The Tracker, Tracked

Since W3C launched the new HTML Working Group in March, over 450 people have joined. This is great, but making sense of the thousands of mail messages that followed is too much for any one person. I think the new issues tracking task force is a promising development. The small group of trackers (working closely with the co-chairs Dan Connolly and Chris Wilson) is a valuable complement to the larger set of people participating in the group who write and test code, review documents, and represent a large set of user needs. A richly structured community has a better chance of producing a widely accepted standard.

In every W3C group I’ve been a part of, it takes a while for the people involved to forge the roles (formal or informal) that suit them, and to start speaking the same language. Only then do they start to get work done. The HTML WG is unique at W3C in its size and makeup, so I am not surprised that the participants may require additional time to establish their own rhythms and rituals for getting things done. The tracking task force is an encouraging sign. Dan explained that several pieces fell into place around the same time, leading to the formation of the task force:

  • The W3C systems Team made two improvements to a W3C issue tracking tool called Tracker that motivated Dan to try it out with the HTML WG. The first is that the tool keeps a detailed paper trail of issue state changes (who changed what and when, down to the second). Dan calls this “elephant never forgets” mode. He has told me many times that software must behave this way for him to trust his data to it. The second change is that Tracker now talks to W3C’s internal database of groups and participants, making it easier for the Chair to manage the set of volunteers (and their accounts) without requiring special permission.
  • People volunteered! James Graham, Shawn Medero, Julian Reschke, Gregory Rosmaita, and Michael Smith all offered their services. Volunteers — whether Chairs, Editors, Issue Trackers, Test Case Writers, or other contributors — make the difference at W3C between indifference and success. So thanks to all those who raised their hand. Contact Dan or Chris Wilson if you are interested in helping as an issue tracker or other role.

Dan shared a tip that I think will be useful to Chairs of other groups: when W3C launched the HTML WG, he set up a questionnaire for group participants to indicate (among other things) which roles interested them. It doesn’t hurt to ask! And then, when the stars aligned and it came time to ask for volunteers, Dan had a short list of candidates.

What comes next? Tracked issues lead to decisions. Decisions lead to changes to specifications (or not). I look forward to seeing how the community’s voice, now listened to by perked up ears, shapes HTML 5.