W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-html@w3.org > July 2008

Re: Deciding in public (Was: SVGWG SVG-in-HTML proposal)

From: Sam Ruby <rubys@us.ibm.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 14:49:33 -0400
To: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Cc: Justin James <j_james@mindspring.com>, "'HTML WG'" <public-html@w3.org>, public-html-request@w3.org
Message-ID: <OFA5EC1A4B.85FB7EEB-ON85257497.00629296-85257497.006769DF@us.ibm.com>

[rejoining this thread]

Ian Hickson wrote on 07/31/2008 04:41:10 AM:
> On Thu, 31 Jul 2008, Justin James wrote:
> >
> > [...] if a *decision* was made, that it be done *in public* and *with
> > public input*.
> I don't really know what it would mean for the decisions to be "done in
> public" any more than already happens. I mean, every single edit is done
> in public with diffs sent to public mailing lists, every non-editorial
> change is Twittered, I'm always on IRC while editing...

A small bit of semantics, worded intentionally harser than meant.

This list is but one of a variety of sources of inputs that you accept.
Even if a person attempts to follow all of the insane number of lists that
you follow, they won't be getting the entire input stream as you
undoubtedly meet with people F2F.  It is even possible that some of the
input you receive F2F isn't public.

So decisions are inevitably made elsewhere.  At times on other lists.  At
times even, as you recently put it, in your shower.

As work product itself is a public spec, clearly the outcome of any
decision will be published -- after the fact.  This means that people have
an opportunity to be informed about the decisions -- after the fact.

To compound this, there is no effective and comprehensive disclosure of
what inputs were and were not considered, but a persistent and repeated
setting of expectations that previous decisions will not be reopened
without new evidence.

> > Therefore, any decisions made before the formation of a public group,
> > were not "open".
> Actually even before we had an actual mailing list to archive the
> discussions, everything was already being written in public. We soon set
> up a list, though, I mean, everything's been done really in public since
> 2004 already.

Everything?  You have a shower-cam?  You've never met privately with people
from Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, IBM?  And if you did, you have never
considered any of their inputs unless it was previously made in public?

> > So if those decisions were going to be made outside of the public view,

> > than you need to accept that the "open" and "public" debate is going to

> > challenge those decisions from time-to-time, and if you are working for

> > this spec to have been developed in an "open" and "public" manner, then

> > you need to be willing to seriously consider challenges to decisions
> > that were made prior to the formation of this group.
> As I said to Sam, nothing is set in stone. Decisions are regularly
> in the face of new suggestions, evidence, etc.

IMO, that's actually your strongest point; particularly if you deemphasize
the word new.  And this point is not just words, but there is abundant
evidence supporting this claim.

But one thing that will always remain true is that it will never be the
case that everybody agrees with every decision you make.  There will always
be cases where somebody believes that they made a strong case with clear
evidence and that you decided to go a different path.

My opinion is that there one change that would make this process stronger
is if there were a clear escallation path for cases such as these.  One
that rarely overturned your decisions, but does do so with just barely
enough regularity to inspire confidence that the process works.  And if the
changes were rare enough, and the people who were responsible for handling
the escallation actually offloaded work from you, this would be a net plus.
(Note: this is typically a role that WG Chairs fulfill).

> > It seems that at least once a week, someone gets fairly upset over
> > something in the spec, and the response is typically along the lines of

> > referring to one of these pre-public working group decisions. I think
> > that this is a strong indicator of a serious problem. The common
> > denominator here is the way in which these decisions were made. I
> > don't see people getting upset over decisions that were made since this

> > group was formed.
> People in the HTML WG have gotten upset over all kinds of things,
> including:
>  - things that were decided before we even were a "we", e.g. that we
>    should extend HTML4 forms instead of using XForms

Provisionally decided.

>  - things that were decided well in the open, in the WHATWG context, well

>    before the HTMLWG was created, e.g. the inclusion of <canvas>

Provisionally decided.

>  - things that were decided well in the open, after the HTML WG was well
>    under way, e.g. that we should support cases where a site wants to
>    include an image but doesn't know what kind of image it is

Provisionally decided.

>  - things that were decided by the HTML WG through consensus, e.g. that I

>    should be editor

You are clearly the current editor, and I hope that doesn't change any time
soon.  However I will make the claim that you have occasionally interpreted
that decision in ways that might be more expansive than those that voted
for you to assume this position may have intended.

> I really don't think it has mattered when the decisions were made. There
> just seems to be a tendency for some people in the HTML WG to get
upset. :-)

People tend to get upset when they feel that they aren't listened to and
have no recourse.  I know I have.

> > Documenting the base assumptions is not the same thing as developing
> > them in an "open" and "public" manner. I think that this is the
> > fundamental problem that myself, and a great number of other people on
> > this list are having here. Decisions were made behind closed doors, and

> > now people challenge them and the response is, "but this was
> > documented."
> When people "challenge" decisions and provide new ideas or insight,
> decisions change to match. e.g. the change to <a>'s content model today.
> Just saying "reconsider this decision" doesn't cause the decision to be
> reconsidered. It doesn't matter when the decision was made. What matters
> is whether new information has come to light.

"new" is relative and (given the lack of documenation) undefined in this
context.  Additionally, if this group wants to be truly inclusive, it needs
to be able to find a way to accomodate people who weren't present at the
time provisional decisions were made.

