HTML 5's proposed basis in DOM/JS skews web control and monetization towards corporations and away from individual authors/researchers, to the detriment of society.

Dear TAG members,

In bug #7546 [1] I suggested that the complexity of the HTML 5 
Editor's Draft [2] is a major shift in focus towards corporate control 
of the web, via the JavaScript DOM, and that individual HTML authors 
are in danger of being excluded, on the basis of that complexity alone.

Here I wish to add additional reasoning, particularly to do with 
monetization, around the causes and effects of this shift in emphasis.

First, it's clear there must be compelling reasons why large 
for-profit corporations would go so far as to develop a complex DOM 
that requires full-time experts to manage: in a word, money. "Web 2.0" 
is intended to monetize the web. And the corporate thinking that led 
to HTML 5 is certainly correct that some sort of stable standards 
mechanism is required to permit information flows to be monetized. But 
the method the corporations are developing in HTML 5 will not extend 
to fair payment for individual authors. It is instead directed toward 
using what corporations learned in the earlier mass-media stage of 
society: that when there are high barriers to entry in science and 
arts publishing, publishers can achieve monopolistic or oligopolistic 
returns of scale. In other words, the services that are the basis of 
Web 2.0 monetization, and supported by HTML 5 via the JavaScript DOM, 
will be under the control of large corporations: and both 
documentation and implementation of the JavaScript DOM present 
barriers to entry that ordinary HTML authors will not be able to attain.

Yet when barriers to entry to a field of endeavour are unnecessarily 
set to be so complex or expensive that on average only groups can 
afford them, society as a whole loses (in effect, it is being 
swindled). This loss can take several forms. In the current context, I 
see at least four areas of such loss to society:
    1. Censorship and Conflict of interest.
    2. Fair return stimulating new work.
    3. Idea pool size.
    4. Work-at-Home and efficient resource use.

To expand on each of these:

1. Censorship and Conflict of interest.
There is convincing evidence that scientific, business, and government 
points of view can be affected adversely by financial support, and by 
other pressures inherent in the group hierarchy. Independents 
sometimes provide a level of objectivity otherwise lacking. When a 
given society is running smoothly this may not seem important, but 
eventually change points arise where it is critical to have 
independent information available. If only groups are financially 
supported via the web, quality expressions of objective viewpoints 
will be heard there less often.

2. Fair return stimulating new work.
Historically, prior to the 20th century, much valuable insight and 
innovation has always been produced by individuals; when communities 
were small, payment and support was direct, which maintained the 
health of such endeavours. However the rise of pre-internet mass media 
(print, TV, radio, film) has produced a system in which a few artists 
or innovators are elevated to star status because of returns of scale 
in the processing and selling of physical objects, while the ideas and 
works of the majority of creative people and researchers are either 
ignored or, in some industries, routinely stolen. In both cases this 
leads to prevention or stunting of other potential works.

3. Idea Pool size.
Similar to the well-known effect with gene pools, I suggest that the 
variety of ideas supported by a global information exchange, in which 
tens of millions of independent researchers/artists can actively take 
part and be fairly and directly paid for their works, would 
potentially be of great benefit for the society as a whole. If instead 
payment for works is channelled to publishing corporations, this pool 
will be far smaller and less useful to society.

4. Work-at-Home and Efficient Resource Use.
The restructuring of traditional groups into independent workers via 
the Internet could allow the bulk of intellectual work to be carried 
out over the whole surface of the planet, instead of just in the 
vicinity of large physical libraries and other urban offices and 
institutions. The resulting reduction both in commuting patterns and 
in community sizes could have large-scale advantages in resource 
allocation and in environmental and social health.

I believe the advantages that would result from having independent 
individuals using an appropriately-structured HTML 5 could lead to a 
leap in social organization and information flow worldwide. But this 
will only occur if individuals, working as individuals, can negotiate 
a markup-level HTML 5 user-interface that provides access to an 
effective mechanism for defining the rights and commerce of their own 
digital products. Otherwise, as in the past, censoring and filtering 
organizations, some without moral scruples, will be required to 
'publish' the work using complex large-scale technologies, and authors 
will once again be prevented from direct commercial interaction with 
their audiences. As a result, all four of the above potentials will be 
pushed towards the negative: censorship and conflict of interest will 
increase; incentive for new works will decrease; variety of new ideas 
will decrease; and an opportunity to decentralize society and conserve 
resources will be lost.

I suggest that we are now at an important cross-roads for the W3C and 
the internet. A simpler mark-up level mechanism that could fulfill the 
needs of HTML authors for a meta rights/commerce language (e.g., ODRL 
[3], which has been in development for 10 years for this purpose) 
should be integrated into any major upgrade of HTML; rather than 
relying only on the DOM/Javascript changes. This will help ensure that 
commercialization of data-transfer benefits all, not just the few.

[1] [Bug 7546] "HTML 5" Editor's draft misnamed and suboptimal for 
HTML content authors unless refactored into HTML (main) and DOM API 

[2] HTML5 : A vocabulary and associated APIs for HTML and XHTML

[3] The Open Digital Rights Language Initiative

Steven Rowat

Received on Friday, 11 September 2009 16:44:28 UTC