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Re: Rebalancing How the Web is Built

From: Anders Rundgren <anders.rundgren.net@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 12 Sep 2016 16:41:06 +0200
To: Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Cc: W3C Credentials Community Group <public-credentials@w3.org>
Message-ID: <b31c4379-6c9d-cac4-caf1-96006302a690@gmail.com>
There are several other problems as well including:

  * 99.999℅ of all developers are either not affiliated with a W3C member and/or are not supposed to participate in standards development which reduces the "authority" of specifications unless they in fact are driven by a recognized market leader
  * For standards that do not require updating the browser platform the W3C is not a given venue
  * Very few organizations actually have people working with platform-level issues.  Banks?  Governments? Non-SW Vendors?

I have said it before but it remains valid: A workable browser extension scheme could enable a more vivid Web development environment where new things could be tested quickly by essentially anybody, before (optionally) taken to an SDO.  The "blank paper" way of creating standards has proved to be entirely unfit for purpose.

Anders


On Sep 11, 2016 17:21, "Manu Sporny" <msporny@digitalbazaar.com <mailto:msporny@digitalbazaar.com>> wrote:

    Hi all,

    Here's an article reflecting on some of the challenges we've faced
    getting work started at W3C on the timeline that we desire. It's a
    complex problem and this blog post attempts to deconstruct why this
    dynamic at W3C exists. Here's a summary of the post:

    The World Wide Web Consortium members standardize technology for the
    next generation Web. It’s arguable that the way this process works does
    not provide a clear path to progress work and favors large
    organizations. This blog post explains why we ended up here and how we
    could make the process more fair and predictable.

    http://manu.sporny.org/2016/rebalancing/ <http://manu.sporny.org/2016/rebalancing/>

    The contents of the blog post can be found below for W3C archival purposes:

    ---------------------
    Rebalancing How the Web is Built

        Since the early 1990s, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has
        been the organization where most of the next generation Web has
        been standardized. It is where many of the important decisions
        around HTML, CSS, and Browser APIs are made. It is also where many
        emerging non-browser related technologies like Linked Data,
        Blockchain, Automotive Web, and Web of Things are incubated.

        The consortium has always tried to balance the needs of large
        corporations with the needs of the general public to varying
        degrees of success. More recently, a number of the smaller
        organizations at W3C have noted how arduous the process of
        starting new work at W3C has become while the [10]behavior of
        large organizations continues to cause heartburn. As a result,
        some of us are concerned that the process is going to further tilt
        the playing field toward large organizations and unnecessarily
        slow the rate of innovation at the heart of the Web.

        In this blog post I’m going to try to explain how creating new
        technology for the core of the Web works. I’ll also suggest some
        changes that W3C could make to make the process more predictable
        and hopefully more fair to all participants.

     > From There to Here

        For most of its existence, the W3C has had a process for
        developing next generation technology for the [11]Web Platform
        that goes something like this:

         1. Wait for a group of people to identify a problem in the Web
            Platform and propose how adding specific new features would
            address the problem.
         2. Create a Working Group to standardize the features in the Web
            Platform that would solve the identified problem.
         3. Release an “official” technical specification under a patent
            and royalty-free license that is used by Web developers to
            varying degrees of success.

        It takes anywhere from 3-6 years for a technology to get through
        the W3C process. The formation and operation of a Working Group
        tends to be where the costs are fairly high in terms of W3C staff
        resources, which means the cost of failure is also relatively high
        for the organization as a whole. This has led to changes to the
        process that have raised the bar, in a negative way, on what is
        necessary to start a Working Group. The playing field has been
        tilted to the point that some of us are concerned that a handful
        of large organizations now have a tremendous amount of influence
        on where the Web is going while large coalitions of smaller
        organizations or the general public struggle to have their
        concerns addressed in the Web Platform.

        Recently, W3C has [12]undergone a reorganization to make it more
        responsive to the needs of the organizations and people that use
        the Web. The reorganization splits the organization into multiple
        functional groups: Strategy, Project Management, Architecture and
        Technology, Global Participation, Member Satisfaction, Business
        Development, etc. While the reorganization feels like a move in
        the right direction, it doesn’t seem to address how difficult it
        is to start and shepherd work through the W3C. Let’s analyze why
        that is.

