W3C

Coming Soon: W3C Community Groups and Business Groups

This May, W3C plans to launch two new programs designed to make it easy for developers, users, and other stakeholders to discuss and develop Web technology.

The first we call Community Groups. A Community Group is an open forum for developing specifications, holding discussions, developing test suites, and otherwise building communities around innovation. There are no fees, no charters, no end dates, and a lightweight set of participation agreements to make them fast to launch and open to all. Some Community Groups may produce results that are subsequently carried forward on the standards track, but others may not. That will be for the communities themselves to decide.

To start a Community Group, you will pick a topic, write a short scope statement (for communications purposes), and get four other parties to support the creation of the group. Once you have enough support, the system we plan to have in place at launch will create the tooling (wiki, spam-controlled mailing lists, microblog, and other infrastructure) to support the group’s activities.

The second we call Business Groups. A W3C Business Group is a premium forum for businesses and other stakeholders to develop Web technology specific to an industry, to provide high-bandwidth input to the standards process, to organize around regional interests, and to otherwise meet to address business needs. W3C Members may participate in Business Groups at no cost. Non-Member organizations and individuals pay an annual fee, which supports W3C staff and provides access to other resources (e.g., teleconference services). The staff helps ensure that Business Groups reach other groups of interest (e.g., by facilitating Chair-to-Chair discussions), promote deliverables to the Membership or media, and provide expertise needed to deploy high-quality Web technology.

We plan to launch with at least six groups. If you are interested in forming a group that is ready to go at launch, please contact Ian Jacobs <ij@w3.org> or Harry Halpin <hhalpin@w3.org>.

We welcome your feedback of the following materials (preferably before 4 May):

6 thoughts on “Coming Soon: W3C Community Groups and Business Groups

  1. Sweet! This sounds good… One question: what is a “party” when you say “and get four other parties to support the creation of the group” in the Community Group context?

    1. Hi Chris,

      A party here is an individual. I said party since that individual may be representing an organization.

      Ian

  2. The ‘W3C Community Contributor License Agreement’ means assigning copyright over to the group. This might exclude many corporate employees whose contracts or employer’s conditions of service do not unambiguously permit this. It might be difficult to manage the legality of this anyway: How do you know if someone who ‘signs’ the agreement has a legal right to do so? How does an employee who is a web developer obtain permission from their employer to sign? Would they be likely to have access to any manager in their company at a sufficiently high level to authorise this? In my opinion some alternative which allows people to participate in discussions, etc, even if they cannot properly sign such an agreement might make the stated aim of including developers and end-users more feasible and realistic.

    Any fees payable?

    1. Hello Stephen,

      Thanks for the good questions.

      Regarding “any fees payable”: Community Groups require no fees to participate.

      Regarding broad copyright: this is an area we will watch during the first year of operations. I have heard mostly support for a permissive copyright, but also some concerns.

      Regarding “how do we know if someone has the legal right to sign something”: I think it constitutes fraud if someone misrepresents their rights. I am not sure that we can prevent this in all cases, nor that we need that level of certainty in practice.

      Regarding how one gets authorization to participate in this sort of group: good question and another one where we’ll need to learn whether the barrier is too high in practice.

      Regarding an alternative where people can participate without signing an agremeent: I think there are concerns that mixed commitments (some participants have signed the CLA, others have not) may be difficult to manage in practice. I have also heard people suggest that people use one mailing list (for example) for contributors and another for other types of discussion. I think that sort of setup might work even in the current proposal (but I’ve not thought it through in detail).

  3. Ian

    Re “Regarding ‘how do we know if someone has the legal right to sign something’: I think it constitutes fraud if someone misrepresents their rights. I am not sure that we can prevent this in all cases, nor that we need that level of certainty in practice.”

    And re: “Regarding how one gets authorization to participate in this sort of group: good question and another one where we’ll need to learn whether the barrier is too high in practice.”

    Putting the onus on mere lowly employees of organisations which aren’t already W3C members (nor likely to become members) or on their immediate or little more senior managers to know whether they as employees have a right to sign or whether to do so would constitute fraud, that seems unrealistic and seems to me to mean someone who is an employee who wants to join a community group might first have to seek rather specialised legal advice. In reality too I’m not sure many lawyers would even be able to advise, considering how uncertain such issues might be. Even your own response had tones of uncertainty in it as to whether it would indeed constitute fraud to sign if it turned out you did not have a right to sign. I have faced the same issue when asked to get a manager to countersign a similar agreement when it was very difficult finding a manager senior enough and knowledgable or confident enough that they would be entitled to do this. I think the W3C could leave themselves wide open to allegations of lack of due process if they accepted signatures from people who weren’t clear they had a right to give them, which might be actually most employees (since even employers’ terms and conditions of service can be uncertain, unclear and subject to change). Just a reality check on the concept / promise “open to all”. Maybe small company employees would be better placed to join and perhaps this is a good thing because their companies are perhaps least able to afford normal W3C membership fees.

    1. Thanks for the input Stephen. I am hoping we can find an approach in practice to lower barriers to being involved, while avoiding IPR traps. As I said, this is an important area to test during our first year of operations.

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