W3C's 'Moral Majesty'

David Brownell david-b at pacbell.net
Sun Sep 12 06:29:16 BST 1999

Tim Bray wrote:
> People who were along for the original XML 1.0 ride will
> remember that on several occasions, the WG took some decision and
> the IG basically just wouldn't stand for it, and howled in outrage
> until the WG reversed itself.  Sometimes 2 or 3 times on the
> same issue.

Did the WG then dust off one of the original proposals, or was
it more of a "spiral development" process than a true reversal?

Successive refinement is critical to making design processes work,
and it's typical to have some core team (even in a geographically
dispersed mailing list :-) be responsible for moving forward in
such a "spiral" development process.

> Another intangible is that virtually all the (couple of hundred)
> people who were on the original XML IG became ardent advocates of XML,
> ...
> Now, that might be seen as an argument for a more IETF-like process where
> you get a *really* large team of evangelists.  Or maybe not. -Tim

>From my observation of, and participation in, the IETF I'd say that's
not quite the process that happens there.  It's more of an "open source"
thing where the whole system is open enough that either there's some
real consensus supporting each forward movement, or it can't go anywhere
at all. (Snd without such consensus, there's no loss.)

And of course, there's no notion of central control -- people can work
on OpenPGP and S/MIME concurrently, nobody's able to prevent OpenPGP from
moving forward because they like the vendor lock-in potential of S/MIME
(which is rather complex due to its use of ASN.1/BER).  There's no TimBL
analogue who is able to say "screw you, this is how it'll be" -- and who
is dependent on secrecy to prevent negative stories from getting out in
any very significant way, disproving the "moral majesty" claims.  (Maybe
I'll meet Tim in person someday, and find him a nice guy, but I don't
hear his W3C role as really reflecting such "moral majesty".)

The IETF approach is more "big tent" than W3C since in the IETF the
architectural decisions are decentralized, AND the process is designed
to permit competing approaches to progress -- except on standards track
things, where consensus really matters.  Meanwhile W3C (staff, bureaucracy,
and all) can dictate what goes on in the absence of consensus, and with
no real attempts to consider alternatives which may be better.

In the long run, I don't think that the non-consensus approach is viable.
But it's clearly having a strong impact in the short term, even if folk
do not agree whether it's always a positive one.  It may have been needed
to get folk out of the mess preceding HTML 3.2 ... but I'm not sure that
such non-consensus approaches are needed any more, except in the "get your
browser to support HTML 4.0 and CSS and XML" sort of ways.

- Dave

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