    Why Shepherding Work Through the W3C is Onerous

        It is claimed that one of the primary bottlenecks at W3C when it
        comes to starting a new Working Group is allocating W3C staff
        member time to the project. The argument goes that there are just
        not enough W3C staffers for the workload of the organization. This
        is because W3C exists on a thin gruel of funding from membership
        fees (as well as other disparate sources) and hiring W3C staff to
        help support new work is financially burdensome. We have limited
        resources, so we must only pursue work that has the very highest
        likelihood of success. This means that parts of the Web Platform
        ecosystem develop far more slowly than they should.

        This dynamic has prompted a number of the larger organizations at
        W3C to push back on new charters citing this bottleneck. This is a
        misguided strategy. We shouldn’t be focused on eliminating as much
        risk as possible, we should be focused on reducing the cost of
        making mistakes.

        As a result of the focus on eliminating as much risk of failure as
        possible, some of these large organizations have started
        requesting new requirements for starting work. Some examples
        include requirements like complete technical specifications,
        “significant” deployments to customers, and large vendor support.
        These new requirements are intended to increase the likelihood of
        success and slow the rate of new work at W3C. While slowing the
        rate of new work may address the staffing issue, it also creates a
        situation where the W3C can’t keep up with the required amount of
        standardization needed for the Web Platform to stay relevant. It
        also creates a bias in favor of large organizations.

        We have seen these new requirements ignored when it suits a large
        organization to do so (e.g. Web Payments and Web Application
        Security). If a large organization can see how their company
        financially benefits from an added feature to the Web Platform
        they seem to have a much easier time getting work started at the
        W3C as the “starting new work” requirements are not applied to
        them in the same way as they are to the smaller organizations at
        W3C.

        While I won’t go into all of them here, there are more double
        standards, no pun intended, at play when transitioning work to a
        Working Group at W3C. This dynamic results in significant
        frustration from the smaller organizations at W3C when the goal
        posts for starting new work keep changing based on the current
        desires of the larger organizations.

        Regardless of whether or not this is a staffing issue, a
        technology maturity issue, or one of the other new requirements at
        play at W3C, one thing is certain. The list of requirements for
        transitioning work from an experimental technology to a Working
        Group at W3C is not clear and seems to favor larger organizations.
        It is a source of extreme frustration for those of us that are
        trying to help build the next generation Web and are NOT working
        for a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation.

    The W3C Working Group Formation Checklist

        One remedy for the aforementioned problems is to employ a simple
        but detailed checklist. This is one of the tools that is currently
        missing for W3C members.

        Some have argued that this lack of a clear checklist is by design.
        Some argue that the formation of every new Working Group is unique
        and requires discussion and debate. Having participated in
        starting multiple groups at W3C over the past decade, I disagree.
        The details differ, but the general topics that are debated remain
        fairly consistent. The data that you need to support the creation
        of a Working Group tend to be the same.

        Here is the checklist that I’ve put together over the years after
        much trial and error at W3C. The purpose of the checklist is to
        gather data so that your community can prove that it has done its
        due diligence to the W3C membership when requesting the creation
        of a Working Group.

