Re: Formal Objection in Questions 1 and 3 on the Ballot

On May 4, 2007, at 3:07 PM, Terje Bless wrote:

> I vote “No” — that is, I Formally Object — to Questions 1 and 3 on  
> the current WBS WG Ballot, on the following grounds:
> *** Shall we Adopt HTML5 as our specification text for review?
> 1) It is premature to vote on the wholesale adoption of a body of work
>    the weight of “HTML5”. Its adoption would too greatly limit the WGs
>    freedom to arrive at its own solutions; the extant text and  
> fundamental
>    assumptions would create a cognitive barrier to considering  
> alternate
>    paths. The underlying assumptions color the entire body of work and
>    would be essentially impossible to weed out by incremental  
> revision.
>    It is also natural to assume that simple inertia would make changes
>    more difficult to achieve.

This is surely true of any starting text. Your proposed starting  
text, the HTML 4.01 specification (presumably also including the DOM  
Level 2 HTML and XHTML 1.0 specifications to fulfill our complete  
deliverable) is even more weighty, and has some fundamental  
assumptions that are in direct contradiction to our charter, such as  
assuming an SGML parser.

So I believe your objection is in no way peculiar to HTML5, and can  
only possibly be a justification for the Working Group not starting  
work at all.

>    The proposed Editors (Ian Hickson, specifically) have volunteered
>    contingent on the HTML WG's main deliverable being identical
>    ("preferably the same document"), or substantially similar, to the
>    evolving work of the “WHAT WG”. This means proposed changes  
> would need
>    to meet the test of whether its importance is greater than the  
> threat
>    of the Editor resigning or divergence from the external work,  
> rather
>    than actual merit. As a result, the adoption of the “HTML5”
>    submission would unduly burden the WG with artificial constraints.

One of the editors has also said that even if the WHATWG spec is not  
adopted, he would make the WHATWG spec a compatible superset of this  
working group's work. I believe they have also agreed to abide by  
working group decisions. Given this, I think your objection is based  
on a false premise. The HTML WG will be in control of the external  
specification rather than vice versa.

>    Furthermore, the submission was made on April 9th and a mere month
>    is insufficient time to even superficially review and make an
>    informed choice on a body of work as large and dense as “HTML5”.
>    The WG is still amassing members at a significant rate, and their
>    voices should be heard on this matter. Significantly, I observe an
>    increase in the number of new members whose interest and expertise
>    lie in the area of Accessibility.

Surely adopting the specification as a basis for review is a better  
way to foster further in-depth technical review than not making a  
decision. How long would you have us wait? I don't think a request to  
delay making a decision is justifiable unless you propose a  
constructive alternative. I don't think stopping work is a  
constructive alternative. I don't think starting with the HTML4  
family of specifications addresses your points of objection as  
written any better.

> 2) The Charter sets the scope to «A language evolved from HTML4…».
>    It is debatable whether the “HTML5” submission is, any longer,
>    meaningfully «evolved from HTML4». The natural way to achieve
>    the Charter's deliverable is to actually start from HTML 4.01 and
>    evolve the deliverable from there (possibly by adding large parts
>    of the “HTML5” submission and other extant sources).

If it's debatable, how about actually providing an argument that it  
isn't? Saying that something is debatable does not, in my opinion,  
constitute an argument on technical merits.

> 3) The “HTML5” submission appears to be actively incompatible with
>    previous versions of HTML (W3C and ISO specifications). While the
>    Charter admonishes that the WG should not «…assume that an SGML
>    parser is used…», neither does it (nor, indeed, could it) say that
>    it should be incompatible with an SGML parser. Regardless of  
> what the
>    general desktop browser vendors have implemented, currently  
> specified
>    variants of HTML are based on SGML (defined largely i terms of it)
>    and SGML parsers do have a need to consume web content (the content
>    predating the Recommendation of the “HTML5” submission, if nothing
>    else).

So per your Formal Objection and notwithstanding the charter, we  
should put more weight on the needs of specialty SGML-based tools  
than general-purpose browsers? I don't think this is a valid objection.

> - In order for this Formal Objection to be removed, the following must
>   be put in place;
>  a) Some reasonable measure to prevent the fundamental assumptions  
> of the
>     “HTML5” submission from being adopted without due consideration by
>     this WG's deliverable. Also to prevent the extant text from  
> limiting
>     the room for exploring alternate approaches and solutions.  
> Further,
>     that measures be put in place to prevent the Editors' threats to
>     resign to artificially limit the available alternatives of the WG.
>     I cannot currently see what measure would achieve this, but  
> would be
>     happy see such measures identified.

You are using the threat of a Formal Objection, which prevents the  
group from taking the action preferred by an overwhelming majority of  
participants who bothered to vote until addressed, to ask for a  
mechanism to prevent future delays or constraints based on  
hypothetical future threads by the editors to withdraw. It sounds to  
me like Formal Objections are a greater actual threat to progress for  
the group than potential resignation of the Editors. Why do you think  
we need more protection from the editors than from you?

>  b) Some reasonable measure to ensure that the resultant specification
>     is meaningfully evolved from HTML4. This would ideally be to  
> use the
>     HTML 4.01 Recommendation as a starting point (the basis for  
> review),
>     with the “HTML5” submission relegated to “merely” the most  
> useful and
>     relevant external source (and quite probably ending up  
> comprising the
>     vast majority of the eventual text). I believe this would  
> satisfy the
>     actual requirements, if not the preference, of all interests;  
> including
>     the “HTML5” submission's backers.

This would significantly delay progress; even if the final spec met  
all the same requirements, folding 315 pages of content into the  
existing 628 total pages describing HTML 4 is something that would  
likely take several years to complete. I would therefore object to  
such unnecessary delay. I cannot agree to such a remedy.

