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Shut down the RDFa/Microdata Task Force initiative

From: Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Date: Fri, 12 Aug 2011 11:28:29 -0400
Message-ID: <4E45469D.90706@digitalbazaar.com>
To: W3C TAG <www-tag@w3.org>
Jonathan Rees and I had an interesting conversation yesterday about the
joint RDFa/Microdata task force. The rest of this e-mail is my personal
opinion and isn't an official position of any W3C Working Group or the


The RDFa/Microdata Task Force will ultimately be ineffective, don't do it.


Here's what has happened to this point:

The W3C TAG sent a note raising concern about the publication of two
specifications for metadata in HTML that overlap in a large number of
the use cases[1]. The concern was around creating confusion in the Web
developer community because there was no clear distinction on when you
should use Microdata and when you should use RDFa, as both technologies
seem do effectively the same thing.

I then took some time to explain the differences between RDFa,
Microdata, and Microformats[2].

HTML WG responded to the note by creating bugs and then closing those
bugs because the W3C TAG Note had nothing actionable in it. The RDF Web
Apps WG believes that there is a problem, but that nothing actionable
has been produced by the TAG. I realize that it is the job of the
RDFa/Microdata Task Force to produce something actionable, but as I'll
explain in the rest of this e-mail - I don't think anything will come of it.

I believe that even if the RDFa/Microdata Task Force comes to a
consensus on a unified way forward, that the actionable items will be
ignored by the editor of the Microdata specification. I say this knowing
that I had previously said that I thought that the editor of the
Microdata specification would be interested in a RDFa/Microdata
compromise. I have yet to confirm this belief, but of the several
discussions I have had with the Microdata group, this line seems to
summarize the Microdata position quite well:

"I don't think there are going to be strong enough incentives for
compromise here.  The W3C can't exert much pressure on RDFa because it
has too much entrenched support, and can't exert much pressure on
microdata because *the microdata people would be happy to tell the W3C
to drop dead and only publish at the WHATWG.*"[3]

At the end of the day, that last statement is what really matters. The
W3C, nor the HTML WG, has any control over what happens with the
Microdata specification. The group that works on RDFa would be happy to
compromise as long as a unified approach that supports all of the use
cases emerges. The group that works on Microdata fears that a compromise
would add complexity to Microdata and are thus unwilling to compromise.
Therefore, regardless of what the joint RDFa/Microdata Task Force finds,
there will be two specifications at the end of the day - one compromised
RDFa specification and a Microdata specification published by the WHAT WG.

When we first discussed the RDFa/Microdata Task Force, I urged the W3C
to create the Task Force as quickly as possible[4]. That was over a
month ago and there has been no word on a plan forward since then. I
realize that there are active discussions happening between a number of
involved parties, but that discussion isn't public and the continued
silence is being perceived as uncertainty, leading to a lack of
confidence in RDFa.

For example, because of the uncertainty of the RDFa/Microdata Task
Force's effect on the RDFa specifications, the EPUB Working Group has
decided to pull RDFa support in the final hour and instead implement
their own document metadata standard[5]. There are other chilling
effects that I've observed over the last month - many people being
uncertain about the future of both RDFa and Microdata. The only thing
that is being harmed right now is RDFa adoption.

Before Google's schema.org announcement, there was no major adoption of
Microdata markup. After the schema.org announcement, coupled with the
TAG Note, an air of uncertainty was created. Those that were in the
process of deploying RDFa - stopped. Those that had deployed RDFa had to
defend their position. Those that were uncertain, bet on Google and the
browser vendors support of Microdata and seem to be deploying Microdata.
So, the only initiative that the uncertainty is harming is RDFa. The
group that works on RDFa cannot continue to let this happen, and will
most certainly reject the W3C TAG Note as well - nothing actionable, too
late to do anything about it now.

In hindsight, the W3C TAG should have raised this issue during the FPWDs
of HTML5+RDFa and HTML5+Microdata - which happened almost 2 years ago[6].

I realize that this approach seems to reward a blatant end-run around
the W3C standardization process by the Microdata editor. That's one way
to look at it. The other way to look at it is that nobody has proven to
be very good at predicting how certain Web technologies will be used and
therefore the only way this could possibly play out is for both
solutions to compete in the market. This "competition" may be unfairly
affected by companies that hold a dominant position in the search
market, like Google and Microsoft. Perhaps convincing them that they
should let Web developers decide on their preferred syntax and
vocabularies would be a better use of the W3C's time than trying to get
the editor of the Microdata specification to compromise.

This may be a bitter pill for W3C to swallow, but I don't think it can
reasonably expect to have any sort of unification effect on the
Microdata specification.

The RDF Web Apps Working Group, who is also working on the RDFa 1.1
specifications, has no choice but to continue and finish the RDFa 1.1
work and publish it as an official W3C specification. We have made some
more changes based on feedback from the WHAT WG, TAG and Microdata
groups. So, we did try to change a few more things to make the spec
better, but we can't wait around for the RDFa/Microdata task force
because it is taking too long, causing a chilling effect on RDFa, and
will not result in a different outcome from what we have currently.

-- manu

[1] http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2011Jun/0366.html
[2] http://manu.sporny.org/2011/uber-comparison-rdfa-md-uf/
[3] http://krijnhoetmer.nl/irc-logs/whatwg/20110712#l-274
[4] http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-tag/2011Jul/0018.html
[5] http://code.google.com/p/epub-revision/wiki/Telcon20110810#Minutes

Manu Sporny (skype: msporny, twitter: manusporny)
President/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
blog: PaySwarm Developer Tools and Demo Released
Received on Friday, 12 August 2011 15:28:56 UTC

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