I’ve been reading with great interest the current concern over the W3C process for web standards and the lack of progress being made. Andy Clarke kicked it off by asking the W3C to disband the CSS working group. Alex Russell followed up declaring that the W3C Cannot Save Us. Jeff Croft, playing his usual role of rabble rouser, echoes Alex’s sentiments in an post entitled, “Do We Need a Return to Browser Wars.
I can’t speak to the internal politics in these organizations, but I do have two perspectives on these issues based on my background in standards and mobile development that I haven’t seen discussed yet.
In all three articles, but in particular in a related article by James Bennett, the authors are seeking a new model for standards-setting organizations. In the case of Jeff Croft and Alex Russell, they believe that the standards bodies will never innovate. James Bennett looks for other models and even goes so far as to say:
This brings us to a new question: how do we find the proper balance between the competing interests of Web vendors and Web users/developers? Personally, I think the answer is to look at the available history: the world of web standards is not really breaking new ground in needing to properly strike this sort of balance, and there’s already a long and rich history of groups going through precisely this process, which anyone who’s interested in reforming web standards should be looking at.
Unfortunately, James follows by pointing to open source communities as an example of groups that have been successful. I don’t disagree that there aren’t lessons to be learned from open source groups. I just thought for the first time I was going to hear someone talk about learning how to be successful in standards development by learning from what other standards development groups do.
At my previous job, the biggest challenge we had was marketing to people in standards organizations who didn’t recognize that the standards setting process is unique and there is much to be learned from other standards organizations.
What many in standards organizations lack is the awareness that they are not only professionals within whatever field is their day-to-day jobs, but they also should be looking to others to understand their profession as members of standards organizations.
In this case, those who want to see the W3C do a better job at driving innovation and being more open would be wise to ask questions of OASIS Open and other organizations that have a track record of promoting innovation through open committees. There are standards bodies for everything from technology to plumbing. The problems that we face in web standards aren’t unique.
In Part II, I’ll discuss why the browser wars are already here.