Yesterday, W3C launched a new donation and sponsorship program offering Web-people and Organizations a chance to show their support for Web Standards and Open source: the Validator Donation Program.
The Validators have been around for almost 15 years. From day one, they have been free, open source and… operating on a shoestring. This has been a beautiful adventure: these tools are used by millions every day, a lot of people feel very strongly about validation, and we are lucky to have a great community of developers, translators and “power users” surrounding and helping the project.
Why a donation program for the Validators?
Because it makes a lot of sense. We are a large community using and loving these tools, and this program gives everyone a chance to give a little bit of thanks to a project we care about. Of course, all the validator projects are open source and there are many other ways one can contribute: help others, translate, find bugs, help document, and of course, code. But not everyone has the right time or skills to do all that, and if someone wants to contribute a bit of money for a project they love, why not?
Another reason is that we really can use that money. Projects like the validators cost a lot to run, and develop. The validators are all available for download for those who want to use them on their own network, but the free services at w3.org are obviously the place where most people go, resulting on millions of validations a day, leading to fairly massive operating costs such as servers and bandwidth.
The Validators need love, money and your help to live and grow
The main cost, however, is elsewhere: staffing. We often subscribe to the myth that open source software are developed for free by armies of benevolent coders. That’s quite false, especially for the validators:
- Even for open source projects with a lot of benevolent developers, the cost to manage the project, lead design, coordinate translations, take care of the community (etc.) is very high.
- Building and maintaining validators is not always easy, and there is some tedious work few people want to do. That makes the dedication of the developers who lend a hand on these projects even more admirable! But it also means that a lot of the development and maintenance effort falls on the shoulders of W3C
Here is a short story. In the few years I worked on validators, there was a much dreaded regular episode. Every few months, Tim Berners-Lee (W3C’s creator and visionary-in-chief) would go on, either at conferences or in staff meetings, about what, in his mind, our validators should be. They should be really smart. They should be really flexible. They should be incredibly useful to use. They should look great and make it really easy to fix the web. All these years, every few months, I would cringe and reply “that’s a grand plan, Tim, but how do we do it without a real budget?”.
For these past years the budget given to validators would be, roughly, the equivalent of a full time staff, maybe one and a half. That certainly is enough to keep a service running, but it will take much more effort to take the family of tools and bring them to maturation, push them to a new step in functionalities and usability.
Validators are so important, why doesn’t W3C dedicate a big budget to them?
The validators certainly are one of the public faces of the W3C, but they are only part of all the work done to fulfill the mission of the Consortium: build specifications (standards) to provide the web with a robust, effective, flexible and powerful architecture. Creating those specifications involve an incredible amount of work put into the extremely important task of building consensus among all the actors with a stake in those new or updated Web Standards.
That consensus building and specification writing is, I think, the core work of W3C. Test suites, tools and tutorials are another important part of the W3C work, obviously. But with the W3C’s limited budget, allocating more money for validators is not that easy: by funding the validator work through donations and sponsorships, and by using that money exclusively for the validators and related open source tools, we help the Web community “put the money where its mouth is”.
But isn’t W3C insanely rich?
With your donations and sponsorships, we can finally do great things
All the above is why this new donation program is exciting. It’s not just about paying for bandwith, or keeping the services running…
The real question is: Do we want a more flexible, usable, friendly HTML Validator, or do we want to keep the one that we have as is? Do we want to support more types of document? Do we want to provide a better support for XML? Do we want to build a real validator for SVG? Do we want to support the developmet of new technologies such as html5, or merely follow once said technologies have reached standard status? Do we want to keep a CSS validator that mostly does CSS 2.1, or do we want anyone following the advances of CSS3 to check their code? Do we want the CSS validator to check only for syntax errors, or also give information as to which style constructs are widely – or not – supported in browsers?
With your donations and sponsorships, we can finally do all that. We can do great things. We can:
- Integrate the web quality checking with the central Unicorn framework
- build new generation of tools for CSS checking
- improve the markup validator into a multilingual, flexible and friendly service
- create new tools for SVG, accessibility, and more
… and many more things we haven’t thought about yet, and which we as a community will dream and decide.
Validator Donation Campaign, day 2
We launched the donation program 24 hours ago. What a ride! The buzz has been very exciting so far, with blogs such as Daniel‘s, Molly‘s, John‘s and many more carrying the news to the Web community, and showing that the community cares.
I can’t resist sharing with you a few comments attached to a few of the first donations we’ve received:
I use it every day and I love it! thx for the work
Keep up the great work!
You’ve supported us, now we support you. Thanks for all your great work, we need you!
Many thanks to those who have donated so far, and thanks for the kind words! For the future of the Validators and the future of the Web, we really need to make this campaign a great success, together. So Donate, tell the world, tell your blog, ask your company to become a sponsor!