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Re: 2nd Call: Full Potential: Who's counting?

From: David Woolley <forums@david-woolley.me.uk>
Date: Sun, 20 Jul 2008 10:32:53 +0100
Message-ID: <48830645.6060203@david-woolley.me.uk>
To: Jonathan Chetwynd <j.chetwynd@btinternet.com>
CC: "Ian B. Jacobs" <ij@w3.org>, timbl@w3.org, public-cdf@w3.org, www-archive <www-archive@w3.org>, process-issues@w3.org

[ I'm not subscribed to public-cdf, so this will be delayed or may fail, 
on that list. ]

Jonathan Chetwynd wrote:
> **Members of working groups are interpreting the current charters to 
> prevent discussion of whether their charter is actually meeting the 
> needs of end-users.
> I have personal experience of this in respect of public lists and or 
> phone conferences for WAI, SVG and CSS groups

In my view, CSS, SVG, and HTML5 (html-public) groups are strongly
influenced by people who want the standards to benefit their businesses.
In theory the market ought to ensure that what is good for the public is
good for businesses, but in practice, most use of higher web
technologies in business is to actually distort the market (a whole
subject in itself).

Of the lists I monitor, I believe narrowing of the charter is most
obvious in CSS. From what has leaked into www-html, I think that it
probably also applies to html-public, although the biggest problem I see
with that is that it effectively created a coup in which industry moved
out of www-html, leaving those with higher principles behind, but
powerless. Both CSS and leakage from html-public has shown a dominance
by people who utterly reject accessibility because they see it as
irrelevant and bad for business.

In the case of CSS, I believe that one of the things that has happened
is that people have complained about the opacity of the process, so the
detail discussions have been moved into the public list, but people have
failed to understand is that problem with opacity is that it prevents
the general public from influencing the process. Instead, they have
basically removed that ability to influence by narrowing the charter to
just short term implementation issues, i.e. they have replaced the
public list with old private list, rather than combining them, and
basically left the operation of the committee unchanged.

To achieve this, they have relied on interpreting "technical" to mean
purely engineering issues (not that engineering should ignore the social
context), when I believe that the real intent of that word was to
discourage the use of the lists as authors' help desks (something that
I'm afraid Jonathon has been guilty of).

Basically, I think the mainstream web has been taken over by the same
people who used and created the tools that Tim explicitly rejected at
the time he first invented HTML. (You will actually find the suggestion
that the original web was for ivory tower users being used to defend the
current return to form over content.) Many of the people are probably
too young to realise that such tools existed before the web and think
they are creating new, when they are actually regressing.

I haven't noticed a denial of the original philosophy as so much of a
problem on w3c-wai-ig, but it is stil true that maybe 50% of that group
are in the accessibility industry, part of which is about telling
businesses how to meet accessibility legislation with minimum cost. As
such there is some tendency to use a narrow definition of accessibility,
that doesn't, for example include people who are disadvantaged purely

I think Jonathon has some problems with the WAI group because there are
big conflicts between designing for the illiterate and designing for
other disabilities, and also, authoring in a way that allows tools to
optimise for other disabilities requires good language skills on the
part of the author.

> David Woolley expresses a similar concern here: 
> http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2008JulSep/0013.html

My concern was that the process was being distorted to remove any
discussion of the social context of the web, or its history (which in my
view was based on a rejection of existing tools for central control of
information, in favour of empowering all humanity: by giving them access
to the knowledge needed for informed decisions (and thus to make a
market economy actually achieve what governments want it to achieve), by
giving them the ability to contribute their knowledge to the rest of the
world; and also giving them the power to choose how they viewed
information to best fit their individual needs, and to allow them to
avoid aspects of the presentations intended to distort their perception).

[ Original re-ordered ]
> I would like to propose that Working Group Charters** require 
> participants including staff and members to devote at least twenty 
> percent of their W3C time to enabling people with low literacy to 

 From things you have said elsewhere (and at the end of this article), I 
think that the figure of 20% comes about because your definition of 
having low literacy amounts to the lowest 20 percentile of the 
population by literacy, and regardless of whether that figure comes 
about by defining "functionally illiterate", by a percentile, or 
measuring the percentile based on some other definition, equating it to 
the time spent is unrealistic because:

- one can use the same argument for other disabilities, and might easily 
end up accounting for more than 100% of the time, because people often 
have multiple disabilities;  In fact, even if one didn't double count, I 
suspect you will find that almost everyone in the world has some disability;

- most people on committees are not there because of their expertise on 
literacy and will find it difficult to work out what part of their time 
is actually going on literacy issues.  There is also the general time 
sheet problem that people don't actually think solidly about one topic 
for a set amount of time, but hop from subject to subject, or think of 
solutions that address more than one area.  Partitioning budgets can 
even result in multiple locally optimal approaches, rather than a 
better, globally optimal one.

There is also a significant danger that trying to account for time spent 
on accessibility will make the funding companies aware of that time, and 
therefore make them want to control or reduce that that time, as being 
not profitable time.

- it's an unfortunate fact of life that W3C is funded by businesses, 
both in cash and in terms of supplying expertise, and businesses will 
only tolerate a limited spend on what they consider to be charitable 
purposes that don't benefit them, financially, in the short term.  If 
they feel they are being required to spend significant resources that 
are not of benefit, they will drop out of W3C and spend their web 
standards budget elsewhere.

20% is actually an interesting figure as there is a business maxim 
called the 20% rule, which basically says that you should ignore the 
least profitable 20% of the market.  That does mean that W3C has to 
force consideration of minorities, because the management chain in the 
employers of the committee members will be discouraging it, but I think 
there are limits to what is achievable, given those managements are also 
providing the funding.

I think it is very important that W3C maintains the moral high ground, 
and am afraid that it has largely lost it in the last few years, but 
efforts to do so either have to have overwhelming business cases, or 
have to take into account how much their funders are prepared to 
tolerate things which benefits humanity, but not their businesses.

- W3C is not a government, with the power to legislate, the the trend 
amongst governments is to try and minimise regulation on businesses, 
relying on the market (although, in my view, web standards are more and 
more concentrating on providing tools for distracting consumers from the 
facts they need to know for consumer markets to give the benefits of a 
market, but that is a different subject, albeit also related to the 
original goals of universal access to knowledge).

- Even if W3C does force committees to spend time, browser vendors and 
authors will ignore the resulting advice if they do not see it as 
profitable to them.

> participate in the web. This time should be shared equally between 
> enabling exploring and authoring.
> > 
I would suggest that the amount of effort that the W3C contributors will 
tolerate on the total of all disabilities is likely to be less than 20%, 
but that charters need to be framed to ensure that discussing the social 
context of decisions, long term strategies, and the interpretation of 
the charters is never off topic.  Otherwise decisions will be made on 
the basis of short term business advantages, which, for the web, I don't 
believe align with long term benefit for humanity.

David Woolley
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Received on Sunday, 20 July 2008 09:31:52 UTC

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