W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org > October 2001

What to do about the W3C?

From: Dave Winer <dave@userland.com>
Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2001 09:06:48 -0700
Message-ID: <158a01c14db7$bd4e1710$33a1dc40@murphy>
To: <www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org>
***The consortium is a conundrum

The conundrum of the W3C can be seen in its name -- the World Wide Web
Consortium.

The first part, World Wide Web, is at odds with the second part, the
Consortium.

The Web was founded on a protocol and a format, HTTP and HTML. Both are
brain-dead simple. Totally free. Easy to implement. And widely implemented.

Now, what is a consortium? It's an association of businesses.

Ultimately the consortium will do what the businesses want it to do.

Even if it hurts the Web.

That's the conundrum [1].

***The magic of the Web

The magic of the Web is its freedom and utter low-tech-ness. The cynics who
sniffed at the idealists were wrong, the dotcom crazyness is over, and the
Web survives, precisely because it is open to everyone.

The Web works because it's the World Medium, where the TV networks,
magazines and newspapers are deeply rooted in specific cultures and
interests, the Web can go everywhere telephones and computers go, and
represent all interests because it's so easy to create and publish for the
Web.

Computers are getting very small, and telephones are now cellular, so the
Web is moving into new cultures and economic levels, and that's very
important in a world with so many disconnects -- the Web acts as a
connector. We saw that as we covered the terrorism in NY and DC and its
aftermath. For the first time we were able to directly get information and
points of view from ordinary people, and in the process the Web started
feeding the news flow instead of just following it. There's a new spirit [2]
of cooperation between amateur and professional journalists, and there's no
doubt that the Web is at the center of this. It's important.

The Web is not just technology, but a philosophy. Easy specs, open to
everyone, no restrictions or royalties, a level playing field, and user
choice. That led to freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. It's totally
magic and it works, and both technological freedom and free speech are
necessary for it to work. The Web is the good part of globalization, and
it's important to know how that's being managed, for all people who
participate.

***A consortium of BigCo's

In 1994 a consortium of companies was formed [3], led by the inventor of the
Web, Tim Berners-Lee. There are companies of all size in the consortium.
Since the big ones pay most of the bills, they call most of the shots. I
know others would disagree with this statement, but I think it's obvious on
its face. We tend to listen to money and not ideas. When Microsoft says
something it has more import, with most people, than when a smaller company
speaks. I wish this were not so, but sadly it is so. Let's recognize it.

There was a time when the Web drove the technology industry. This drove the
BigCo's nuts. They embraced the threat, but never welcomed the Web into
their lives or their long-term plans. It was an insurrection to be put down.
And there are good reasons to believe that the insurrection /was/ put down,
if only at a technology level. Today's Web is throttled by the engineers at
Microsoft who maintain the browser that has monopoly market share. It's
subject to where Microsoft's strategists want to take it. With nary a peep
from the caretaker consortium, they are moving to take control [4] not just
of the technology, but of the content of the Web. This would be very bad if
they did it. So far we've managed to keep them at bay, but I suspect that
won't last much longer.

IBM, another BigCo, has embraced open-ness, but apparently with some
reservations. Same with the other big companies. It's not fair to single out
Microsoft and IBM, but they are at the core of the current controversy,
which hasn't been publicly documented, as far as I know.

***The question

There's been a lot of discussion on the Web and email over the last week as
the conundrum over the W3C and patents has become visible. Apparently
precipitated by a disagreement between Microsoft and IBM over patents in Web
Services, the question that's been raised that few have focused on is the
disconnect between the Web and the organization that's chartered with taking
care of it.

Should the Web have welcomed the BigCo's on their terms, or on the terms of
the Web? The Web favors low-tech easy-to-implement formats and protocols.
The BigCo's for whatever reason, promote difficult formats and protocols,
that tend to split the users into groups based on whose software they use,
and tend to marginalize smaller developers. It's hard to switch from one
brand to another. Progress may grind to a halt while they fight in court.
And small companies and independent developers who are philosophically
opposed to software patents will be frozen or killed while the BigCo's fight
over control of the Web.

In my humble opinion, never has the world needed the World Wide Web more
than it does now. Regardless of what the consortium does, freedom-loving
developers and writers must work together to ensure that the medium remains
open and uncontrolled by big companies.

***The times we live in

Anyone with a TV set or a Web browser must get that the world is in crisis.

I urge the leading technology companies to gain a sense of perspective and
put their differences aside, and recognize that as businesses, they have
more serious concerns than squeezing the maximum money from the Web. Their
shareholders must have something to say about this. What is most important,
the growth of the industry, the safety of the population, the vibrancy of
the market, or the power to control the flow of ideas and information
between the world's citizens?

Isn't this at the root of the disconnect between American culture and our
economy and the rest of the world?

Fact: the companies who would control the Web are mostly American.

Today, I don't feel much like being an American. I'd rather be free.

Dave Winer

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/cgi-bin/dict.pl?term=conundrum
[2] http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1272-210-7242676-1.html
[3] http://www.w3.org/Consortium/
[4] http://davenet.userland.com/directory/952/smartTags.
Received on Friday, 5 October 2001 12:07:07 GMT

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