How could the CSS WG could improve matters?
Yesterday I vented my frustration with the CSS WG, claiming that I have found them to be out-of-touch, isolated, unhelpful, dismissive, largely irrelevant, and unable to engage designers. It’s not for a lack of designer interest, just Google any topic related to CSS and you’ll find dozens of designers talking about ideas, problems, solutions, etc. And it’s not just “small fry” players mouthing off, the big guns in our industry are at it just as often as everyone else Jeff Croft (many times), Andy Clarke who was on the working group itself, Jonathan Snook, Eric Meyer. Much of this dates back to 2007 and earlier; yet even now we’re in the same situation. Barely any progress has been made in engaging designers at the Working Group.
Despite the thousands of hours of effort spent by hundreds of designers all over the world, to try and improve the technologies we rely on daily, so very little has been achieved. And that’s because of the way the Working Group’s set-up.
As far as I’m aware and as far as I’ve experienced, the people making up the Working Group are doing their best with what they’ve got. And I admire them for it - I sure as hell couldn’t stick working in that environment, which is why I quit from the HTML5 working group. But despite their best intents - it still isn’t working well enough. Or at all. Depending on your pessimism level.
The crux of the issue
Let me ask you a question, imagining you to be an experienced designer/developer with a keen interest in CSS and Web Standards: where do you go to find out about new developments in CSS? Who’s looking after it? What’s their homepage? Can you navigate right now to the source of the development of CSS? Not reports in webzines; the actual place this stuff gets made. I bet bottom dollar you haven’t a clue. You’d go to the W3C site perhaps, and then get lost in the abysmal depths of an un-intuitive mess of a site. And even if you did manage to get to the CSS section: there’s no invitation for you to get involved. No clue how you might contribute. No place showing the discussions going on. Oh sure, click the link buried in the text called “CSS Working Group” and watch a log-in prompt appear. Dead end for you, my inquisitive friend. You could trawl through the mire of the mailing list if you found the link and knew what a mailing list meant in the context of this site; but really - would you? Would anyone not already involved know even where to begin in that fucking mess of a mailing archive? You know, assuming you found it in the first place.
So how would you get involved? Because writing on your own blog doesn’t cut it - they don’t notice. The W3C site doesn’t make it easy to even find out how to contribute - it most certainly doesn’t ask you. It doesn’t open the dialogue with you.
Let me ask you another question: Who’s on the CSS Working Group? Who could you call to mind as a representative of the design industry that’s sitting on the very group which controls the fundamental tools we use to do our job? They’d be like a union rep for us really. I bet you don’t know. Why? Because there isn’t one.
The CSS Working Group is an opaque and cloaked organisation despite the claims of openness and supposed “calls for participation”. If no one knows you’re making calls, then you’re not actually making any calls. You’re just going through the motions of democracy in an empty room while the general population’s over in another building entirely, not even aware of your existence. The meaning of your communication is the effect it has, not the intention you had. If there’s no effect then you’re not communicating anything at all.
How to improve things externally
- Clean up your website, employ a designer, prioritize your message, make it obvious how people can contribute
- Get a single point of contact between the group and the “public” - one website. One place for everyone to go. Focused on that one job. Not some piss boring text only page hidden away in a piss boring maze of a website.
- Be open, don’t just say you are. Take some initiative and go ask some prominent designers to get involved directly. Even if they can’t, they can communicate the message to others.
- Consolidate. There’s resources all over the place, but no one knows where they all are. Or that they exist at all.
- Stop using fucking mailing lists as your primary communication tool. Seriously, it’s 2009 guys not 1999. This is archaic, confusing, hard to search, hard to navigate, hard to even find, un-intuitive, backward crap that’s hard even to join in with (I never did manage to post the the HTML5 WG because the mail-server set up didn’t let me!).
Install a forum - people know how to use those and they offer far better functionality.
How to improve things internally
Not being a member of the group, this one’s a tough call, but there are a couple of obvious things:
- Get some experienced industry heavyweight designers on the group. Your work will be used by designers. Your solutions to our problems show obvious ignorance of our needs and environment. Your work is ridiculed because of your continued ignorance, not because we don’t appreciate your trying (honestly, we love you for trying).
- Employ someone to be the public face of the group while we wait (and wait) for the changes above to come to fruition
- Less members. There’s too much waffle and in-fighting going on and not enough action: a direct function of the number of contributors (and their employers). Keep the guys and girls that have clear visions and a good track record, and ditch the rest.
Yes, I know
All most everything I’ve said above has been said before. Yes the reality is more complicated than this quick overview of my limited understanding.
I don’t care. Just engage the huge amount of people who want to help, leverage their efforts, and produce results. Preferably sooner rather than later.
Make me believe in this process, in the dreams and ideals of an open web, again.