Reinventing HTML: Update

In a comment on Reinventing HTML: discuss, OffBeatMammal wrote:

I think it’s very brave to try and reinvent something that’s got such a widespread adoption and so many flawed interpretations. …

I, for one, would love to be able to contribute to this process…

You can contribute. In fact, you just did. We have 44 valuable comments on that item alone. Comments on weblogs are an important part of the process, along with spec reviews, criticism, advocacy, tutorial articles, books, conference presentations, and helping your buddy down the hall find the part of the latest CSS draft that’s relevant to the problem he’s working on.

On the other hand, when you just write a weblog comment, it’s hard to be certain who reads it and what their response is. There’s nothing like face-to-face contact. One of the key benefits of paid W3C membership is an invitation to meet all the other W3C members and the staff at Advisory Committee meetings twice a year. I have been to almost every one since 1995, but I missed the recent AC meeting in Japan due to conflicting travel obligations. What a meeting to miss:

I wrote that this meeting was probably one of the most important ac meetings in the last eight years. I was right in that assumption.

The discussion level, including on controversial topics, was a real pleasure and I am immensely happy the consortium is able to do this work on itself.

Open letter to W3C staff and Members Daniel Glazman, 1 Dec 2006

Daniel’s contributions to W3C and the Web include participating in HTML and CSS working groups and developing an open source HTML authoring tool. The Standards category in his blog includes Tim Berners-Lee, thank you, a 29 October response to Reinventing HTML, where he writes:

And Disruptive Innovations is probably going to join that Working Group to make the 21st century’s web happen.

Those of you who commented on the disconnect between W3C and browser vendors and the WHAT WG, take note that Daniel praises the W3C’s renewed connections with browser vendors. While he welcomes the contribution of Chris Wilson of Microsoft, Daniel also expresses concern at having the chair affiliated with any major browser vendor.

Formal comments on the charter from W3C members are due January 7, and a decision on whether to start the new working group should follow a few weeks later, following section 8.1 Advisory Committee Reviews of the W3C Process.

We consider informal comments too, on a best-effort basis. Ian Hickson has some interesting input on how the HTML Working Group should be chartered:

Regarding technical matters, there shouldn’t be a difference between being a working group member as a W3C Member Company, a W3C Invited Expert, or participating as a non-W3C Member.

I support that goal, but I also support the goal of royalty-free Web specifications, and I’m not sure how to reconcile Hixie’s suggestion with the W3C patent policy. He concludes:

This latest charter makes big strides towards being the basis of an important cornerstone of the Web in the coming years. I hope you will be able to take the above feedback to heart. I look forward to taking part in this new working group.

This is real progress since the 18 August www-svg comments from Maciej Stachowiak of Apple:

I don’t think it makes sense for vendors of browser-hosted implementations to continue to participate. Instead we should work out amongst ourselves what makes sense to implement in a web browser.

In addition to the progress at an organizational level, there is lots of interesting technical work going on. The W3C Technical Architecture group acknowledged the broad impact of reinventing HTML on W3C’s work as issue TagSoupIntegration-54:

Is the indefinite persistence of ‘tag soup’ HTML consistent with a sound architecture for the Web? If so, what changes, if any, to fundamental Web technologies are necessary to integrate ‘tag soup’ with SGML-valid HTML and well-formed XML?

We had a great discussion of the issue (mostly face-to-face but with T. V. Raman participating remotely by phone and IRC) of how the problem is not just missing quotes and mixed up nesting; the script tag is an example of The Rule of Least Power, Powerful languages inhibit information reuse. XHTML is somewhat underspecified in the area of <script>, and it’s as much art as science to figure out which idioms are sufficiently widely deployed in things like google ads that we should standardize them and which ones we can deprecate in the interest of simplicity and interoperability. Survey work like David Hammond’s Web Browser Standards Support is really great to have in cases like this.

5 thoughts on “Reinventing HTML: Update

  1. “I support that goal, but I also support the goal of royalty-free Web specifications, and I’m not sure how to reconcile Hixie’s suggestion with the W3C patent policy.

    I agree with what Hixie said about chartering and about participation of the WHATWG community members who aren’t Members of the W3C.

    I see the patent policy issue raised by W3C staff and also by at least one Microsoft representative. However, I don’t see why applying the W3C patent policy precludes working like the WHATWG works. While I agree that the patent issue is important, I think the patent policy is a red herring as far as working methods and the cost of participation goes. There’s a big difference with requiring participants not to be evil with patents and requiring participants not to be evil with patents and additionally requiring W3C membership fees and F2F participation in various locations.

    WHATWG participants who cannot afford to become W3C Members and who cannot afford to jet around to globe or even participate in trans-Atlantic telecons most likely don’t have any patents nor pending applications and, therefore, could easily declare that they don’t have any patents to disclose.

    I have been able to participate in the WHATWG process in a useful way without having to pay thousands of euros up front to play. I cannot afford to be a Member of the W3C, so I am not one. I would, however, be willing to declare that I don’t have patents and I won’t enforce patents against HTML5 implementors (except in retaliatory counter-enforcement if an HTML5 implementor first attempts to enforce a patent against me) if I acquire patents in the future if that was what it took to get the new HTML WG to work like the WHATWG has been working.

  2. Interesting comments. I think the key thing that went wrong with html is that specifications were pushed out ahead of implementations and also that the people doing the specifications were not communicating very well with the people doing the implementation. This resulted implementors making important design decisions by themselves and the specification writers mostly ignoring those.

    Repeating this mistake will lead to the same result. Standards should be developed together with a reference implementation (a credible one) and even some alternative implementations. Issues discovered during implementation should be solved and addressed at the specification level. Most JSR specs are developed this way and also many of the current web 2.0 specs are being developed this way. No spec should be final before it has a field tested 1.0 implementation.

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