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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Just what are the W3C playing at?

Extremely disappointing news and a call to action from Roger Johansson. Any web developer who cares about the last 6yrs+ of standardization, accessibility, and separation of content from presentation needs to read this and act.

The news that HTML5 is actually removing accessibility enhancements from HTML4 is disgraceful. The attitude of the people making these decisions is worse than disgraceful. The W3C are in real danger of going even further down a route to irrelevance. This just compounds their inability to output relevant and finalized standards, their endless delays (CSS3 anyone?), their split visions (whither XHTML2, and why is it not backward compatible?). If the governing body of the Web can not stand up for its own ideals, has lost focus of why it exists and who it’s supposed to be serving (end users, not browser vendors) - then what is the point in the W3c? Were the last 6yrs+ for nothing?

Distressing news, and more so due to the archaic nature of the W3C and the obscurity these important decisions are shrouded in. Mailing lists? In 2007? Who has the time and disposition to use such archaic means of communication in an era of search-able, instant answer, easily reviewed forums.

A lot of the recent rumblings about and from the W3C are causing me to seriously question the future of the web and whether I want to be a part of it, if that’s the way it goes - it’s not going where I thought it was going. As a dedicated designer and developer who’s top priority has been universal access for all, of interoperability, of doing things right it’s depressing to watch the people who make the rules flop about like some sort of impotent and listless dinosaur, contradicting themselves and generally getting trapped in a mud flat only to await extinction, while other bodies evolve to fill the gaps.

Even the sign-up process to get into the group is a convoluted and confusing affair, at one step even involving a search on Google to figure out how to convert my mobile number into International Format. It’ll be a few weeks before I can complete the drawn-out process, I’ll see if I can make the grade to get into the HTML Working Group.

The ultimate problem and solution

Judging from their comments on the public-html mailing list, some of the browser vendors have no interest whatsoever in doing anything to make the lives of developers easier. They only care about market share, market share, and pandering to people who can’t be bothered to learn how to write HTML properly.

Roger Johansson, ”Browsers will treat all versions of HTML as HTML5

And right there and then both the problem and the answer became obvious to me. The troubles with the W3C have all stemmed from having companies as members. A company has an agenda, and that agenda is profit. All motivations will be toward the most cost effective way of attaining the maximum profitability possible. You can bet your life that it’s not the open source browser vendors that are the one’s with this belligerent and backward attitude. And there’s only one viable solution to getting the W3C back to the institution it’s supposed to be, one that has the end user’s in mind. Ditch the companies. Ditch their agendas.

Of course this is an idealist solution, and one that would be highly impractical in the real world. Without browser vendor support the W3C is impotent. It’s a phantom unable to make a physical difference. If the only support they have is from the Open Source community, then the W3C would die. Open Source is continuing to make inroads into corporate vendor territory, but in terms of market share it’s still something of a David compared with the dirty great Goliath. It’s a fight and a tactic that cant be won until the corporate vendors are on their back foot - but it’s the only tactic that can fix a broken W3C. We can’t count on the companies suddenly growing morals unless it’s in their financial interest to do so.

I’ve got a feeling there will be trouble ahead for those of us that want an ideolist, open, standards compliant, accessible, World Wide Web. And we know where the problems are. We know where the ultimate solutions are. We just need time to gather strength. It’s us, as end users and architects of the web, that ought to be guiding it. And the only place we’re able to do that without the ugly head of commercial viability appearing is Open Source. So, I’m waiting for an Open Source revolution that’s already begun. The sooner the Open Source strategy can provide products that are superior in every way to cororate products, the sooner that idealist world can be reached.


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  1. Dylan posted 50 days, 20hrs, 3mins after the entry and said:

    HTML5 is being developed by the WHATWG, not the W3C.

  2. Dylan posted 50 days, 20hrs, 8mins after the entry and said:

    Hm. My comment was perhaps a little premature, I'm not even entirely clear on the division between the WHATWG and the W3C's HTML working group, which seems to be more fluid than I thought.

  3. Matt Wilcox posted 51 days, 0hrs, 27mins after the entry and said:

    WHATWG is an unofficial body comprising mostly browser manufacturers. They're coming up with some nice ideas and helping drive development forward, but it is the W3C that control HTML, and it's the W3C that are developing HTML5 (based on and with the input of members and work done for WHATWG).

    Like you say, the situation is somewhat fluid - but it won't be HTML5 if it doesn't get the W3C approval. It'd just be an unofficial varient of HTML.

  4. Matt Wilcox posted 51 days, 0hrs, 37mins after the entry and said:

    I ought to add that it's the WHATWG (as browser manufacturers) that are getting a lot of the ire from accessability focused developers. It's the WHATWG that aren't interested in XML conformity or supporting accessibility features from HTML4.

    Of course, had development been left to the W3C we'd have nothing for the next 15yrs, and when we did get something it'd not be backward compatible, and mired in technobabble (think XHTML 2.0 - which is purely a W3C baby - and has no traction at all with browser vendors).

    We're apparently damned either way. I can see a lot of people sticking with HTML4 and/or XHTML 1

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