[foaf-protocols] W3C WebID review

Henry Story henry.story at gmail.com
Fri Aug 20 12:24:52 CEST 2010

Hi Manu, 

not sure what all the fuss is about.

Just to summarise: after asking Harry Halpin I told the list the the good news that WebID was being discussed at the W3C next week, probably in a closed setting.

Then a debate arose whether I should have said anything at all - part of it off list. 

So as a result I suggested that we should have a discussion here about what it means to represent the WebId community - because it is a community of interoperable implementors of the (slightly evolving) protocol we are speaking of here - when talking to a standards organisation such as the W3C.

  Then follows your very long email whose main benefit I see is to bring to light a lot of issues that were hiding in the shadows unexpressed and therefore impossible to respond to. 

  So let me shed some light one by one on these issues. 

(But Doug, please don't feel obliged to read through this)

On 20 Aug 2010, at 03:03, Manu Sporny wrote:

> On 08/19/2010 04:19 AM, Henry Story wrote:
>> As a community we need to perhaps build some structure here so that
>> we know how to deal with future situations such as this. I have
>> always conducted all conversation in the open, from this mailing list
>> to the blogs I produced to the wiki at http://esw.w3.org/foaf+ssl .
> Henry, I really don't like the tone in the last several e-mails that you
> have sent. Whether intentional or not, you seem to be implying the
> following:
> 1) That we don't intend to be "open" about the process when moving
>   forward.

That was certainly not my intention. 

The issue is not about the Openness of the W3C but about what it is to represent the community here in a discussion with the W3C which sometimes is taking place behind closed doors.

And I just suggested it was a topic worth discussing. A suggestion for example would be that all the implementors of WebId should be kept in the loop. So this mailing list may be a bit too large a forum to update on such an issue.

> 2) Creating an undertone that there is a "situation" here when there is
>   not, and

  The situation is perhaps just that I need some principled guidance on what to do.  

> 3) That certain WebID interests aren't being properly represented.
> I don't know what structure you want to build to "deal with future
> situations such as this" because I don't understand what "this" is at
> the moment, other than not extending the courtesy to Doug and some of
> the other folks at W3C before generating a great deal more work for them.

Well what is clear is that tensions are high in the W3C about WebID.
I tell the list something and people feel everything is about to crumble over there.

> Point #1: Openness
> As far as openness, you are no stranger to W3C and I'm surprised that
> you insinuate that the process is going to be anything but open.

That is a misunderstanding. Though in an odd way this whole email thread 
would seem to suggest that this is a bit of a problem, since I was told not to tell the list about a possible meeting. 

By the way the openness of the W3C has been a problem for many people, though not really one I have ever been confronted with or had issues with. The non patent policy of the W3C for me is an important freedom.

> So,
> since you have doubts, and since others that are not familiar with W3C
> may take away the false impression that the W3C process is a closed
> process, let me re-iterate a few points:
> I say this having worked in the W3C RDFa Task Force, W3C Semantic Web
> Coordination Group, W3C HTML Working Group and W3C RDFa Working Group
> for the past several years - the current process is public and wide
> open. I've also participated in the Microformats community and other
> online standards-making communities, but none has generated the same
> quality of specification as the W3C process.

I agree about the overall quality of the work of the W3C. From HTML to XML to RDF. Indeed the semantic web is an as yet not fully recognised crown jewel of what the W3C produced. This is what WebID is built to leverage to the full, and is also why I presented this work to Tim Berners Lee at the first opportunity I had. Why the ontologies are in a w3c namespace and the community has been using the w3c wiki.

> I'm currently an Invited Expert to W3C - I was invited because I had
> done a great deal of work in the Microformats community and wanted to
> help push RDFa forward. I have, and continue to do a great deal of
> chairing, spec writing and development work at W3C. All of it is open to
> the public, all publicly accessible. The only barrier to entry is
> producing solid work and demonstrating that you bring something to the
> Working Group... and that's only if you want to participate in every
> single WG meeting.

Same here :-) Though we don't have a barrier to entry at all, which is more in the IETF mould I suppose, and creates its own types of issues.

> For those that don't have the time, energy or skill to do that, you can
> always comment via the mailing list - which is no different than what
> we've been doing on this mailing list. Speaking as a chair of a W3C WG,
> it is irritating to see someone that has spent time in a W3C group
> insinuate that public comments are not taken very seriously.

I never insinuated that, and I am impressed by the work done there.

> To give you a single example, of which there are thousands, the RDFa WG
> has spent the past three weeks addressing a single set of public
> comments provided on the RDFa API by Nathan Rixham (who is also active
> in this group). I have personally combed over every sentence that Nathan
> has written to ensure that we have addressed everything that he raised
> in one way or another. Others in the group have also painstakingly
> reviewed responses to Nathan by the WG. We are required by W3C to do
> this, it's part of the process... we have to prove that we responded to
> every unique public comment before we can publish a specification via
> the W3C process. Public comments are taken VERY seriously.

Very good.

> Contrast this with what has happened to people like Seth Russel on this
> mailing list...

What happened to Seth? He produced extremely long emails, more than one a day for a long time, that were longer than this email you are just sending, had no clear formatting making it very difficult to distinguish what he said from what anyone else said, containing many unexplained acronyms, and when one boiled some of them down the suggestions were often related but sometimes too far ahead of what we could possibly focus on here. 

Note that he was not barred to mail here. Though I do suggest keeping emails short now as a policy and being clear with formatting.

> I feel that some of his concerns are repeatedly being
> downplayed or ignored.

What were those concerns? If you can list them carefully and
succinctly please do.

> Other bugs and comments aren't being tracked at
> all.

