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The harm that can come if the W3C supports publication of competing specs

From: Shelley Powers <shelley.just@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 2010 10:06:18 -0600
Message-ID: <643cc0271001160806v67ebb36aq32602d467f1fbec2@mail.gmail.com>
To: HTMLWG WG <public-html@w3.org>
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the potential problems we'll
have in the future if the W3C continues with publishing both Microdata
and RDFa documents.

The first of the battles appeared in a Wikipedia tech email list,
beginning with an email from Aryeh Gregor[1], followed by an email
from Manu Sporny [2], and from Philip Jägenstedt [3].

We are only now, starting to make inroads when it comes to people
incorporating metadata into their sites and their tools. We have only
now, starting seeing payback, as search engines and other tools
incorporate this data. We have barely begun taking significant steps
towards the vision of a semantic web many of us have hoped for over
the years. Now, just when people have started taking first steps in
incorporating metadata, the W3C publishes two competing
metadata-in-HTML WD.

I do not work for an implementor, which seems to imbue one with super
human markup skills, so you'll have to excuse me if what I perceive
support for competing standards by the same standards organization
seems to me to be, well, forgive my frankness, the dumbest thing the
W3C has done since blink.

Sure, other organizations can pick up Microdata, and there will still
exist competing metadata-in-HTML standards, but such an action
wouldn't cause the confusion that is going to happen in the future,
when one standards organization seemingly supports two competing
standards.

I suppose one could say that HTML and XHTML were competing, but both
were really a different serialization of the same model. I suppose one
could say the same about Microdata and RDFa, but they are not the
same, they both don't support the same models. More importantly, there
is a major difference in impetus for both groups: one wants to support
metadata, the other seemingly wants to kill the first.

What really irritates me, and I'm going to toy around the edges with
this thought in order to be "politically expedient", is that Microdata
was nothing more than a counter to RDFa. It was proposed by a person
who doesn't believe in metadata; it's supported by people who don't
believe in metadata, and as far as I can see, the only thing these
folks believe in, is they don't like RDFa.

Publishing a FPWD supposedly doesn't _mean_ anything. It doesn't
_mean_ that the W3C officially supports the spec. It doesn't _mean_
that the spec will achieve release. Frankly, I don't care about the
mechanics of the W3C. What I do care about is that the front page of
this Working Group will feature a link to the RDFa document, a link to
the Microdata document, and people will be running around in email
lists with the same bickering that has weighed this group down.
Bickering that seemingly has now transcended the borders of our
effort. The World Wide Web probably doesn't know how lucky it's been,
until now.

All of this combined will have the end result of convincing people to
do _nothing_ about metadata, rather than have to deal with our
squabbles; a result which, frankly, probably also suits the Microdata
folks, since at least RDFa won't be used. Microdata has, in effect,
become a poison pill for metadata.

If the people who support Microdata had done so in years past, before
RDFa, or even complementary to RDFa, at least I would have assumed it
would be because those behind Microdata were actually interested in
the semantic web, in metadata. This is not the case, though. They
frankly don't care. If they did, we would have seen more libraries,
more use, more interest, and definitely more evangelism, before this
group made the decision to remove Microdata from HTML5. We saw nothing
more than a couple of trial implementations when Microdata was in
HTML5, a couple of blog posts--tepid enthusiasm, because Microdata
proponents don't really believe in metadata.

Well, not until this group decided to remove Microdata from the HTML5
spec.Forgive me, again, for being blunt: is this sudden interest and
evangelism the result of disappointment, and a desire to increase the
support for metadata? Or a push to win at all costs?

No, after reading the Wikipedia tech emails, I do object to a FPWD of
Microdata. I realize this group could publish the WD anyway, and that
there is no recourse to a formal objection, since we're not advancing
the document. I would hope, though, that this group stops, and takes a
good long look at what we're doing to the web community, before we act
casually in this regard.

Shelley

[1] http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikitech-l/2010-January/046382.html
[2] http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikitech-l/2010-January/046382.html
[3] http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikitech-l/2010-January/046387.html
Received on Saturday, 16 January 2010 16:06:52 UTC

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