A week or so ago, while browsing the getsatisfaction site for a solution to a software problem, I stumbled upon a “customer support” forum for W3C. I didn’t know W3C had a customer support forum there… Actually, nobody in the W3C staff had heard about it, either. And indeed, : someone had thought this was as good a place as any to start a forum for discussion and troubleshooting of W3C technologies, and had started the forum.
Maybe I should not have been so surprised: years spent reading and participating to W3C-centered discussions on weblogs, lists, IRC, chat, twitter and so many other venues is more than one needs to know that a lot of interesting discussions happen in diverse fora outside W3C.
W3C is already offering a rather dizzying variety of media for feedback, discussions, ideas and issues. With many archived mailing-lists completed, for some groups, by a wiki collaborative space, blog, issue tracker or IRC channel, there are already plenty of places for W3C participants to look for feedback and for anyone to initiate discussions.
Choosing what to monitor has been a serious dilemma for a number of W3C working groups to solve: participation in discussions take a lot of time, and groups want to use their time as effectively as they can to get specs done. In that regard, the W3C mailing-list are valuable because of their archives’ policies and commitment to privacy and persistence, in an effort to make the discussion safe and worthwhile: user data will never be sold, and W3C is more likely than any other site to keep its discussion archived, searchable and available to all forever, ensuring that the archived answer to a frequent or important question will stay cool forever.
On the other hand, there is no denying the value of engaging communities without waiting for them to “speak to the W3C”. Every day I hear stories of successful hacking projects, excellent new ideas, fixed misconceptions, happening in venues sometimes very remote from the usual w3c fora.
W3C can do a lot more to make it obvious, simple and absolutely worthwhile to find out what is happening inside a group and find out the best way to join the conversation. The current effort on re-designing and improving the user experience on the W3C site should be a step in that direction. And maybe the other key to this dilemma recognizing the time and effort it takes to find the right people to talk to and learn how to speak to one another? That takes time, but can lead to a big return… whether it is in w3c groups or other fora.