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W3C, we can improve it together.

From: Karl Dubost <karl@la-grange.net>
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2013 07:24:41 -0400
Message-Id: <3FDE7EEC-A8CA-40CA-BD2F-DA152CFDE290@la-grange.net>
To: www-archive Archive <www-archive@w3.org>
These are thoughts from the top of my head, reading two blog posts by Alex Russel. 

* "That Old-Skool Smell" [1] 
* "That Old-Skool Smell, Part 2" [2] 

[1]: http://infrequently.org/2013/06/that-old-skool-smell/
[2]: http://infrequently.org/2013/06/that-old-skool-smell-part-2/

(Maybe the full text content should be sent to the list so that it is archived for contexts in 10/20 years from now.)

This is a comment on the first one. We will see if I have the energy and courage to go through the second one.

> That Old-Skool Smell

Unnecessary title and somehow misleading. The W3C has been changed in many ways since its creation and it is still evolving. I have always seen that. The W3C process, the requirements, the way to design the technologies have changed along the way. More important, the communities have also changed a few times. The W3C is not one unique community of interests. They are people from different interests, sometimes overlapping, sometimes not. But I guess more on that later.

> One of the things that the various (grumpy) posts covering the recent W3C TAG / webdev meetup here in London last month 

"grumpy?"… again I do not understand why it is necessary.


> brought back to mind for me was a conversation that happened in the TAG meeting about the ways that the W3C can (or can’t) facilitate discussion between webdevs, browser vendors, and “standards people”.
> The way the W3C has usually done this is via workshops. 


Nope. The association of the two is a mischaracterization. The workshops are described into the process document. [3]

> The goal of a Workshop is usually either to convene experts and other interested parties for an exchange of ideas about a technology or policy, or to address the pressing concerns of W3C Members. Organizers of the first type of Workshop MAY solicit position papers for the Workshop program and MAY use those papers to choose attendees and/or presenters.
[3]: http://www.w3.org/2005/10/Process-20051014/events.html#GAEvents


Workshops help people to discuss about a topic which is usually wide. I have attended quite a few, and some have been very good, some had very positive outcomes, some didn't lead to any resolutions. Workshops are one of the ways the communitieS give feedback to the people participating to the W3C. Blogs, mailing lists, informal meetings in corridors, conferences, spontaneous meetings are all sources of information. There is no requirements for submitting position papers. Some people sometimes send insightful information, some people sometimes send a 1 paragraph mail "Hey I'm interested" type. Most of the time, the position papers help create an agenda. If the chair wants to run it as an unconference, or if someone wants to convey a meeting about a specific topic. __Nothing__ forbids it. 


> Here’s an examplar from last year. The “how to participate” link is particularly telling:

This is _one_ example.

[…cut the prose…]

fwiw, I have no issue with this prose.


> ZOMGWTFBBQ. If the idea is that the W3C should be a salon for academic debate, this process fits well.

Unrelated. It characterizes academic debate as something inappropriate for W3C venues. But it's entirely unrelated to the discussion given that except in a few areas of W3C, I have _never_ seen academic debates at W3C. The industry, the passionate, people with passions, etc are participating.
 

> If, on the other hand, the workshop is meant to create sort of “interested stakeholders collaborating on a hard problem” environment that, e.g., Andrew Betts from FT Labs and other have helped to create around the offline problem (blog post on that shortly, I promise), this might be exactly the wrong way to do it.


It is neither the wrong way or the good way to do it.  W3C for the ebook series of Workshops is trying to understand the problem space with the book world (IPDF) etc. and to establish ties and communications in between these groups. There have been already two meetings: one in NY (North America), one in Tokyo (Asia). The next one in Paris (Europe). That's cool. People are starting to know each other, they (will) collect issues and if there are harder/pressing issues to solve they will do it. It is not a question of solving a very specific issues such as why-the-hell the ebook community used -epub- vendor extension for CSS or how do we solve the hard problem of ruby and vertical writing in Japanese.

On the other hand in the past I (when I was working as a w3c staff) have been in a meeting for example solving a coordination between two stakeholders with regards to testing and XML. And in the room, where present the appropriate persons. There is not only one way. Saying the opposite is just a mischaracterization.


> But it’s easy to see how you get to this sort of scary-sounding process: to keep gawkers from gumming up the works it’s necessary to create a (low) barrier to entry. Preferably one that looks higher than it really is. Else, the thinking goes, the event will devolve into yet-another-tech-meetup; draining the discussions of the urgency and focus that only arise when people invested in a problem are able to discus it deeply without distraction.

