W3C policies (Was Re: an unfilled need)

Matthew Gertner matthew at praxis.cz
Tue Sep 7 11:34:10 BST 1999

> I disagree on both counts.  Firstly, W3C does not control XML to the
> extent that they can control other syntaxes, because XML is SGML.
> Secondly, I think that if Microsoft made a successor to XML, it is quite
> possible it could be better than XML is, learning from experience. If
> Microsoft cares to give me a million dollars, I am prepared to develop
> such a thing!

Just to be clear, the XML recommendation in itself is a fantastic piece
of work, especially considering the tightrope that had to be walked
between SGML traditionalists and HTML mainstreamers. Could it be better?
Sure, and if anyone catches me drinking in a hotel lobby and wants to
hear a long unfocused rant about how much I hate external entity
references, I'm always amenable. The point is that for what XML tries to
do (and I refer here only to the Feb98 recommendation) it is more than
good enough. I can't imagine Microsoft or anyone else wanting to redo
all this work for the sake of some marginal benefit.

On the other hand, XML is incomplete. There seems to be a quite strong
consensus (at least in this list, which I assume is somewhat
representative) that the following aspects still need treatment if XML
is going to live up to all the promises we have been proclaiming from
the rooftops (universal data exchange, data perennity, application
interoperability, world peace, etc.):

1) A better schema language than DTDs
2) Some means of finding out what semantics are associated with a

I thought I was going to type a long list, but it seems to me that this
would actually be sufficient. There seems to be agreement that other
important issues (like stylesheets and namespaces) are solved or at
least well on their way. This might not seem clear in the case of
namespaces, but most of the objections to the current spec are really
just hankering for 2) in disguise.

So the question is, would we rather see these things come about through
some open process or by dictate from some corporate titan focused on its
own self-interest? I don't want to sound like a starry-eyed idealist,
but as XML folks we all understand the value of freely available
information. Can't we leverage the network infrastructure provided by
the Internet to reform the standards process into something more
appropriate for this day and age? The argument that "it's a hell of a
lot better than ISO" is not entirely satisfying. (No offense to any
ISOers out there; I have no experience with this myself but I've heard a
lot of people who do make this statement.)

I read Lauren's post on this issue with interest and she makes a very
sensible argument. I hadn't seen things from exactly this perspective,
so I was glad to be exposed to this viewpoint. But I'm still not
convinced. The press no longer controls the public's access to
information. Open access to working group proceedings would presumably
make it harder for journalists to misrepresent what went on between
company A and company B, not easier, since anyone with a Web browser
could surf over to the W3C and check it out themselves. If this forces
companies to be more aware of how their actions could affect the way the
public perceives them, isn't this an unambiguously good thing for
everyone except for a handful of large and/or well-connected companies
(and in the aggregate, probably for them too)?

The word "political" keeps coming up in this context, and yes, we need
to accept political realities. What I was trying to argue in my original
post is that the choice is not between closed (i.e. non-publicly
accessible) development of further XML-related standards (favored by
larger companies and insiders) or open processes (favored by the
unorganized masses). If this were the case, the political reality would
be that the processes are going to stay the way there are. Actually, the
W3C may well fail to provide for XML developer's needs in the areas I
mentioned above and be preempted by some proprietary approach. This
means that even those with a vested interest in maintaining the W3C
confidentiality policy (and the power to make this happen) need to think
twice about whether this is really in their interests.

Taking a "direct democracy" approach where the public at large votes on
major decisions in the XML standards process is politically unrealistic
and not obviously desirable. We now have the technical means to do the
same in the "real" political arena, but it is likely that people will
decide to have knowledgeable representatives continue to do the vast
majority of this work for them. But providing completely open access to
all about what is going on inside the W3C's various groups would bring a
ton of benefits, clearing away a lot of bad feelings and
misunderstandings, opening critical and tricky decisions to widespread
debate, enabling W3C members to participate more freely in outside
discussions instead of brushing off interested and justified enquiries,
etc., etc. Sure, there would be a couple of additional risks to watch
out for, but the conclusion that these are of overriding importance is
far from obvious.


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

More information about the Xml-dev mailing list