W3C Open Web Standards

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Last week in Tokyo, there was the wonderful Web Directions East 2008. It was yet another opportunity to hear and discuss how people feel about W3C open Web standards. Two patterns often arise in these discussions: implementation first and specification first. Both lead to reproaches.

Implementations first

Most of the software companies deploy all kind of technologies in theirs products. They do it to get more market shares. Sometimes the technology is getting traction in the development world. Other companies have a few choices:

  • Implement a competitive technology based on the same principles.
  • Implement the original vendor specification (against fees or freely depending of the license).
  • Implement the same set of features by reverse engineering when the vendor specification is not available.

All of these solutions have issues ranging to patents, licenses, implementations bugs, interoperability, collective consensus. But fortunately some of them after a while will reach the W3C and get into a Working Draft at least, and hopefully a Recommendation. Canvas (Apple) and XMLHttpRequest (Microsoft) are following this pattern.

In this case, W3C is often perceived (mostly by software implementers) as a slow organization, not being on the edge and not creating innovation. Another part of the community thinks that it is good that W3C has his head on his shoulders and standardized only market proof technologies. Standards mean here stability of the market.

Specifications first

A group of companies have an interest in technology. They feel there is a need to develop a market or they have an issue which needs an interoperable technology to bring stability in the market. The W3C Activity and related Working Groups are created. Sometimes they will use the deliverables of an incubator group, of a workshop or even from W3C Member submissions. In the best case, the Working Draft documents are published at a regular pace with the relevant implementers in the Working Group.

It is a long process to reach agreement, to solve the issues. Each working draft is published openly under the patent policy. The public sees all the evolution of the technology, phase that they could not see in the first case. They often draw high expectations, followed by sometimes disappointement to see things being stalled, not going fast enough or not evenly implemented. CSS, XML, SVG are examples of this pattern.

W3C is often perceived not realistic by some Web communities which can't use the technology right away. Somme communities feel that W3C is a leading organization exploring markets and creating the base of a new architecture. Standards mean here innovation for the market.

An Open Web Social Platform

Both cases will bring bad and good karma to W3C. There are more than one community, sometimes they are quite disjoint or with a very different culture, approach with regards to the technology. And honestly, I'm not sure there is one solution that would satisfy everyone. But at least, I know that until now, the W3C Process has been flexible enough to accomodate a lot of different cases and needs. Under the market and the communities needs, the W3C Process has evolved. Remember the patent policy debates for example.

In my 8 years of working here, I come to think that W3C is a social platform for developing Open Web Standards.

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