June 22, 2009

Democracy, the oracle, and the W3C TAG

Athenian treasury at Delphi
Originally uploaded by Larry

Recently on a travel/study cruise focused on ancient Greece and the classics, we toured the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, from which the Delphic oracle spoke.

When does someone consult the oracle? I carry a pocket oracle: an iPhone "Magic 8-Ball" application which I consult at times, usually when I can't make up my mind, but don't want to waste any more time thinking about the decision.

Did the ancients also consulted the oracle when the course of action wasn't clear? Having weighed the pros and cons, the choices seem balanced. But often making some decision is imperative.

In a tyranny, the tyrant can decide. But if there is a group decision process and a need for agreement, then sometimes some external force is still needed to help the group come to a timely conclusion. Even if the ancients couldn't agree on a decision, they could agree to consult the oracle, and the oracle's pronouncements could then be used as justification for the ultimate decision.

The treasuries at the Delphi site impressed me; they were large constructs to hold treasures given as gifts to the gods who provided help in deciding important issues. The treasuries at the Delphi site clearly represent a community contribution, a kind of endorsement, sign, of the oracle as an authority.

The W3C TAG is an Architecture Group to which I was elected. The W3C TAG produces "findings" -- readings of general principles for the World Wide Web. Our pronouncements might be used as justification one way or another to encourage consensus, in those cases where otherwise reasonable participants cannot come to a conclusion on a course of action, but where a coming to a decision is important. Standards are often about making difficult choices. Let Sir Pythia speak, and we Delphic priests will interpret (alas, not in elegant hexameter).

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