So I explain above, and this comment sounds like creating an imaginary puppet, for being able to beat the crap out of it after. I'm left with a "…".

> The position paper and selection process might fill the void — particularly if you don’t trust yourself enough to know who the “right people” to have in the room might be. Or perhaps you have substantial research funding and want academic participants to feel at home; after all, this is the sort of process that’s entirely natural in the research setting. Or it could be simple momentum: this is the way the W3C has always attempted to facilitiate and nobody has said “it’s not working” loudly enough to get anything to change.


Again characterizing both W3C, and academic world, when this doesn't really exist. It reminds me of the people in the sport arena lockers room making fun of intellectuals. W3C is a consortium, and for what is worth, the academics, the poets and the philosophers are almost none. At least in most areas of HTML5 work. 


> So let me, then, be the first: it’s not working.

Because you are looking at the wrong thing. It's terrible. My initial thought was… well you are not looking or listening or even trying to understand. You have found the puppet and you go on with the massacre.


> Time, money, and effort is being wasted. The workshop model, as currently formulated, is tone-deaf. It rarely gets the right people in the room.

*the right people* 

> Replacements for this model will suffer many criticisms: you could easily claim that the FT and Google-hosted offline meetings weren’t “open”. Fair. But they have produced results, much the way side-line and hallway-track meetings about other topics have similarly been productive in other areas.

And that's nothing new. It happened plenty of times in the past. And it's cool. And the fact it happened in the past and will happen in the future means that it is working. The W3C is not a magical thing. It is a platform. People used the tools of the platform to solve the issues and sometimes they will do a meeting outside and come back at W3C after addressing a very specific issue. Nothing wrong with that. It's… well that might sound dumb… life.


> The best model the W3C has deployed thus far has been the un-conference model used at TPAC ’11 and ’12, due largely to the involvement of Tantek Çelik. That has worked because many of the “right people” are already there, although, in many cases, not enough.


Ah the illusions of the "It is working because I'm used to it, or because I'm pleased by it".  It is working for you. That's cool. I was there too and I also liked **some** of the sessions. It's not again a magic weapon. It's another way and there are many. Some of the sessions I have been during this un-conference model have been a complete failure. That's fine. It doesn't mean the un-conference model is a failure.


> And it’s worth saying that this has usually been an order-of-magnitude less productive than the private meetings I’ve been a part of at FT, Mozilla, Google, and other places. Those meetings have been convened by invested community members trying to find solutions, and they have been organized around explicit invites. It’s the proverbial smoke-filled room, except nobody smokes (at least in the room), nobody wears suits, and there’s no formal agenda. Just people working hard to catalog problems and design solutions in a small group of people who represent broader interests…and it works.

See above.


> The W3C, as an organization, needs to be relevant to the concerns of web developers

I'm kind of exhausted by the new magical word of "web developers". The Web industry has changed a lot and it will become more complex. I have the feeling that very often in that discussion "Web developer" == "JS developer". For me JS developers are one part of the constituencies, there are many others. I want people who are using the Web developers term to define what are their tasks, expertise, etc. The concrete competences list for a job announcement. I guess it will help clarify to see what target some people at W3C are trying to talk too. and what Personas are missing in this discussion.


> and the browser vendors who deliver solutions to their problems, and that to do that it must speak their language. Time for the academic patina to pass into history.

again academic…  I start wondering if it's not a personal issue with regards to academia more than anything else. It's amazing.


> The W3C’s one and only distinguishing characteristic is that some people still believe that it can be a good facilitator for evolving the real, actual, valuable web. Workshops aren’t working and need to be replaced with something better. Either the W3C can do that or we will continue to do it “out here”, and I don’t think anyone really wants that.

Repeating the same mischaracterization again and again.

NOW ALL OF THAT SAID. There are plenty of ways to improve the way we work _together_.

One is to work on identified issues. To *propose things* for changing the way *we* do the work, and precisely to not create a debate of us versus them. There's a lot of differences in between saying:

* "This sucks. *You*, W3C, do it wrong. It needs to be destroyed."

AND

* "hmm I would love to work that way for solving this and that and that would be cool to experiment this. How do *we* make it possible? Are there other people who would like to find a solution with me so we do it together in W3C."

I'm always all ears for the second one. The first one is a slap in the face with a polite smile "Saying I just didn't want to hurt you, it's for your own good".



-- 
Karl Dubost
http://www.la-grange.net/karl/
Received on Friday, 21 June 2013 11:24:45 UTC

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