We have a public wiki, and there is a section bugs and issues there.
It is not very formal that is true. And it is true that we have very little process. But we did build a large enough community without process. The web itself by the way emerged without the existence of the W3C. Process was added later. 

> I have also spoken with some others at large companies over the
> past several weeks that feel like their concerns about WebID have not
> been taken seriously and therefore, they've chosen not to participate in
> this community.

Did they express those concerns on this list? What are they? Perhaps we can respond to those concerns. If they did not express them of course it would be difficult to respond.

> The W3C's process is in place to prevent these things from happening...
> it's not perfect, but to insinuate that it's not open is very far from
> the truth.

Don't you see the slight weirdness of the situation here? I tell the group about a meeting at the W3C, then get told off for saying so and wasting people's time, then I suggest we have a process, then people write huge emails about how W3C process is great and open and how we have no process, and ??? 

Furthermore it was I who went to the W3C a few months ago to suggest that WebID be taken on by the W3C. One issues was if we had implementations. Well we do, and we would not have had any had we started off with the process. 

So there is a place for process, but usually it is not in the birthing stages of an idea. Just imagine me going to the W3C with WebID and no implementation and asking them to standardise it. Do you think we would have even had a hearing?

> Point #2: The "situation"
> The only situation that I can see is one where Doug - who is a champion
> for openness at the W3C and is fantastically gifted at seeing the
> importance of new technologies and getting things done at W3C was placed
> in a very uncomfortable position. He had no choice but to use his
> precious time correcting a mis-informed invitation to the general public
> to join a project review meeting that he had put together in order to
> help WebID become accessible to a wider audience.

There was no invitation. I told people this was probably a private meeting and that the person to make such a decision was Doug. Perhaps indeed I could have gone the other way and first asked Doug. 

Did Doug get a lot of emails? Sorry. It is true we are a vibrant community here... I'll be careful next time.

> Doug's really helping WebID out here and the repayment for his
> generosity was that more work was dumped on his lap. It would have been
> good to extend him the private courtesy to see how we could have made
> his life easier, not more difficult.

(Not sure how this massive email of yours is going to reduce the work on his lap. But anyway...)

> Point #3: WebID interests not being represented
> As Doug mentioned, the project review meeting is on identity on the Web,
> not specifically WebID. I think WebID is the best solution out there,
> and I'll push that point, but that's not for me (nor W3C management) to
> decide... it's for W3C's membership and the general public to decide.
> I'm merely presenting the myriad of solutions to W3C to demonstrate that
> this is an area of interest, should they have the time and resources to
> pursue it at the moment (which they very well may not). As I mentioned
> previously, I have been getting in touch with a number of people that
> are concerned about identity on the Web - the OpenID folks, people at
> big companies that have an interest in this technology, and others that
> have had criticisms about WebID.

Could some of the criticisms be put forward clearly? You could put them up as issues and not name the company that made them perhaps.

> We should not only be concerned about WebID being represented well
> (which it is - you'll be there, I'll be there), but also the WebID
> alternatives such as OpenID and WebFinger as well. To ignore those
> solutions would do a great disservice to the openness of specification
> creation. We need to bring the OpenID and WebFinger communities closer
> together when working on this stuff... not marginalize them by packing a
> meeting with people that only represent WebID's view of the world.

Yes of course. WebID is inspired by OpenId, and we have no problem and integrate with their work. I even would admit that there are situations where OpenID is favourable.

Of course in the process of evaluating each technology and their respective strengths and weaknesses I have been favouring WebId. If I did not think it was better overall, then I would not be wasting my time here. But we could not know this initially. It required a certain amount of faith when we started up. And this faith was based on our intuition that by following Web Architecture very closely we would be in a position to get further. 

>> It is remarkable that the WebId protocol - the protocol to help
>> people conduct business in private - is the one that we would never
>> have discovered  had we not conducted our work in public.
> This seems to insinuate that the "conducted our work in public" part is
> going to go away. You know better than that, Henry.

I just meant to point out how deep and subtle the public/private distinction was to the work of the group, and how this thread was just revealing some of the many complex facets of this distinction.

 - We worked in public in order to discover the best way to create privacy.    
 - The W3C group, a public standards body of the highest quality, requires privacy to reduce the workload of its members.
 - In the shadows unexpressed issues lurk - for fear of making them public?

>> At our next WebId meeting we should discuss the issues of how we can
>> legitimately represent the WebId community.
> You seem to be implying that the WebID community is not being
> legitimately represented at this point in time? Could you please
> elaborate on that?

I think that the WebID community is the community of implementors of the protocol, participants in the debate that have made it evolve, and simply put that whatever standards body we deal with - I can't say W3C as I am told it is still completely hypothetical and that is why I generalise, but not because I don't like the W3C (see, how I am walking on eggs now...) - it is important for us to keep this community in the loop.

> I'd rather keep discussions like this on the mailing list and spend the
> precious time we have on the telecon discussing technical issues. Others
> may feel differently, but discussions that are not purely technical in
> nature, without a strict measurement of success, are rarely good
> candidates for discussion on a telecon.

Detailed discussion on a telecon is difficult. But a telecon is good to get the humming effect.


> Speaking of which... we need to get together an agenda for the next
> telecon, which is this coming Tuesday.

Perhaps one issue, though I don't think it should necessarily be on the
telecon is to clarify the issues you have brought up as being problematic with these external bodies. Describe them here, and we can put distilled answers up on the Wiki.

> -- manu
> -- 
> Manu Sporny (skype: msporny, twitter: manusporny)
> President/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
> blog: WebID - Universal Login for the Web
> http://blog.digitalbazaar.com/2010/08/07/webid/2/
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