OPEN LETTER: Standards must stand on their own

James Robertson jamesr at
Fri Sep 3 02:11:54 BST 1999

This is an open letter to all W3C standards

Clearly the release of the XHTML final draft
has generated a lot of discussion. This has
involved people within the working group defending
the standard, along with others. Still more
people have been busy attacking it.

I think it is safe to say that, at the
moment, confusion reins amongst the public
(ie 'us').

This has highlighted what I think is
an important point:

	"Standards must speak for themselves.
	They must be clearly 'the right way'
	to solve the problem. If they require
	advocates, then they have failed."

If a standard is not well received on a list
like this, then what chance will they have
in the real world? There, if a standard is
not liked, it will be ignored. This would be
a terrible waste for all involved.

Standards should not be controversial. They
should not 'innovate'. They should solve a
problem the 'best way' based on the real
world experiences of all involved.

If there is no experience to guide us in
an area, don't create a standard. Wait.
Experience will come ...

With respect to the XHTML spec, it means
that it should go back to draft status,
and remain there until a solution presents
itself that is unarguably elegant, and

If this cannot be done now, don't release
the standard. If the world is not ready to
create a single defensible standard, then it's
not ready for a spec at all.

In conclusion, I would like to draw parallels
with other standards bodies. The IETF, for example,
has a very good history with standards. Standards
such as HTTP 1.1 were released without much fanfare.
Everyone looked at it, admired it, and in due course
implemented it. All with very little argument or

Other bodies, such as the ISO, hold the other
position. People tend to look at their standards
and become frightened by their complexity. ISO
standards have a long history of not being used.

So I say again:

Standards must speak for themselves.


James Robertson
Step Two Designs Pty Ltd
SGML, XML & HTML Consultancy
jamesr at

"Beyond the Idea"
  ACN 081 019 623

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