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Re: W3C vs WHATWG specs

From: Chris Wilson <cwilso@google.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2014 15:53:35 -0700
Message-ID: <CAJK2wqXJO9=h4he67qZU4v=AuY_PyG-MSyhENJkSnwrKgKneyg@mail.gmail.com>
To: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Cc: Glenn Adams <glenn@skynav.com>, www-archive@w3.org, Anne van Kesteren <annevk@annevk.nl>, Si Robertson <retromodular@gmail.com>, PhistucK <phistuck@gmail.com>
On Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 5:13 PM, Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch> wrote:

> On Tue, 15 Apr 2014, Chris Wilson wrote:
> > On Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 2:23 PM, Tab Atkins Jr. wrote:
> > >
> > > ... whenever the W3C forks a WHATWG spec, they:
> > >
> > > * rarely if ever update the fork, so it drifts behind the WHATWG
> > > version by a significant amount (sometimes *years* - there are some
> > > W3C forks of WHATWG specs that were last updated in 2012, *when they
> > > initially forked*)
> >
> > Well, certainly not true in HTML.
> The HTML spec is often weeks or months behind.

Weeks or months behind the WHATWG spec, sure.  Not as clear if it's weeks
or months behind vendor consensus.  But at any rate, I was responding to
the "years behind/last updated in 2012" comment.

In the case of the WHATWG specifications, the licenses allow broad re-use,
so that implementors can copy-and-paste text into their comment blocks, so
> that tutorial writers can copy-and-paste text into their documentation, so
> that experiments we haven't considered can spring up without inhibition,
> and so that, if the WHATWG stops being a good steward (like the W3C
> stopped being a good steward in the early 2000s), the next group of spec
> editors doesn't have to start from scratch.
> However, forking and competing? That's not why the spec is reusable. It's
> plagiarism. Yes, I use that word intentionally. Taking someone else's work
> or ideas and passing them off as one's own.
> Take this page:
>    http://www.w3.org/html/wg/drafts/html/master/
> It lists seven editors. What percentage of the spec do you think was
> written by each of those seven editors? What percentage of the spec do you
> think was _read_ by each of those seven editors?

I'm not sure how to respond to this.  Other than simply removing any
reference to the HTML WG, listing only yourself as editor, how do you think
this could/should be improved?  (Aside: I've been on both the short and
long ends of that "all editors don't contribute equally" stick.)  But
again, I disagree with your labeling of this as plagiarism; I think it is
labelled where those ideas come from.  If you feel that is insufficiently
done, then of course suggest how to improve that.

> At least on some of the other specs, they have the decency to put the
> forking editors last, though still with no real acknowledgement of the
> difference in effort between the various roles ("upstream WHATWG version"
> could really mean anything unless you're already in the know):
>    http://www.w3.org/TR/dom/
>    http://www.w3.org/TR/XMLHttpRequest/
> But even on those, a casual observer won't realise they're looking at
> non-original work. For example, the XHR one just says:
>    Copyright © 2014 W3C® (MIT, ERCIM, Keio, Beihang), All Rights Reserved.
> The DOM one is dual licensed with one license being CC-BY, it's not at all
> clear who the attribution should reference; it later says:
>    This document is published as a snapshot of the _DOM Living Standard_.
>    This document was published by the HTML Working Group as a Last Call
>    Working Draft. [...] This document was produced by a group operating
>    under the 5 February 2004 W3C Patent Policy.
> ...and it has a big "W3C" stamp at the top. How is a casual observer to
> guess that what the above really means is "This document was written by
> someone working outside the W3C, and we then took a copy that we're not
> maintaining"? How is a casual observer supposed to know that "produced"
> here really is inaccurate boilerplate?