> > It may have been documented, but it was not discussed by *this group*.
> As I've said with abundant clarity before, as far as my edits go it
> doesn't matter which groups discuss things. I'm operating on the basis of

> technical arguments, research, data, etc, from all sources I have
> available to me, including this mailing list, other lists, blogs,
> discussions, my contacts inside browser vendors, IRC, etc.
> If you want to discuss something in this group, then discuss it. If new
> information or arguments come to light, I'll be happy to consider them.

As long as there isn't a clear way to determine whether something is new or
old, or to effectively escallate issues, people will continue to be upset.

> > It was discussed by you and a few other people, all of whom seem to
> > for a very small group of companies and organizations. I am not one for

> > conspiracy theories, but if you take a look at things from the
> > outsider's perspective, I think you would agree that there is certainly

> > the *appearance* that a few major organizations are having their voices

> > heard and that this group gets ignored when those ideas are challenged.
> Look at the acknowledgements section in the HTML5 spec. It lists everyone

> who has said something that has directly resulted in a change to the
> It's not a short list, and it's certainly not just a list of people in
> "a few major organisations".
> (In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that a number of

> people who originally took part in the HTML5 effort completely
> independently and on their own time have, since the start of the effort
> four years ago, ended up getting hired by various browser vendors.)
> > [...] we as a group need to see that our input is actually valued, even

> > when it is contrary to the assumptions and decisions that were
> > before the formation of this group.
> It's not clear to me who "we" is here. Do you mean the 388 participants
> the HTML working group? Are you really saying that I'm ignoring all the
> input of all the people in the HTML working group and just doing things
> that disagree with all the opinions of members of the group? Could you
> give an example?

First, turning this black and white ("ignoring all the input") is not
helpful.  The issue is the perception that you are selective in accepting
input.  And that may just be perception, but to the extent that that
perception exists it is damaging to this effort.  I could certainly give an
example, but it would not further this discussion.

> > And the way we can see that our input is valued is for it to actually
> > get into the draft, above and beyond us finding typos or minor
> > inconsistencies.
> Could you give an example of something in the draft that is explicitly
> _not_ based on input from HTML working group members? Or of some decision

> where I rejected all the suggestions of people inside the HTML working
> group and only accepted suggestions from people outside the HTML working
> group? Even when taking input from a huge number of people outside the
> HTML working group (e.g. the 892 subscribers to the main WHATWG list), I
> still go out of my way to make sure that I'm giving serious attention to
> the HTML working group feedback.

Again with the black and white.  Not helpful.  As you are a member of this
working group, clearly everything in the draft was based on input from
somebody within the group.  And you have never been in a position where you
had to reject *all* of the suggestions.

> > I joined this group in the hopes of having the chance to reverse the
> > course of HTML 5, which when I read the initial public draft, I was
> > absolutely appalled by. Indeed, you invited me to this group in
> > to my public comments on that draft. But if the decisions and
> > assumptions made before the creation of this group are considered
> > immutable, then I really can't see what the purpose of this group is.
> Nothing is immutable. Any decision can be reversed in the face of strong
> reasons and arguments and evidence.

It doesn't always feel that way.

> Looking at the last few e-mails you have sent to public-html, they seem
> fall into the following categories:
>    Thanking me for fixing something in the spec .......... 1
>    E-mails to which I didn't reply but that the spec's
>      current text agrees with, or which no longer apply
>      given decisions that have since been made ........... 3
>    E-mails that I replied to describing decisions on
>      specific topics and giving reasoning where the
>      decisions contradicted your requests ................ 2
>    E-mails that I did not reply to, which I could believe
>      you consider examples of your input being ignored ... 4
>    E-mails that are still in my queue .................... 3
>    Complaints about me and my behaviour .................. 2
>    E-mails addressed specifically to other people, or
>      suggesting proposals that are out of the scope of
>      things that are my problem (e.g. new WGs) ........... 4
> (I intended to categorise 20 e-mails, but the numbers add up to 19. I'm
> not sure what happened. Oh well, never mind.)
> If we ignore the last three categories, which I don't think really tell
> anything about whether I'm ignoring you or not, we end up with ten
> e-mails. The first two categories are e-mails showing examples where I
> clearly didn't ignore your opinion, since the spec agrees with you. The
> third category also shows a case where I didn't ignore you, since I gave
> you detailed responses. For the fourth category you have but my word that

> I didn't ignore your e-mails. (For what it's worth, I just reread them
> again, and in all four cases it was things where I'd either already
> replied to similar comments in other threads, or where as far as I can
> tell we have no choice.)
> So at worst, I'm ignoring 40% of your e-mails, and at worst, disagreeing
> with 60% of your ideas. That means that -- again, at worst -- I'm
> accepting 40% of your ideas.
> That's a far bigger percentage than the percentage of ideas _I_ come up
> with that I accept. If you're expecting a greater percentage, then
> a problem, because a lot of your ideas contradict ideas that other people

> put forward, including browser vendors (who, by virtue of being the
> actually implementing the spec, get the very real and literally
> privilege of having the final word). There's simply no way for everyone
> always have their ideas accepted when people are putting forward
> alternative ideas. (Well, one way to do better is to do what zcorpan
> and come up with a wide array of contradictory proposals, so that
> I pick, I end up picking something he came up with...)
> --
> Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
> http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
> Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

- Sam Ruby
Received on Thursday, 31 July 2008 18:50:33 UTC

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