confidentiality in W3C WGs

Lauren Wood lauren at
Mon Sep 6 21:27:17 BST 1999

The only really good reason I see for the confidentiality agreement  
that exists in several W3C Working Groups has marketing, public 
relations, and politics at its base.

Imagine a lively WG discussion, in which two large member 
companies (let's call them A and B) disagree. The rest of the WG 
agrees with A and that's what goes into the spec. Maybe B gives in 
graciously, maybe B gives in less than graciously, maybe B 
doesn't give in at all. Then imagine the minutes are all public, and 
everyone can tell everyone else exactly what happened. 

The upshot is that some journalist, or maybe a public relations 
person in company A, starts making a big thing out of how 
company A "won" over company B in this issue. Next thing you 
know, company B starts fighting back in public, or refuses to give 
in graciously on any issue, or doesn't contribute properly to the 
discussions, or leaves the WG.

Could this happen? Yes. I've had journalists call me to talk about 
specs such as the DOM or XML, and when I've said that there are 
discussions and sometimes companies disagree, I've had 
questions such as "tell me when company A won and company B 
lost" (no prizes for guessing which companies they were 
most concerned with). I've seen articles written about other 
standards committees (not in W3C) where the journalist has tried 
to make out there is a fight in every small disagreement, and to get 
quotes from any participant and twist them to make it look like a 
fight. Makes for better press, I guess. Not so great if you're on the 
WG involved, trying to get some consensus on sticky technical 
issues. That can be hard enough without press articles and PR 
problems getting in the way. 

So sometimes you need confidentiality, to build trust and a 
knowledge that what is said in a WG remains within that WG, so 
that people can concentrate on the technical work, and not on the 


xml-dev: A list for W3C XML Developers. To post, mailto:xml-dev at
Archived as: and on CD-ROM/ISBN 981-02-3594-1
To (un)subscribe, mailto:majordomo at the following message;
(un)subscribe xml-dev
To subscribe to the digests, mailto:majordomo at the following message;
subscribe xml-dev-digest
List coordinator, Henry Rzepa (mailto:rzepa at

More information about the Xml-dev mailing list