HTML Standards Process Returning from the Grave

For a long time, the HTML standards process has been moribund; the W3C‘s HTML Working Group has focused almost exclusively on XHTML2, a new standard that was highly incompatible with existing practice. The people working on the major browsers have largely abandoned the HTML Working Group. And competing efforts like WHATWG stepped in to fill the void of advancing HTML.

But now the W3C is proposing new charters for a new set of working groups that may allow useful HTML work to happen inside the W3C., and is actively trying to engage browser vendors. You may have seen some comments on this from Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the W3C. There have also been posts on the topic from Chris Wilson, the IE Platform Architect and Daniel Glazman (and some further comments from Daniel).

Here are the new charters themselves:

Our Response

Those of us on the Safari team have asked Apple’s AC Representative to submit feedback on these proposed charters. (The AC is the W3C’s Advisory Committee, the forum where member organizations vote on decisions of this sort). We believe the general direction of the HTML Working Group is good, but we also think that the charter as it stands has some problems that need to be resolved. Although such feedback is normally private, we have decided to post it publicly here.

On the new HTML Working Group Chart, we have voted to support it with minor changes, and plan to participate. Here are our proposed changes:

  • We request that instead of weekly teleconferences, the charter call for teleconferences as needed and requested, with normal operation to be done via the mailing list. This is to avoid leaving non-Member contributors out of the conversation.
  • We request that instead of 4 face-to-face meetings per year, the charter call for one face-to-face meeting per year, which is open not only to Working Group members but to all who are willing and able to attend. This is to avoid leaving non-Member contributors out of the conversation, and to avoid an unreasonable meeting load on the working engineers who will hopefully comprise much of the group membership.
  • We strongly object to the 10% market share threshold in the Success Criteria. Effectively, this gives Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer veto power over the spec. In general historically there have only been two browsers at a time that have been above this market share threshold. Furthermore, we believe that even if all browsers besides IE conformed to the spec, it would still be a huge success and a huge benefit to web compatibility.
  • We would like the charter to clarify that new features such as editing support will be specified in a platform-neutral and device-independent way.
  • We believe the schedule milestones are completely unrealistic. Given that the charter is still under review in January 2007, it is unreasonable to expect a first working draft in February 2007. Given the scope of work to be done, it is unreasonable to expect Candidate Recommendation in less than a year. And finally, it is completely implausible to expect a thorough test suite, let alone two interoperable implementations, by December 2008. We request that the milestones be omitted entirely or set much further in the future.
  • We request that the charter call for a formal relationship with Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), even though the group itself is informal.
  • We request that the “Good Standing” requirements be waived for this working group, since much work will be done by email, and since no minimum time commitment is expected of members.
  • We request that there be no Member-only mailing list; such lists risk being abused for non-public decision making for what should be a public group.
  • We request that rather than the standard W3C WG decision process, the relevant spec editor or editors should be allowed to make initial decisions about the spec using their own best judgment, with any working group member allowed to appeal decisions to the full working group. In such cases, the vote should be taken by email to allow due consideration and participation by all.

On the XHTML2, Forms, and Hypertext Coordination Group charters, we abstained from commenting and do not plan to participate at this time.

UPDATE: Dan Connolly of the W3C posted a response to some of our charter feedback, and I posted a futher reply.

UPDATE #2: More from Chris Wilson on the controversy over him as initial chair of the group.