[foaf-protocols] W3C WebID review

Doug Schepers schepers at w3.org
Fri Aug 20 21:41:32 CEST 2010

Hi, Henry-

Henry Story wrote (on 8/20/10 6:24 AM):
> not sure what all the fuss is about.
> (But Doug, please don't feel obliged to read through this)

See, you say that... but then you make misleading statements I feel 
obliged to correct.  Sigh.

> 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.

(Okay, Henry, just so you know: alarmist statements like this is what 
all the fuss is about.)

No, tensions are not high about WebID at W3C.  It's barely on anyone's 
radar at all.  That's what we're trying to change.

>> 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.

No, you weren't.  Stop spreading FUD.  You were asked not to invite 
other people, which you did anyway.  You explicitly brought me in on 
this thread by name.

> 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.

The only barrier to entry in participating in the W3C mailing lists is 
an agreement to allow your emails to be archived, and if you participate 
as a full member of a WG, to grant Royalty-Free license agreement for 
the spec.

>> 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.

To be clear, most groups at W3C try to use process as little as 
possible, other than the formal review process of progressively maturing 
documents (the "Recommendation Track").  We only need process when there 
is conflict, or ambiguity about licensing (which is also tied into the 
Rec Track).  But as you add stakeholders, more process is needed, it 
seems, to resolve small and large conflicts.

As a side note, most W3C Working Groups start off very loose and easy, 
with rapid iterations of specs and ideas and very little process, and as 
those specs mature, and get wider attention, more process comes into 
play.  So, really, it's not very different from these sorts of 
community-organized efforts (though there is a formal step at the outset 
to decide amongst the W3C Team and Membership if there is value in 
starting the work in the first place, for resource allocation purposed).

> 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 ???

I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing that you are light on 
process.  That seems very natural to me, for the beginning stage of a 

But again, it was not about you telling this community about the 
meeting, it was the *way* you told this community.  I understand that 
you feel put upon, and maybe a little slighted; I apologize if I came 
off as heavy-handed.  I was trying to put something lightweight and 
simple together, and it's snowballed into much more of a time 
commitment; I think you can sympathize why I'm also feeling put upon.

You might say that I don't have to respond to these emails... except, 
unfortunately, that's not the reality of the situation.  If I hadn't 
responded, suddenly it's on some public list somewhere that W3C is 
holding "secret meetings" and is refusing to talk to the community and 
is trying to take over WebID or is ignoring WebID or whatever.  It's the 
whole "have you stopped beating your wife" conundrum; it costs you very 
little to leave a wrong impression (whether you mean to or not), and 
costs me much more to address the issue.  And then, suddenly, I'm seen 
as speaking for the W3C as a whole, which is also the wrong idea.  You 
see my dilemma?

> 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?

I could go into detail about what makes an idea more or less likely to 
be taken up by W3C, but that would be a long conversations.  The short 
version is: people, and momentum.

Individuals are what make or break a technology.  Without the right 
person at the right time applying just the right amount of time and 
focus on something, it will almost certainly peter out and fade away. 
Obviously, it takes many such individuals, each with their role.  As 
Lucille Ball said, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do 
it."  You can't just go to W3C, tell one person an idea, and expect it 
to be immediately taken up; you have to find the right person to 
overcome the natural momentum of other things that are being done.

Which leads to momentum.  W3C is more likely to pick up work that 
already has a spec and/or implementations, because it's more likely to 
have a successful outcome; and in fact, W3C is more likely  to pick up 
work that has competing, conflicting implementations, because there's 
more need for standardization.  It's also more likely to pick up work 
that large companies are behind, even if there's only one company doing 
it; on the surface, that may seem unfair, and may seem like favoritism 
toward large companies, but in fact, that's not the motivation... the 
metric is that if some idea has already been through the ringer at a 
large company, it's already been vetted by a fairly sizeable, critical 
audience, and that the company has decided to put resources behind it, 
so there is a higher chance of success... and a larger risk to the 
community if that company doesn't get all the details right, because 
large installation bases tend to spread mistake irrevocably.  Obviously, 
that heuristic doesn't always work (big companies can also have stinker 
ideas, or good ideas spoiled by overthought, just like the rest of us), 
so we need people to assess the soundness of the idea and the benefits 
of standardizing it.  That's where it comes back to individuals.

Where do community projects like this come into it that dynamic? 
Clearly, the larger and more cohesive the community, the greater the 
momentum.  But without a central driving force, there's also a wider 
spread of the odds.  A dedicated individual can often have greater 
impact, because they are often working out of passion, not just because 
they are paid to (frequently, they aren't paid at all); they might make 
a really great implementation that pushes the idea over the top, and 
small communities have a "street cred" that large companies usually 
can't evoke; so, a good idea might spread more readily.  But in the long 
haul, or without those initial firebrands, the project might sizzle out, 
and lose its momentum.  From the W3C perspective, probably the optimal 
time to get involved (if we do so at all) is just before the peak of the 
momentum, just before the project really makes it (or fails); that's 
where W3C can help boost the momentum to reach critical mass, and also 
to help ensure that the efforts stay unified and interoperable.

(Yes, that was the short version.)

> 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.

The outcome of that seems obvious to me.  Was it not predictable to you?

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

See above.  It's not how many emails I got, it how much I had to work to 
correct mistaken impressions.

> - 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?

It's not clear to me what you're saying here, but it sounds very scary.

For what it's worth, W3C used to work more privately, but over the past 
few years, it's become much more public in how it conducts its technical 
work; that may *seem* like it increases the workload, but I would argue 
that it offsets the workload from the future to the present, thus 
improving the leverage.  Bad implementations because of mistakes in 
specs cost the community a disproportionate amount of work, and 
ultimately force the groups who've produced successful (but flawed) 
specs to make a lot of difficult errata and corrections (when the 
mistake can be corrected at all), so addressing potential mistakes 
earlier in the standards process, with wide community review, actually 
saves everyone time... even the working group.  (Note: it's still 
frustrating as hell for the WG, don't get me wrong.)

Now, aren't you sorry you brought me into this?  I've taken your nice 
clean technical discussions and muddied them with icky standards gunk 
(believe me, it doesn't come off in the wash), and I'd guess to no-one's 
benefit. :)

-Doug Schepers
W3C Team Contact, SVG and WebApps WGs

More information about the foaf-protocols mailing list