         1. Clearly identify and articulate a problem statement. Do this
            by sending out a survey to all organizations that you believe
            may benefit from a standard. You will need at least 35
            organizations to become actively involved. I typically end up
            having to contact close to 100 organizations to get this core
            group formed. Example: [13]Digital Offers Problem Statement
            Survey.
         2. Create a W3C Community Group around a broad version of the
            problem statement and invite organizations to join the group.
            Organize weekly calls to coordinate activity. Example:
            [14]Credentials Community Group
         3. Gather use cases that these organizations want to support.
            Specifically, gather use cases that are currently impossible
            to achieve. This should be in the form of another survey where
            you ask each organization about their most important use case.
            You will eventually process this list down to 3-5 core use
            cases. Example: [15]Verifiable Claims Use Cases Survey and
            [16]Verifiable Claims Use Cases.
         4. Perform a gap analysis. Identify capabilities that are missing
            from the Web Platform and explain why those capabilities can
            address some of the use cases outlined in the previous step.
         5. Produce a proposed architecture and technical specification
            that addresses part or all of the problem statement. If
            possible, get multiple implementations of the technical
            specification and deploy it at a few customer sites. Example:
            [17]Verifiable Claims Architecture Document
         6. Create a draft charter for a Working Group that will take the
            technical specification through the W3C standardization
            process. The charter time frame should be for no more than 24
            months: 6 months to spin up, 12 months to finalize the specs,
            6 months to complete interoperability testing. Example:
            [18]Verifiable Claims Working Group Draft Charter
         7. Create an executive summary for W3C member companies.
            Summarize the work that the group has done. At this point you
            have far more content than W3C member company representatives
            have the time to read to determine if they want to join the
            initiative. Ease their decision making process by providing a
            summary. Example: [19]Verifiable Claims Executive Summary for
            W3C Members
         8. Measure buy-in for the proposed Working Group Charter and
            technical deliverables. The best way to do this is via another
            survey that should be distributed to any organization that
            participated in step #1, any organization that has joined the
            work since then, and any W3C member organization that may be
            impacted by the work. Example: [20]Demonstration of Support
            for Verifiable Claims Working Group Charter Survey

        I don’t expect much in the list above to be controversial. There
        are templates that the W3C membership should create for the
        surveys and reports above. Having this W3C Working Group Formation
        Checklist available will help organizations navigate the often
        confusing W3C Process.

    Reducing Reliance on W3C Staff

        The checklist above makes the process of going from an
        experimental technology to a W3C Working Group more clear. The
        checklist, however, does not alleviate the W3C staffing shortage.
        In fact, if the way W3C staff is utilized does not also change, it
        might make the current situation worse.

        The W3C staff play a very important role in that they help
        organizations navigate how to get things done via the W3C Process.
        They help build consensus before and during a Working Group
        activity at W3C. This can be a double-edged sword. If there is a
        W3C staff member available to help, they can be a fantastic
        champion for a group’s work. If there isn’t, and you’ve never
        progressed work yourself through W3C, you will find yourself in
        the unfavorable position of not knowing how to proceed. Many of
        the staff members also have their own way of navigating the W3C
        process and many of them have to repeat themselves when new work
        is started. In short, there is a lot of engineering churn and
        tribal knowledge at W3C; this is true of most standardization
        bodies.

        The unfortunate truth is that building out the Web platform is
        currently being restricted due to the way that we start and
        progress new work at W3C. The W3C membership relies on the W3C
        staff to its detriment. The W3C staff are incredibly helpful, but
        there aren’t enough of them to support building out all of the new
        functionality needed for the Web, and this is ultimately bad for
        the Web.

        In order to address the staffing shortage, it is proposed that we
        shift much of their work from executing upon the proposed
        checklist, which is more or less what they do today, to verifying
        that the checklists are being processed correctly. This is
        effectively a quality control check on the work that groups are
        doing as they work their way through the proposed checklist. This
        offloads a significant chunk of W3C staff time to the groups that
        want to see their work get traction while giving those groups
        clear goals to achieve.

    Blocking Work at W3C

        W3C members currently have the ability to stop work that has
        ticked all of the necessary boxes in the checklist mentioned
        above. At present, large organizations tend to not become involved
        with work until a vote for the Working Group is circulated by W3C
        staff. Some members then suggest that they may vote against the
        work if their viewpoint isn’t taken into account even though they
        have not participated in the work to date. Some call this a part
        of the process, but it is uselessly frustrating to those that have
        spent years building consensus around a Working Group proposal
        only to have a large W3C member company respond with a “Why wasn’t
        I consulted” retort.

        So, now for the controversial bit:

        A W3C Community Group’s work should automatically transition to a
        W3C Working Group if a significant coalition of companies, say
        around 35 of them, have ticked all of the boxes in a predefined
        W3C Working Group Formation checklist.