>  c) Some reasonable measure to ensure compatibility with extant  
> consumers
>     of web content, specifically that SGML parsers can be used to  
> process
>     content that by definition is SGML based. That is, some measure  
> must
>     be put in place to ensure that the result of accepting the “HTML5”
>     submission does not prevent an SGML parser from consuming existing
>     content (by, e.g., redefining the meaning of apparent SGML content
>     served under the text/html media type or making itself
>     indistinguishable from existing content).
>     One possible way to achieve this is to require “HTML5”  
> documents to
>     conform with SGML rules up until the end of the prolog, and to  
> identify
>     itself under SGML rules as a particular FPI, such that an SGML  
> parser
>     may discover that the document is one it cannot handle (and  
> possibly
>     hand it over to a “HTML5” parser). On review and discussion in  
> the WG
>     I am confident such methods can be found which satisfy the  
> needs of all
>     parties.

I assume a marker that would tell an SGML parser that a document is  
not SGML would be equally applicable regardless of the starting  
specification. Therefore, this individual technical proposal should  
be debated on its own merits rather than constraining the choice of  
starting point for furhter editing.

> Note that I have as yet not identified any substantive issue with  
> the “HTML5” submission that makes it unacceptable as such. However,  
> by accepting it as a basis for review we effectively close avenues  
> for making it suitable for fulfilling the requirements of the  
> members of the web community not currently considered by the “WHAT  
> WG”, while the opposite is not true; using HTML4 as our basis does  
> not significantly hinder our ability to fulfill the requirements  
> expressed as the current “HTML5” submission (the more so should one  
> accept the claim that “HTML5” is in fact “evolved” from HTML4).

If you have not identified any substantive issue that makes the  
submission unacceptable, then how can accepting it close needed  
avenues? Can you identify what avenues would be closed? This sounds  
like just FUD, not a substantive technical argument.

> I fully support the stance that the HTML WG should meet the  
> requirements of the WHAT WG, who also claim to represent the  
> majority of the HTML WGs natural constituency, but not at the  
> expense of less well represented parties (and not, obviously, “at  
> all costs”).
> Also note that I have serious misgivings about the current Charter,  
> and indeed have had to remove issues from this objection due to  
> them being sanctioned by the Charter and thus out of scope for this  
> Vote, and strongly believe all interests could have been better  
> maintained had not the charter limited our scope for action.
> *** Shall the editors of HTML5 be Ian Hickson and Dave Hyatt?
> 1) Ian Hickson has made his acceptance of nomination contingent on the
>    WG's adoption of the “HTML5” submission as its basis for review. It
>    is thus inappropriate, or at least unclear/confusing, to ask for a
>    Vote on whether he should be the Editor before that issue has been
>    decided.
> 2) Making the acceptance contingent on the WG's willingness to satisfy
>    arbitrary demands is inappropriate. Either he accepts the role of
>    Editor or he does not; threatening to resign if the WG does not  
> choose
>    to meet his preference is highly inappropriate.
> - In order for this Formal Objection to be removed,
>   the following must be done;
>  a) Ian Hickson must give a clear statement that he accepts the role
>     of Editor in the WG, that is not contingent on how the WG chooses
>     to produce its deliverables. Further, that he will not make use of
>     his possible resignation as a treat or argument to influence how
>     the WG chooses make its decisions or to produce its deliverables.

I don't think demanding such a loyalty oath is appropriate. Editors  
are free to resign at any time for any reason, as indeed are members  
of the working group. Furthermore, if the group chooses a different  
starting point and the currently nominated editors decline, we are in  
no worse shape than if we hadn't voted on editors at all. We would  
still need to find new editors.

> Note that there is obviously nothing that hinders Ian from  
> resigning this role in the future if he should, for whatever  
> reason, find himself unable to contribute the needed time or  
> resources, or because he finds his interests lie elsewhere, or for  
> whatever other reason. I also do not doubt Ian's qualifications for  
> the role or his good faith should he take it on — indeed, I would  
> endorse him on those merits alone — and would strongly prefer that  
> a way be found that would allow me to remove this Formal Objection  
> and for Ian to act as Editor.

If you agree that he may resign his role for any reason in the  
future, then surely it is inappropriate to demand a statement from  
him that he won't resign for some specific list of reasons that you  
would find inappropriate.

> I also quite support Dave Hyatt, for similar qualifications, but he  
> appears too uncontroversial in manner to merit much hoopla here;  
> you should make more unconsidered and wildly controversial  
> statements Dave! :-)
> Finally, I was considerably ambivalent over whether to lodge a  
> Formal Objection on this Vote due to worry it would significantly  
> delay progress. Thus I would be happy to discover ways to resolve  
> these issues to the point where I find myself able to remove my  
> Formal Objection and change the Vote to Concur if not outright  
> support on both questions.

I think this is difficult, given your proposed remedies. They seem to  
amount to:

- Some indication of future loyalty and a mechanism to assure such  
from the Editors; I don't think we need any more here than the W3C  
Process and an assumption of basic good faith on the part of the  
editors. Trying to negotiate new mutually agreeable ground rules  
beyond the Process and our Charter could easily take months.

- Rolling back all the work done in HTML5 and requiring it to be  
redone step by step; this would likely add years of delay and so  
would be unacceptable to me and probably others.

- A decision on a specific technical issue which I think should be  
decided on its own merits, regardless of the starting point for  
further review and editing. Perhaps you could describe what syntax at  
the start of an HTML5 document could identify it as non-SGML to an  
SGML processor, and we can discuss that point as a separate technical  


Received on Friday, 4 May 2007 22:47:22 UTC