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Re: W3C communities and its modus operandi

From: Karl Dubost <karl+w3c@la-grange.net>
Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2009 10:47:05 -0500
Cc: www-archive@w3.org
Message-Id: <76E45189-1A68-46E7-BBA2-C5FD7740C1C7@la-grange.net>
To: Bijan Parsia <bparsia@cs.man.ac.uk>

Le 25 févr. 2009 à 09:36, Bijan Parsia a écrit :
> I'm probably overstating here, partly because, frankly, I am a bit  
> miffed by Karl's tone and content.

I had to go to a dictionary.
miff |mif|
verb [ trans. ] (usu. be miffed) informal
annoy : she was slightly miffed at not being invited.

ok. please judge only on content. Tone, you do not have my voice and  
my French accent when I speak English. If you want a bit of help. I'm  
usually quite neutral. You don't see things like "!!!!" in my email  
that would show I would be annoyed. I'm more often someone who puts  
things like ":)))" not being saccarstic, just because I'm naturally  
happy to discuss things in a friendly tone, except with people I have  
very low respect and in this case I avoid private communications and  
limit public ones.

digression close. back to the mail.

> However, I do find that, in my experience, there are lots of  
> mistakes whose lessons are only are transmitted via osmosis or never  
> learnt from. The change in procedure as a result of analyzing  
> mistakes tends to be ad hoc and individual driven.

Agreed. I do not think it is an issue. (different expectations from  
you and me, I guess)

> I think a complex institution  like the W3C could benefit from  
> trying to formalize some of this.

Disagreed. There is a lot of formalism already. Many people complain  
about that all the time. The flexibility is something which has indeed  
cost but also a lot of advantages. There are many different mechanisms  
which go into play and one solution would not fit all (still in my  
opinion :) no truth)

> For example, can you, right now, pull up a list of the major  
> mistakes the W3C things has happened?

I can remember a list of mistakes done by WGs, individuals, etc. The  
issue with a list of bad things, bad behaviors, etc. is that people  
will refer to it for ages and the person who has been involved is  
guilty on any new projects even before starting. Not the society, I  
want to live in.

Usually, mechanisms are put in place which fix a specific requirement  
or issue.

An example: W3C was having a RAND system, like IETF still has, for  
patent policy. Suddenly, the opensource community said that W3C was  
wrong. A lot of heated discussions, a lot of passion, a lot of strong  
words. Someone from the open source community has been participating  
to the patent policy WG as an invited expert. And after a while, W3C  
switched to a royalty free patent policy.

Cause: Some members left, and some members do not want to join, or  
sometimes actually participate in WGs because of that.

My personal opinion: It is a good thing for the Web. It has hard  
consequences on w3c staff. Life is not perfect.

> The number of charters that had to be rechartered?

plenty and that is normal.

> Even the schedule slips of working groups?

Normal too. I don't see how you could avoid that, given that we are  
dealing with humans, voluntary participating to a group. There is no  
stick for w3c staff and volunteer chairs to make people work  
(hopefully), only carrots. People are supposed to spend 10 to 20% of  
their time on the WG. Some do more, some less.

Sometimes it takes only one person to make it difficult. You can for  
sure decide to exclude the person, the result is often worse with a  
big campaign of "W3C is bad, sucks, etc." I have seen that very often.

> The list of formal objections and their disposition?

Recorded for each WG in the disposition of comments and the replies  
which have been made.

Note here that W3C has evolved and the constraints on the WG becomes  
each year more important, which makes WGs participants go "grrrr" and…  
critics W3C. For example, CR was none-existent in the past. Some  
people complained that the technology was not proved being  
implementable. Then CR came, WGs didn't like that very much. QA  
Activity has been created (I had been hired at W3C for creating it.)  
It took time, evangelization, explanation, spent in discussing with  
people to explain conformance, test suite, how to organize the work  
without overwhelming people. Finally WGs participants understand now  
(most of the time) the value of test suites and do it. And do a very  
simple implementability report. Not perfect but progress. Then the new  
generation comes. Let's qualify them as the kids (no pun intended) of  
browser age. They have lived with the bugs and imperfections of  
previous generations and they want to make it better. They are hitting  
harder and raise the bar. Normal. It will just take time.