In reviewing the headers of the DOM LCWD, I didn't feel like there was any
doubt at all about where the content was developed, nor who was responsible
for producing the semantic contents of the document.  I believe the
"produced by a group operating under PP" comment is more about getting the
contents covered by the PP, which I've stated many times before I believe
is important in the broader business sense.  As you and I have discussed
before, I feel real concerns about IP are consistently ignored by the

I do think the XHR WD is insufficiently labeled.

(Then there's the silent changes. For example, take this spec:
>    http://www.w3.org/TR/webstorage/
> ...supposedly, according to the header, I'm the sole editor. Now look at
> the references, specifically the [HTML] line. I guarantee I didn't write
> _that_ reference. Compare it to the W3C-branded draft I publish:
>    http://dev.w3.org/html5/webstorage/
> Stuff like that is all over the place. For example, see this spec's
> [HTML] reference:
>    http://www.w3.org/TR/XMLHttpRequest/
> Compare it to the [URL] reference, though. Makes you wonder why they had
> to change the [HTML] one -- I'm sure Anne's original version of that spec,
> before they forked it, didn't have that change.)

Indeed, I would have expected they would list an editor in the W3C group
for the W3C spec, and I would expect to list any editor that made any
substantive, normative changes to the draft (and changing a reference falls
in that category).  Of course, that would probably offend on the previous

> The W3C does NOT say it's fine to fork THEIR specs, out of concern that
> > precisely what the WHATWG does would happen
> Actually the DOM spec says it's fine, by your reasoning, since it has a
> CC-BY license.

True enough, yes, presuming such attribution is made.  And I think that's a
good thing, as I think do you.

> > that a third party would attempt to wrest the "definitive" title from
> > them.
> Note that the original HTML work at the WHATWG happened without any
> license-preventable textual forking.

Indeed.  And one could probably do the same with any other W3C "spec" if
one so desired; it would just be (as you well know) an immense amount of
work for any sizable spec.  And FWIW, I don't defend license wrangling to
discourage forking; trademarking and community-building would be a better
approach, in my current opinion.

> * I would point out that the lack of a coherent IP policy prevents some
> > actors from participating, and likely always will.
> The WHATWG patent policy is the W3C Community Group policy, which is more
> coherent than the IETF policy.

I don't see how you can say that.

AFAICT, there is no mention of patent policy in the WHATWG FAQ, and no
policy that I sign up to in order to contribute ideas to whatwg@whatwg.org;
indeed, no particular tracking at all aside from email address.  If I sign
up to the W3C WHATWG CG, I *DO* have to agree to the W3C Community CLA, but
that does not mean that all work in the WHATWG happens under the umbrella
of the CG.

This is a critical distinction in terms of patent policy.  I deeply
understand no patent policy will prevent all problems (e.g. EOLAS), but the
WHATWG's work mode means there can be no agreement in place with a
substantial set of contributors.

Even _I_ don't always agree with the conclusions and resulting work that
> I'm responsible for. There's TONS of stuff in the HTML standard that I
> think is terrible and horrible. Unfortunately for me, my opinion really
> doesn't enter into many of the decisions that I have to make as editor.

> And I have no recourse and no due process when it comes to resolving
> > differences or even in insisting that they listen to my objections or
> > those of anyone else.
> I guarantee a response to every substantial piece of feedback sent to the
> WHATWG list regarding a spec that I maintain. You might not like the final
> decision, but you cannot say that I won't listen. I go out of my way to
> listen to, and even seek out, objections.

But that's the distinction.  *YOU* are essentially the final arbiter.
There are many checks and balances in WG decisions before one gets to the
point of "we have to get TBL fired", but getting you fired as WHATWG editor
(ha!) appears to be the only course of action for even low-level disputes,
and you've publicly stated you do not consider consensus opinion to be a
determinant factor.

I understand that you do solicit objections, and generally respond to an
insane level of input.  I think the point here is that the "final decision"
is made by you - not by a consensus-driven group with multiple layers of
checks and balances.

Received on Monday, 28 April 2014 22:54:03 UTC

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