Standard Organizations Have a History

WASP has recently published an article about CSS 10 years anniversay weblog.

One of the comments by Chris Hunt illustrates that we have a tendency to forget that organizations and technological developments have an history.

Not wanting to rain on the parade, but that timeline does point up how painfully slow the W3C process is these days. CSS1 and CSS2 seem to have gone from working draft to recommendation in about a year. 2.1 was (apparently) started in 2002 and is still a working draft four years later.

There is a very simple answer to this: The requirements have changed.

At the early time of W3C and its process document, a specification was following the path: WD, Last Call, then Recommendations. The Web community as large, including some developers, expressed through the years its frustration with incomplete implementations, lack of interoperability, ambiguities in specifications. The W3C Process document which defines the steps that a WG must follow before releasing a W3C specification has evolved to capture stricter requirements.

As of today, when a specification is designed, it follows this path: Working Draft, Last Call, Candidate Recommendation, Proposed Recommendation, and then Recommendation. The critical step here is CR (Candidate Recommendation). To be able to enter the next phase of Proposed Recommendation, the WG must respect certain criteria. Let’s quote the W3C Process Document (Emphasis is mine)

Entrance criteria: The Director calls for review when satisfied that the Working Group has:

  1. Fulfilled the general requirements for advancement;
  2. Shown that each feature of the technical report has been implemented. Preferably, the Working Group SHOULD be able to demonstrate two interoperable implementations of each feature. If the Director believes that immediate Advisory Committee review is critical to the success of a technical report, the Director MAY accept to Call for Review of a Proposed Recommendation even without adequate implementation experience;
  3. Satisfied any other announced entrance criteria (e.g., any included in the request to advance to Candidate Recommendation, or announced at Last Call if the Working Group does not intend to issue a Call for Implementations).

It takes indeed a lot more time to do, it requests more efforts from the Working Group, but it also means easier to use for the Web community in the end. Wishing stability, interoperability and longevity for a technology doesn’t go without efforts and time to achieve it. Some Working Groups have even adopted a test driven development for their specifications, paving an easier path for Candidate Recommendations. Read the remarkable experience of OWL Working Group, for example. The W3C Process Document will evolve again in the future to meet the requirements of the Web community and its membership.

Two thoughts to remember when you look at standards organization.

  • Standard organizations have an history. Things have certainly evolved and will continue to evolve.
  • Writing a technical specification takes times. Requirements to write them evolves to achieve better quality and interoperability.

One thought on “Standard Organizations Have a History

  1. A highly specialized path indeed. We appreciate the transparency and the plain-english explanation.

    It sounds exciting to collaborate with an organization that is the bleeding edge. :) I suppose candidate recommendations are mainly from W3C members?

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