The funny thing is that if you look at old discussions from the  
previous generations, you see the same kind of patterns. Even better,  
the future generation will certainly say that html 5 sucks really hard  
and how it is possible to have written such a loosy specification.

> I find even Team's understanding of these things to be very  
> idiosyncratic. When something *does* go wrong, there's little case  
> history to look at.

People. :) I can ensure you that sometimes there are strong  
discussions in the Team, very harsh on what should be done. It is part  
of it. That's normal. Some people do things slightly differently.

> So, for example, I don't think that the HTMLWGs issues and behavior  
> are *huge* outliers (except for group size and, even then,  
> participation seems to have settled down) considered as a whole. The  
> lack of telecon centricity is certainly at an extreme as well (but  
> perhaps not so different in kind). It's not clear to me, as well,  
> that the consensus failures are so atypical. But who knows?! If  
> there were a written history then I could consult that history.

I see different type of reasons for html 5 wg (and again my own  
distortion field): generations, expectations, power, perfectionisms,  
market agenda, lack of experience, community opinions, etc. and many  
others in good and bad (whatever good and bad really means.)

> For example, when considering the process perception problems of the  
> current HTML WG, I find it interesting to go back to complaints  
> about the prior ones, e.g.,:
> 	http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-qa-dev/2006Jul/0011.html
> This message makes specific claims about numerous process violations.

Ahaha. One of the most misunderstood message. One of this crisis where  
everyone rallied behind a few words for burning witches. Björn had  
valid critics which led him to stop participating to the *open source  
project of validators*. Björn is still actively participating to the  

I do not have Member access but here you are for bjoern's public message

Björn is complaining in this message that it is difficult to develop  
the validator because there is not much support from the WG. There was  
this idea floating at a point that validators should be taken care by  
WGs. It never happened. Resources.

The validators have been "resurrected" from agony by Olivier Théreaux.  
He left his full time job at W3C like me at the end of November 2008.  
He is doing part time contract for W3C to try to find a way to  
leverage a sense of community and make the validators financially  
independent.  It was many time suggested by "big names" of the Web  
standard community to change funding model of W3C, to ask the  
community to participate and give money. Olivier started the Donation  
program for validators. Well, the "big names" are suddenly not  
generous, and the long tail money is not enough for making it  
sustainable for now. I hope it will change, at least for olivier and  
the validators. Same kind of issues when you ask for volunteers to  
contribute code.

http://www.w3.org/QA/Tools/Donate (There are other issues this last  
few days, then the message)

All of that to say that there are always many stories behind an issue.  
And W3C compared to many organization have a lot of electronic paper  
trails recording that.

> And not ones open to interpretation. I see a follow up from some W3C  
> staff (including Tim Berners-Lee) but I just *don't know what  
> happened*.

You will *never* know all aspects of a story. That's normal. Björn is  
an event part of many discussions which happened outside and inside  
W3C. One which has helped  development and adoption of better tools  
for tracking issues like tracker (developed by Dean Jackson). Maybe  
also some discussions pushed other discussions which motivated other  
discussions, so that W3C could make room for html 5, etc. It's part of  
the process. (minor p)

> I've no sense how things directly played out. I could find out, but  
> it's a heck of a lot of work and it would just be me.

normal. part of the process. life. etc.

> For example:
> 	http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-qa-dev/2006Jul/0020.html
> """Thank you again for your contributions to W3C, including airing
> your concerns on this list, which also acted as a catalyst for
> others to express their concerns. These blog entries and emails
> are as valuable as many technical contributions as they enable us
> to gauge how we are doing as an organization. I look forward to a
> series of changes that will make your participation, and that of
> others, as rewarding to you as it is important to W3C.
> """
> Is there a report somewhere that 1) synthesizes the comments and the  
> resulting judgement of how the W3C is doing as an organization and  
> 2) the results of that series of changes and how it has mitigated  
> the identified problems? If there isn't such a thing, then it is, to  
> me, a loss.

in no particular order AC, AB, staff, individual night dreams of  
people, web community, mailing-lists, etc.

So many stories… :)

Karl Dubost
Montréal, QC, Canada
Received on Wednesday, 25 February 2009 15:47:29 UTC

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