine. the secrecy of the W3C cabal with member-only discussions is really an artifact of a bygone era, imho. when will the W3C enter the age of participation?


As I made note in my follow-up, while I was aware that both Atom and APP were developed as part of the IETF, I didn't make that very clear in my post. For those of you who were led to believe that Atom and APP were developed as part of the W3C, firstly, my apologies, and secondly, (please see above) :)

If interested, please see my same linked follow-up to Gregor's comments for more details in regards to my own opinions to the points he brings out. In short, I COMPLETELY agree!

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Update: Mike Champion (somebody who just so happens to have some experience with the the W3C process) has done a nice job of pulling both sides of the argument together into what I would term a pretty fair analysis of the entire situation at hand, and the reality (both + and -) of each. *DEFINITELY* worth a read!

Thanks Mike!

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Update: Worth noting, Karl Dubost (from the W3C) brought the following two links and snippets to my/our attention in a comment below:

[[[
So on the other hand I actually like some of the things being done at the W3C now and some of the things that will be done soonish.
]]] - http://annevankesteren.nl/2006/08/w3c

[[[
Jeffrey Zeldman has written a weblog entry An angry fix about Björn Hörmann's message on his reasons for leaving the group doing the development of W3C validators. He made a few points in his message which will be certainly discussed by the Web communities in the following days.
]]] - http://www.w3.org/QA/2006/07/a_peaceful_ear.html


Also, Rick Jelliffe brings out an interesting point worth considering,

On Dare's article, isn't it a bit much for an employee of a large company to say the W3C is bad because it is in the thrall of large companies and then to advocate that the answer is for us to just adopt proprietary 'standards', presumably made by large companies?


Thanks to both of you for taking the time to follow-up!
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SPECIAL DISCLAIMER: While technically not necessary (this is already specified at the bottom of each blog entry published on one of the O'ReillyNet-based domains), except for the quoted material, what follows is 100% my own opinion.

Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life - W3C Process is Broken? Film at 11

The question I sometimes ponder is what's the alternative? De-facto standards based on proprietary technologies seem to be one option as evidenced by the success of RSS and IXMLHttpRequest. There is also something to be said about the approach taken by Microformats community. Either approach seems preferable to the current mess we have with the W3C's approach to standards development.


The above linked rant, of which the above quote comes from stems from a recent rant from Anne van Kesteren, someone who just so happens to know a thing or two about pretty much everything that has to do with Web Development, and/or any other type of development. It sounds as if Anne is pretty upset, and to be honest, who can blame him!

I have no idea if this particular issue had anything to do with Anne's rant (still need to read it, so the answer may be contained in his post), but after being, for all intents and purposes, "burned by the process", which from the initial outset made him (Anne) look like the ungrateful culprit, when in fact it was by matter of (bureaucratic?) internal W3C process in which pushed forward a half-baked document without regard for the obvious side effects of which would take place as a result -- If it were me, I'd be pretty upset as well.

Two areas that Dare didn't include in his post that I believe are shining examples of spec development by committee done right,

10 Comments

Peter
2006-08-16 15:21:30
Anne is a she, not a he.
Peter Ring
2006-08-16 16:07:10
http://annevankesteren.nl/about
"My name is Anne van Kesteren and contrary to what many people think, I'm a male."
M. David Peterson
2006-08-16 16:20:17
@ Peter,


I assume you are different from Peter Ring, so let me just quickly note that I thought the same thing at first, although this was a few years back.


@Peter Ring,


Assuming you are different than the first Peter (and I can only assume yes :), thanks for helping to clarify!


@WW:*


Just to be sure, yes, in fact, Anne van Kesteren is male, works for Opera, and is a highly respected member of the overall web development communities. To have Anne express his frustration with his recent post, means something pretty substantial.

karl dubost - W3C
2006-08-16 23:01:51
[[[
So on the other hand I actually like some of the things being done at the W3C now and some of the things that will be done soonish.
]]] - http://annevankesteren.nl/2006/08/w3c


[[[
Jeffrey Zeldman has written a weblog entry An angry fix about Björn Hörmann's message on his reasons for leaving the group doing the development of W3C validators. He made a few points in his message which will be certainly discussed by the Web communities in the following days.
]]] - http://www.w3.org/QA/2006/07/a_peaceful_ear.html

Rick Jelliffe
2006-08-17 08:42:28
On Dare's article, isn't it a bit much for an employee of a large company to say the W3C is bad because it is in the thrall of large companies and then to advocate that the answer is for us to just adopt proprietary 'standards', presumably made by large companies?
M. David Peterson
2006-08-17 10:21:39
@karl,


Thanks for the links and snippets!


@Rick,


You know, you've got a point :D

Gregor J. Rothfuss
2006-08-19 22:18:28
both of your "shining examples" where done at the IETF, not the W3C, and i agree they shine. the secrecy of the W3C cabal with member-only discussions is really an artifact of a bygone era, imho. when will the W3C enter the age of participation?
M. David Peterson
2006-08-19 22:29:05
@Gregor,


>> both of your "shining examples" where done at the IETF, not the W3C


While I was already aware of this, in re-reading my post I realize I made it seem as if I was suggesting they were done inside of the confines of the W3C. My bad! As we both know, they most definitely were not. And given those who were involved with making the decision as to which standards body to move forward with, it leads me to believe that the IETF and its "open door" policy was one of the driving factors.


>> the secrecy of the W3C cabal with member-only discussions is really an artifact of a bygone era, imho.


I completely agree!


>> when will the W3C enter the age of participation?


While there are *SOME* "open discussion" lists, thats as far as they seem to go. So once again, I COMPLETELY agree!

Sylvain Hellegouarch
2006-08-21 02:03:42
It seems that many people have used the Microformat example as a way things ought to be done but I stay careful.


Creating a standard in a fairly narrow area with no pressure for output is different from creating a whole standard body such as the W3C.

M. David Peterson
2006-08-21 19:59:37
@Sylvain,


>> Creating a standard in a fairly narrow area with no pressure for output is different from creating a whole standard body such as the W3C.


This is a good point, though it would be tough to compare the development of something like hCard to the development of its parent format, XHTML (for those unaware, hCard is an XHTML-based implementation of vCard. See: http://microformats.org/wiki/hcard < for more detail.)


It seems to me that the current stage of the Microformats development era is comparable to that of the days when the W3C was just getting underway. I *think* it was Tim Berners-Lee that stated something similar to,


"The development of XML came at a time when we were able to slip under the radar of most. XML could not be developed in todays W3C."


PLEASE NOTE: This is completely from memory of which is based on reading the quote once, several years back. While I am pretty sure it was Tim Berners Lee that stated it, even that I am not completely certain of. With this in mind, PLEASE DO NOT use the above for anything other than general reference, and even that you should be cautious of.