W3C's 'Moral Majesty'

Rick Jelliffe ricko at allette.com.au
Sat Sep 11 09:35:24 BST 1999

 From: Simon St.Laurent <simonstl at simonstl.com>

>The article's perspective is interestingly different from that on
>though some of the same issues arrive.  It's definitely the view from
>Fortune 500, not from 'independents', but there still seem to be
>pluses and minuses.

All standards processes are subject to the same constraints that
face-to-face meetings require travel, which requires money.  Indeed,
this fact makes W3C into largely a rich Westerners' club; there seems
almost no participation from non-residents of Western countries (except
Japan, which is rich).

When people complain that standards processes disenfranchise them, they
usually mean that their immediate neighbours are franchised and they are
not. However, the facts of geography mean that a standards process that
relies on unsubsidised face-to-face meetings is intrinsically

There are four approaches:
    * "that is the way of the word": it cannot be helped;
    * positive discrimination, e.g. subsidies;
    * reduce the reliance on face-to-face meetings;
    * universal enfranchisement.
I think there is no clear best solution; indeed to be frank, I cannot
see the superiority of W3C opening its doors to allow non-member voting
if in fact all those members are just more rich Americans: the
groupthink may only increase.

Complex standards and standards which do not allow alternative
technologies (the bazaar) reduce the chance that non-Western or poor W3C
members can contribute viable and well-formed technology to W3C.

Of course, there are other big blocks, notably the reliance on text
rather than diagrams in W3C specifications, and indeed the fact that
English is the only language.

Some complaints about W3C "standards"-making processes are based on the
naive idea that standards-making can ever be fair, given the tyranny of
distance and the Tower of Babelon.  To an extent, there will always be a
political aspect where the weak lobby to appeal to the liberality or
self-interest of the strong to give them a voice.

Rick Jelliffe

"The very thing that makes you rich, makes you poor."  Ry Cooder song.

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