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Re: Data and Expertise (Was: Issues of @summary and use of data for "decisions")

From: Smylers <Smylers@stripey.com>
Date: Wed, 24 Jun 2009 15:50:20 +0100
To: HTMLWG WG <public-html@w3.org>
Message-ID: <20090624145020.GL4461@stripey.com>
Shelley Powers writes:

> ... data is waved, like a flag of victory, in the faces of people who
> express concerns, or attempt to interject other opinions.

For an aspect of HTML 5 on which data is available, it makes sense to
take that data into account.  Data can demonstrate in practice how
features are used on the web and which problems authors have tried to
solve, and unfortunately it's often disappointing.  But there is no
point in producing a spec for a language which will only work if
followed by 'ideal' authors if we have data which demonstrates actual
authors will cause harm with it.

Data is very democratic, in that it's the outcome of thousands of
independent authors expressing their opinions.

> More importantly, it is used to override those who are a), chartered
> by the W3C to specifically deal with the issues, and b) to undercut
> those with experience and expertise in accessibility.  In fact, such
> experts are typically treated either with thinly veiled disdain, or
> out and out derision ...  I don't understand the WhatWG disdain for
> people with years of experience and specialized training. Hubris comes
> to mind.

There are definitely cases I've seen on this mailing list where
recommendation of an external expert in some domain has been
incorporated into HTML 5; I suspect there have been many such cases over
the life of HTML 5.  However the recommendations which are accepted
wholesale tend not to be controversial, so don't generate big
attention-grabbing threads.

It's possible that a small number of cases where external experts'
recommendations have been considered and declined have got a
disproportionate amount of attention, so skew the overall impression of
how such recommendations are treated.

If there is data suggesting that an expert's recommendation won't work
in practice, that would be a reason in favour of following an
alternative course of action from that recommended by the expert.
Unfortunately the expert's eminence has little bearing on the actions of
thousands of web authors.

In addition I can think of a bunch of other reasons why an external
expert could give a recommendation which in itself is good but isn't
something HTML 5 should incorporate unmodified:

* While being an expert in her domain, the expert isn't aware of HTML
  5's division between author and user agent requirements -- so just
  because she recommends browsers implement some behaviour it isn't
  necessary for the associated mark-up to be conforming for authors.
  (Or conversely, just because she recommends some mark-up be
  non-conforming, it isn't necessary to avoid specify what user agents
  should do with it.)

* While being an expert in his domain, the expert isn't aware of HTML
  5's completely defining how user agents should handle all
  non-conforming input, and his advice was predicated on that not being
  possible.

* The web would be better were the expert's recommandation be a reality,
  but because it isn't backwards compatible with existing browsers, in
  practice authors wouldn't use it.

* The web would be better were the expert's recommandation be a reality,
  but because it isn't backwards compatible with existing content, in
  practice browser developers won't use it.

* The expert's recommendation is good, but unfortunately it conflicts
  with another recommendation made by a different expert.

* The expert's recommendation is good and works well for her area of
  interest, but unfortunately it has a negative impact on other areas.

* The expert's recommendation is good and works well for some users (for
  example, those who use screen readers) but unfortunately has a
  negative impact on some other users (for example, those who use
  text-only browsers).

So data quite clearly isn't the only possible reason for declining
experts' recommendations.

> A reference to "data" should not be used to end the discussions, nor
> should the reference to "data", by itself, continue to be sole
> justification for overriding other's concerns.

Indeed not.  But nor does being an expert make somebody immune from
having to face up to the realities of data.

However what should be irrelevant when considering a recommendation is
the expert's expertise.  Obviously his expertise has a great impact in
influencing his recommendation and making it what it is -- so it's
likely to be far superior to recommendations made by those ignorant of
the domain.  But once it has been formed, it should be judged purely on
its merits; its success should be identical to that if submitted
anonymously.

If the recommendation really is superior then that will be apparent from
its technical merits.  It will have no need of special pleading because
of its authorship.

An expert's recommendation should be justified with an explanation as to
why it is the right course of action (with data, ideally!), just like
anybody else's.  It would be a dereliction of this working group's
duties to give any proposal a 'free pass' just because of its
provenance.

Cheers.

Smylers
Received on Wednesday, 24 June 2009 14:51:01 UTC

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