        This checklist should include the creation of two interoperable
        implementations and a test suite. In other words, it should meet
        all of the minimum bars for a Working Group’s success per the W3C
        Process. Making this change achieves the following:

         1. It clearly defines how experimental technology progresses to
            being part of the Web platform so that organizations can
            allocate resources appropriately.
         2. It reduces the workload on W3C staff members, which is a very
            limited resource.
         3. It prevents large organizations from blocking work at W3C
            while addressing their concerns around technological maturity.

        In the end, the checklist for starting work at W3C could look
        something like this:

         1. Clearly identify and articulate a problem statement.
         2. Create a W3C Community Group.
         3. Gather and document use cases.
         4. Perform a gap analysis.
         5. Produce a proposed architecture and technical specification.
         6. Produce two implementations and a test suite.
         7. Create a draft charter for a Working Group.
         8. Create an executive summary for W3C member companies.
         9. Survey organizations and demonstrate that at least 35 of them
            are supportive of the work and technical direction.

        Each step above would have document templates that W3C members can
        use as a starting point. None of the steps above require W3C staff
        resources and if all steps are completed, the formation of a
        Working Group is the natural outcome and should not be blocked by
        the membership.

        This checklist approach may be seen as too constraining for some,
        and that’s why it’s voluntary. Some organizations may feel that
        they do not need to produce all of the work above to get a Working
        Group and for those organizations, they can choose to ignore the
        checklist. Initiatives not using the checklist should expect push
        back if they choose to not answer some of the questions that the
        checklist covers.

    Rebalancing How the Web is Built

        The current process for developing next generation standards for
        the Web is too unpredictable and too constrained by limited W3C
        resources. There are groups of small organizations that want to
        help create these next generation standards; we have to empower
        those groups with a clear path to standardization. We must not
        allow organizations to block work if the champions of the work
        have met the requirements in the checklist. Doing this will free
        up W3C staffing resources to ensure that the Web Platform is
        advancing at a natural and rapid rate.

        A W3C Working Group formation checklist would help make the
        process more predictable, require less W3C staff time to execute,
        and provide a smoother path from the inception of an idea, to
        implementation, to standardization of a technology for the Web
        platform. This would be great for the Web.

    References

       10. https://manu.sporny.org/2016/browser-api-incubation-antipattern/ <https://manu.sporny.org/2016/browser-api-incubation-antipattern/>
       11. https://www.w3.org/wiki/Open_Web_Platform <https://www.w3.org/wiki/Open_Web_Platform>
       12. https://www.w3.org/2016/08/2016-reorg.html <https://www.w3.org/2016/08/2016-reorg.html>
       13.
    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScVDxYlBTWchzK3kThdRTn0nulipPy6Hb5qLmRDLOdBtioFfQ/viewform <https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScVDxYlBTWchzK3kThdRTn0nulipPy6Hb5qLmRDLOdBtioFfQ/viewform>
       14. https://www.w3.org/community/credentials/ <https://www.w3.org/community/credentials/>
       15.
    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdQJWx8eMRkoTwA2TIWbigTipZ2lqZ_UPFzJbY8IvqmVAHr6A/viewform <https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdQJWx8eMRkoTwA2TIWbigTipZ2lqZ_UPFzJbY8IvqmVAHr6A/viewform>
       16. https://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/use-cases/ <https://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/use-cases/>
       17. http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/architecture/ <http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/architecture/>
       18. http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/charter/rc-2.html <http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/charter/rc-2.html>
       19. http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/primer/ <http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/primer/>
       20. http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/support/ <http://w3c.github.io/webpayments-ig/VCTF/support/>

    -- manu

    --
    Manu Sporny (skype: msporny, twitter: manusporny, G+: +Manu Sporny)
    Founder/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
    blog: Rebalancing How the Web is Built
    http://manu.sporny.org/2016/rebalancing/ <http://manu.sporny.org/2016/rebalancing/>
Received on Monday, 12 September 2016 14:42:06 UTC

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