For a long time I used to think the W3C held the future of the World Wide Web in its hands. However I have come to realize that although this may have been true in the past the W3C has become too much of a slow moving bureaucratic machine to attract the kind of innovation that will create the next generation of the World Wide Web. From where I sit there are three major areas of growth for the next generation of the World Wide Web; the next generation of the dynamic Web, syndication and distibuted computing across the Web. With the recent decisions of Mozilla and Opera to form the WHAT working group and Atom's decision to go with the IETF it seems the W3C will not be playing a dominant role in any of these 3 areas.

In recent times the way the W3C produces a spec is to either hold a workshop where different entities can submit proposals and then form a working group based on coming up with a unification of the various proposals or forming a working group to find come up with a unification of various W3C Notes  submitted by member companies. Either way the primary mechanism the W3C uses to produce technology specs is to take a bunch of contradictory and conflictiong proposals then have a bunch of career bureaucrats try to find some compromise that is a union of all the submitted specs. There are two things that fall out of this process. The first is that the process takes a long time, for example the XML Query workshop was in 1998 and six years later the XQuery spec is still a working draft. Also XInclude proposal was originally submitted to the W3C in 1999 but five years later it is just a candidate recommendation. Secondly, the specs that are produced tend to be too complex yet minimally functionaly since they compromise between too many wildly differing proposals. For example, W3C XML Schema was screated by unifying the ideas behind DCD, DDML, SOX, and XDR. This has lead to a dysfunctional specification that is too complex for the simple scenarios and nigh impossible to use in defining complex XML vocabularies.

It seems many vendors amd individuals are realizing that the way to produce an innovative technology is for the vendors that will mostly be affected by the technology to come up with a specification that is satisfactory to the participants as opposed to trying to innovate by committee.  This is exactly what is happening with the next generation of the dynamic Web with the WHAT working group, with XML Web Services with WS-I and in syndication with RSS & Atom.

The W3C still has a good brand name since many associate it with the success of the Web but it seems that it has become damage that vendors route around in their bid to create the next generation of the World Wide Web.


Friday, July 9, 2004 9:10:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's been on a decline for a while and in need of a restart IMHO.
Saturday, July 10, 2004 4:59:53 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Further to Don's comments, or a replacement?
Further to Dare's comments, Tim Bray, x-W3C Technical Architecture Group, conceited that Atom would be better in the IETF and not the W3C. Not a good sign.
Saturday, July 10, 2004 7:27:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Standard bodies do no necessarily pander to the illogical impetus of hackers that are dreaming up "improvements" on things.

Standard bodies are there to ensure that a standard has a practical value.

A standard that is a moving target is of no value whatsoever, but I guess that is what many big companies would want in order to stablish their own de facto "standards", behaving every bit as slow and bureaucratic as the institution they would suplant.

I, for one, welcome this and other standard bodies that stop technology to be completely secuestered from us by unescrupolus entities.
Sunday, July 11, 2004 12:24:02 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I know I will be shot down for saying this but here goes..

W3C is looking old and tired (and not just its website). To me the only thing it has acheived is to open the floodgates for new browsers to be developed which can claim to be 'standards compliant,' although they have bespoke rendering engines and inevitable differences. 90% of my site visitors use Internet Explorer. The advent of Mozilla, Opera and the like simply make my role as a web developer harder as I have to deal with each browser's quirks. I would love to see Microsoft set the defacto standards for the web. I'm fed up with ankle-biting upstart, bleeding-heart, open-source fanatics claiming their standards are better than those set by the market leader of the computer software industry.

MS has acheived the incredible - they opened the desktop market to the masses. As a web developer you owe them a lot. They have brought your visitors.. and your customers. Without Windows (and it's UI research and innovation), PC's would still be the domain of the geek. Yes, Microsoft (like many large corporates) have been ruthless, but this is just the reality of real-world business.

Granted, IE hasn't been re-released in a long time but as a mark of it's stature, it's still the leader of the pack. With the addition of the excellent Google deskbar it sports a pop-up blocker, form auto-filler and best of all - ingenius integration with the Google search engine. As far as I know Google have not bothered creating various different versions of the deskbar for the rest of the browser rabble, and good on them!

There are those who hold up "tabbed browsing" as the be-all-and-end-all of the browser experience. Well, you might like to experiment with docking the start-bar to the side of your screen (you can then see all the titles of your open IE windows). Since IE is well cached by Windows, new browser instances open in a jiffy. You can even have several browsers open on one desktop in any layout. Opera/Mozilla's tabbed browsing doesn't add much more than that. And yes, the "gestures" plugin for Mozilla is cool but at the end of the day it's just a gimmick. Most Microsoft mice feature additional buttons which work much more elegantly.

