W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-archive@w3.org > February 2009

Re: W3C communities and its modus operandi

From: Bijan Parsia <bparsia@cs.man.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2009 16:30:07 +0000
Message-Id: <5D1A8006-0BB9-4426-950B-54CA53AA1B48@cs.man.ac.uk>
Cc: www-archive@w3.org
To: Karl Dubost <karl+w3c@la-grange.net>
On 25 Feb 2009, at 15:47, Karl Dubost wrote:

> 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.

I was miffed by that, but I've moved on :) Thanks for staying with me.

>> 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)

Yes, you think it's fine. I'm not so happy with it.

>> 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)

I'm not sure that this would be "one way", instead of "another way".  
I find the person based institutional memory personally harmful as I  
think things that are relevant to me disappear and I have to reargue.

>> 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.

I mentioned this as a problem with my proposal in the email sent to  
the process list.

OTOH, email is forever. I've gotten feedback that I may be forever  
tainted because of email I've written. I don't know if it's *right*  
for me to be so tainted. Perhaps, perhaps not. But bad impressions  
that are *only* in people's heads have as much opportunity for abuse  
as those *outside*.


> 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.

I don't quite understand this example.

>> The number of charters that had to be rechartered?
> plenty and that is normal.

In my experience, the threat of rechartering is generally used as a  
stick and that rechartering is considered to be a problem.

>> 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.

You *say* it's normal, but that doesn't *tell me* what happened. So I  
have to substitute your judgement, based on not easily accessible  
evidence, for my own. Maybe I trust what you say, maybe not. If  
someone else says something different, what do I do?

Consider this recent exchange. At least Doug pointed to specific  
evidence which, I'm happy to say, I could look at an evaluate (and  
it's not Doug's fault that its not public! far from it!)

> 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.

Yes, but this makes it much more difficult to do a global analysis.

I guess it would be fair for you to say, "Do it! The data are there."  
Fair enough. And I say, "it would be nice if such things were  
gathered and presented in a way that made it easy to do analysis  
rather than having to spend a lot of time gathering the raw data".

I don't see we're in huge disagreement per se here.

> 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, me. I've been against lots of strong constraints in  
charters because they seem very disruptive and anti-consensus. I've  
also tried to craft charters to produce certain behaviors. Neither  
side is a complete win. At this point, I really don't know what to  
make of charters :)

> 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.

Sure. Sorry, I think you may have gotten the impression that I want  
someone to come in and revamp everything because everything is crap.  
Not at all.

> 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.

Absolutely. I've seen that myself and really experienced it  
(considier the evolution of the RDF and the OWL specs).

>> 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. :)

Yes, that's what I don't like.

> I can ensure you that sometimes there are strong discussions in the  
> Team, very harsh on what should be done.

I believe it, but I don't know how that's supposed to make me feel  
more happy :)

> It is part of it. That's normal. Some people do things slightly  
> differently.

Well, sometimes its hard to gauge how "slight" these things are. One  
of my culture shocks was between the web services groups and the  
semantic web groups

>> 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.)

Sure. You see some. I see others.

>> 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.

That's one of my points.

> 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 CSS WG.

Yes? That was clear from the message. He wasn't necessarily  
complaining about the W3C as a whole, but about the HTML WG. Tim  
replied with some indication that "things were being done" but it's  
not easy to draw the connection.

Just think of it as a publicity missed opportunity. If Björn's  
concerns received due attention and resulted in considered changes,  
why not make the trail clear?

It would be very interesting to treat process comments like LC  
comments, with a specific procedure for dealing with them and an  
attempt to determine whether the complainer was satisfied.

That might be too much (e.g., possible denial of service attacks).

> I do not have Member access but here you are for bjoern's public  
> message
> http://www.w3.org/Search/Mail/Public/search?keywords=bjoern&hdr-1- 
> name=subject&hdr-1-query=&index-type=g&index-grp=Public__FULL&type- 
> index=

I don't understand this query.

> 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.

I don't think that's a fair summary of his message. E.g.,:

""""Contrary to its charter and the W3C Process, the HTML Working
       Group does not bother to maintain most of its specifications. If
       you are a regular reader of the www-validator list, you probably
       know about some of the strange bits of HTML, just today we had a
       http://www.w3.org/mid/44B7CB64.70807@fh-landshut.de user asking
       about why code like <div<div>... is allowed even though a > is
       missing. Such codes, while allowed, are not well supported by
       browsers and we would like the Validator to complain about them.

       So we http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-html/2002Nov/0055
       asked them whether they could do something about that now; and
       their response? Well, they just ignored it.""""

I don't see anything there about the HTML WG needing to be in charge  
of the validator. Instead, the complaint is that they ignored  
critical feedback from a crucial constituacy.

"""Many parts of the HTML and XHTML specifications are incorrect
       and/or very unclear. Over the years you just get used to the
       fact that the HTML Working Group simply disregards any issues
       people raise about their Recommendations, so instead we tried
       something more clever, raise issues on draft specifications."""

Again, the problem is that the HTML WG didn't deal with errata. That  
the problems were raised by a validator author is immaterial.

""" So, http://www.w3.org/TR/2004/WD-xhtml-modularization-20040218/
       was such a draft document and I filed a comment about what you
       can actually put in attributes like <script type="..."> as that
       is not clear to me.

       http://www.w3.org/TR/2006/PR-xhtml-modularization-20060213/ and
       http://www.w3.org/TR/2006/WD-xhtml-modularization-20060705/ have
       since been published even though I'm still waiting for their
       response. According to the Process document, this should be im-

This time, it's a pure and simple process violation as was  
acknowledged by Tim.

So, I don't see that I'm misunderstanding the message. I don't see  
how it's relevant that Björn stayed on the CSS list. I do see as  
relevant that the HTML WG (not really the precursor to the current  
one by that name) had a history of process complaints. So does the  
current one (from, afaict, a different set of people) :)

A point which I humbly hope doesn't give offense: I don't find you,  
from this exchange, to be a very reliable judge and reporter on this  
failure (that Björn reported on). The only way I can read your  
comments seems to directly contradict the public record. Now, perhaps  
there's other information...I don't know. But that's my point. In  
some sense, it's not specifically your job to analyze these things  
and so, naturally, you don't spend a lot of time on it (I  
hypothesize). Since we have no easy to work with knowledge base to  
consult, it's very hard to tell whether this is an outlier or a  
common phenomenon.

> All of that to say that there are always many stories behind an issue.

Sure. Part of my hope is that we can assemble a reasonable, evidence  
backed, story for at least some of the key issues.

> And W3C compared to many organization have a lot of electronic  
> paper trails recording that.

Even if so (and it is so), I don't see why we wouldn't want the  
trails to be more salient, accessible, etc.

>> 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.

Am I asking for that? I don't think so. But this just dies. It was  
important enough for a direct response from the head of the  
organization who said that changes would be made, but it's not  
important enough to document the changes made? That seems odd. And it  
gives a perception of non-responsiveness and unaccountability.

Obviously, there are tipping points. It's insane to require so much  
documentation and metadocumentation that the poor souls trying to  
make things better drown.

But that seems different than having someone try to archive and  
summarize things in a useful way.

>> 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.

I'm confused again. To mean, if one gives a list in response to an  
existential question, that list should be a list of things meeting  
the criteria asked for. Thus, you answer,a faict, is that "No, there  
is no such report, but you can ask people, read lists and create your  

I think that's suboptimal.

> So many stories… :)

I guess we just have to disagree with whether the quietist approach  
(that's life) is the right thing in this case. Thanks for your feedback.

Received on Wednesday, 25 February 2009 16:26:41 UTC

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