an unfilled need

Matthew Gertner matthew at
Mon Sep 6 19:16:16 BST 1999

> No it can't!  The damage is already starting to creep in - for example,
> look at IE5, which recognizes HTML tags using the hardwired prefix
> "html:" - something any moron can see is fragile and broken.  But we
> can't reasonably get mad at Microsoft because the W3C just can't be bothered
> to define a name for HTML, something that would take about 15 minutes
> once they realized it was worth doing.  Yes, I've raised this point
> repeatedly within the W3C - I don't know what the problem is.

On reading this I can't resist the temptation to raise once again the issue of W3C's
confidentially rules, because this is a perfect example of the danger of this policy. On the
one hand, after countless discussions on this topic with countless knowledgeable people of
various backgrounds and viewpoints, I still can't for the life of me understand why this
policy exists. The argument about information overload is convincing in the context of giving
open access to voting on W3C recommendations and the like, but certainly doesn't preclude
giving everyone access to the minutes of working group meetings and standards (sorry,
recommendations) in progress. The argument that this will confuse people since the works in
progress change so often is clearly bogus: in that case W3C members are spending good money
(not to mention significant amounts of time) to be befuddled. The argument that members are
paying money to be given advance access to this information is frightening and not obviously
sensible. The competitors these companies might be concerned about are presumably all members
as well.

(The uncharitable view is that the primary motivation is to give members an elitist buzz every
time they say: "Of course, I can't go into detail about this", but who could believe that?)

There is, however, a very strong argument for changing this policy. Judging by recent
discussion on this list, the W3C is losing some of its implicit authority in the XML
community. No one objected to the W3C controlling XML at the onset because it was far from a
foregone conclusion that XML was win over a number of plausible (but in retrospect clearly
inferior) approaches. Now XML is mainstream and this no longer flies. Lack of complete buyin
(not to mention open hostility) from XML developers is certainly not in the W3C's interest,
and only opens the way for Microsoft and other major players to step in with their own
proprietary (and inevitably less well thought out) approaches.

I must be missing something. Can someone please set me straight?


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