At the dawn of personal computing there were rival platforms, and it took a while to establish the defacto standard (the x86 architecture). It was only then that PC's started appearing in the consumer market. I don't believe any buerocratic bodies were required to enforce this progression. It just happened because of cold, hard business drive. Although many rival platforms fell by the wayside in the process, the end result was a huge positive step for computer science in general.

I would love to see the same happen with the internet. Microsoft have created a well-thought-out and very powerful javascript DOM that supports element iteration much more flexibly than the W3C model. They have also created a rich set of CSS filter pseudo-classes which go far beyond CSS2. If CSS3 ever gets decided on by whichever buerocratic committee it will be taking its lead from Microsoft's own innovation.

When the next iteration of IE is released I'm hoping it will include support for PNGs with an alpha channel. This is the only feature of any importance that the rival browsers are starting to pick up. Once this is in the bag IE has won.

Goodbye, ankle-biters. Hello, standards!

Sunday, July 11, 2004 6:53:16 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, You may be interested in hearing Brendan Eich, chief architect of Mozilla Foundation, discuss this on The Gillmor Gang over at IT Conversations:
Sunday, July 11, 2004 9:28:16 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"MS has acheived the incredible - they opened the desktop market to the masses." No, they didn't.

"As a web developer you owe them a lot." No, we don't.

Trying to get people that create things (developers) to do something because they 'owe' it to another group is a heinous concept.
Sunday, July 11, 2004 10:26:47 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"Granted, IE hasn't been re-released in a long time but as a mark of it's stature, it's still the leader of the pack."

That's exactly the problem with Microsoft. When you say it is still the leader of the pack, well starting at the beginning it only become the leader of the pack because it destroyed everyone else. Navigator was better than both IE3 and IE4 and yet Navigator was pushed out of the market. It's hard to compete when the opposition can give away products for free.

IE5 and IE6 are OK, but now because Microsoft have the lead there is no innovation. I personally have moved to Opera, why? because it is innovative, because there are new, better features, because it is faster to render a lot of pages. But realistically Microsoft do not yet have any incentive to develop new features for IE, simply because there is no competition. Longhorn keeps moving futher and futher away, MS can get away with this because as consumers - for most of us - the only choice is to wait and wait and wait.
Chris Stevens
Tuesday, July 13, 2004 12:29:41 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Have you ever installed the Google toolbar on IE? You need to see the cool features it integrates into IE before you dismiss the browser as allowing 'no innovation'. What MS did was to create a platform that allowed a lot of addin expansion.

And like I said, their CSS and Javascript models were way ahead of their time (and in many ways more powerful than the current open-source offerings).

Plus, in my experience IE6 has been more stable than Mozilla and Opera (both of which I have given a lot of time). I prefer using my vertically-docked start-bar to facilitate tabbed browsing. It all adds up to a browser that is more viable, even today. Of course, in SP2 we will see some new enhancements to IE, but hell, I like it as it is! :-)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004 8:53:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'm of two minds about this. Is the W3C process broken? Yes. Do I want clever or expeditious hacks--BLINK, MARQUEE, IFRAME--to become de facto standards? No. The W3C ensures a deeper theoretical underpinning for the decisions that get made. This usually produces more coherent, and extensible, standards (though I'll concede it tends to overcomplexity).

Also, you've seemingly willfully omitted the Semantic Web as a major area of growth. Yet this is where some of the W3C's best work has been done (understandably, as it's Berners-Lee's passion). Interestingly, Microsoft is on this like white on rice.

Best to reform the W3C--a movement for which your comments may help initiate.
Roger Rohrbach
Wednesday, July 14, 2004 9:18:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Roger's right - whether or not you see movement depends a lot on where you look. The recent RDF and OWL specs moved Semantic Web technologies forward a bit step. Both took a lot of careful work, balancing a bunch of different requirements from different communities. Compromises, but remarkably good ones that satisfied most interested parties without any major bloat (layering being the answer). I've a feeling the reason the process worked in these cases has rather a lot to do with grassroots (and academia)-friendliness of a lot of the W3C people involved, rather than simple pressure to shift product.

It's worth mentioning the TAG as well - if there ever was a job that needed doing, that'd be it. A handful of relatively definitive guidelines is a darn sight more useful that a thousand obfuscated RFCs.

So maybe the W3C are in need of a squirt of oil in a few places, but I don't think there's any major systematic problem. Even if there was no progress on new specs, they do seem pretty good at maintaining existing one.

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