[Draft] OpenW3C - A Proposal for Working More Closely with Lightweight Spec Developers


Superseded by the W3C public task force proposal for making W3C the place for new standards.

This document was originally prepared for Team Day 2010; it has a number of staff-only links in it. This document is the result of a number of discussions; no consensus yet, but it seems most people agree that we need to open up for more participation. The big questions are revenue model and patent policy.

The W3C is at the moment de facto the world's leading standards organization for the Web. The technical competence of the Team, the ethical judgement of the management, and core values of the World Wide Web Consortium remain as important as ever. In fact, in a world in which the Web is becoming more and more essential for everyday life, it is increasingly important that the Web remain open, accessible, and unified. However, the W3C is facing three main challenges, all of which stem from the exponential growth of the Web:

  1. Standardization Outside W3C
  2. The Move towards of Lightweight and Agile Standardization
  3. Current Membership Model

Below we examine these challenges, make some proposals, say a word on addressing public perception, and suggested a high-level goal for W3C.

Standardization Outside W3C

Unlike the Web of fifteen or even ten years ago, with the growth (due, in part, to the success of W3C standards) it is increasingly difficult for an organization with fewer than a hundred employees to:

Therefore, W3C needs a way to harness all the standardization energy coming from outside the W3C without sacrificing its core values and process. The staff, by itself, cannot prevent fragmentation.(See Jeff Jaffee email on this as well: "How do we create a "system" that marshals our community to create this on-deck-circle (apologize if this is a US metaphor). Probably we should do this somewhat more than today ourselves, but importantly is to involve our entire community. ")

The Social Web is an area where this new approach would work well. The "Open Stack" of Google and others (a source of possible fragmentation with W3C Widgets and the Facebook developer platform) and the important work standardizing instant messaging happening inside the XMPP Foundation are two areas for consideration. Important standards ranging from Atom to OpenID have already gone to other standards bodies like the IETF or have created their own de-facto standards bodies, such as the OpenID and OpenSocial Foundations.

However, the W3C has tremendous prestige. Individuals and standards bodies outside the W3C would like to have the W3C shine their "spotlight" on them. Currently, the W3C maintains liaisons with a number of organizations such as the IETF, but does not liaison with newer "Web 2.0" bodies such as the OpenSocial Foundation, the XMPP Foundation, the Open Web Foundation, and the like. These younger bodies are already mature enough such that they likely will not simply join the W3C and consider their work to already be de-facto open standards, even if they have not been blessed by W3C.

Proposal: Public Submissions, Liaisons, and Incubator Groups with Individual Members

W3C needs to bring the standardization energy of the larger community closer to W3C. Two proposals for doing so are:

Public Submissions

The W3C experience with Member Submissions has led to a number of process elements that should be taken into account in a Public Submissions process:

However, in order to scale:

Also to consider:


W3C has a number of liaisons, but not with some of the newer lightweight organizations that have sprung up. In addition to establishing a liaison (which may lead to a Public Submission, ongoing dialog, etc.), the staff could organize a Project Review to meet and socialize with the individuals from the other community. Having David Recordon at TPAC 2009 seemed to play a similar valuable relationship-building role.

A strategic map of new liaising opportunities and new liaison volunteers should be made. @@It is possible for non-W3C standard bodies that have their own independent income that some reasonable fee be charged for maintaining the liaison.@@

Incubator Groups with Individual Members

The primary difference between a WG and an IG or XG is the fact that WGs can publish Recommendations that benefit from RF licensing commitments. This proposal suggests that we maintain that important distinction.

We can, at the same time, modify Incubator Groups so that an XG Charter allows for "individual Members." That is:

...Or Outsource Lightweight Specification Development

Another idea is to outsource lightweight spec development and individual membership to a group like the OWF, and then maintain an especially tight and public liaising process with them. However, this is an implicit bet that the future of standardization in general on the Web is more similar to the current heavy-weight and member organization-based process of the W3C than the light-weight and agile individual-based process soon to be championed by the OWF. In reality, it is likely that both kinds of processes are needed in standardization, and it is in the W3C's best interest to not let the this kind of standardization develop into a competitor, but instead embrace this kind of standardization, encouraging both a mutually beneficial relationship with the OWF, refining the value proposition of current W3C process modulo a number of tweaks, and adapting its own process as much as possible to encourage individual initiative and agile development.

Incubator Group Issues

The Move towards of Lightweight and Agile Standardization

Another problem is the fact that while the W3C process is considered fair and just, it is often considered too heavy-weight. Some observations:

Proposal: Re-thinking Charters and Updates


Current Membership Model

The W3C is viewed by some as expensive and closed. As a result some people and organizations create their own de-facto standards bodies or to go with less expensive alternatives such as OASIS. In particular, much of the innovation comes from individual hackers who produce their own draft specifications. Many of these individuals, particularly if their work is of high quality and their social network extends into industry (see again the browser vendors in HTML5 and the success of various non-W3C Social Web technologies) can gain widespread recognition and adoption of their work. Often after their specification work has received some success, these talented individuals are then hired to be standards managers (see Eran Hammer-Lahav of Yahoo! or Chris Messina of Google) at W3C members. However, due to their previous sentiment o f exclusion from the W3C, they may reject W3C rather than identify with its values, when in fact it is precisely these individuals that the W3C needs to be interacting with and nurturing as the leaders in the future standardization of the Web.

Proposal: Individual Membership Model

An individual Membership Model might work as follows:

W3C should also continue to emphasize (as it has done in the redesigned site on the Participate page) that there are many ways to be involved with W3C work, including through public reviews.

Other Membership / Business model considerations

Addressing Public Perception

Some of the issues cited above relate not the W3C process itself, but to a certain public perception of the W3C as closed. Furthermore, in the wider community, there are many standards bodies to choose from, and it is difficult to choose. Therefore, it would be best if the W3C reaffirmed and clarified its role with regards to not only groups such as ISOC and IETF, but to OWF, XMPP Foundation, and the like.

One particular idea: a large media event about the future of standards where someone like Vint Cerf co-presents with a "new generation" standards person from the OWF (David Recordon, Eran Hammer-Lahav, or Chris Messina) and Tim Berners-Lee reaffirms publicly and in the news their commitment to a unified and open Web. The feeling among standards bodies and hackers should be that we are all in it together for the sake of the Web.

In general, we should:

High Level Goal for W3C

The goal of the W3C should be to become a "hyper-connector" in the giant global graph of the Web, where all sorts of organizations, individuals, and possible standardization efforts are connected, with a staff that - instead of going out and searching for new standardization work - instead has the larger Web community bring the W3C future standards because of a strong identification with W3C values. This will decrease pressure on the Team, increase the visibility of the W3C in the wider Web community, and hopefully maintain as much as possible the current value proposition to members while attracting as much participation as possible. And after all, its wide participation that leads to widespread innovation and review, and the W3C needs to open up to the collective intelligence of the wider Web in order to produce the highest quality specifications with the widest implementation.

Additional Notes

These are remnants from the original discussion; they won't remain as notes once integrated.

Value Proposition to Lightweight Spec Organizations

Value Proposition to W3C


Harry Halpin, Ian Jacobs
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