December 30, 2012

Reinventing the W3C TAG

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about my personal priorities for Web standards and the W3C TAG, as part of the ongoing TAG election.

The Mission of the W3C TAG has three aspects:

  1. to document and build consensus around principles of Web architecture and to interpret and clarify these principles when necessary;
  2. to resolve issues involving general Web architecture brought to the TAG; and
  3. to help coordinate cross-technology architecture developments inside and outside W3C.

Success has been elusive:

  1. After the publication of Architecture of the World Wide Web in 2004, attempts to update it, extend it, or even clarify it have foundered.
  2. Issues involving general Web architecture are rarely brought to the TAG, either by Working Group chairs, W3C staff, or the W3C Director, and those issues that have been raised have rarely been dealt with promptly or decisively.
  3. The TAG's efforts in coordinating cross-technology architectural developments within W3C (XHTML/HTML and RDFa/Microdata) have had mixed results. Coordinating cross-technology architecture developments outside W3C would require far more architectural liaison, primarily with IETF's Internet Architecture Board but also with ECMAScript TC39.

Building consensus around principles of Web architecture

I have long argued that the TAG practice of issuing Findings is not within the TAG charter, and does not build consensus. In the W3C, the issuing of a Recommendation is the stamp of consensus. There may be a few cases where the TAG is so far in advance of the community that achieving sufficient consensus for Recommendation is impossible, but those cases should be extremely rare.

  • Recommendation: Review TAG Findings and triage; either (a) update and bring the Finding to Recommendation, (b) obsolete and withdraw, or (c) hand off to a working group or task force.

To build consensus, the TAG's technical focus should match more closely the interest of the Web community.

  • Recommendation: Encourage and elect new TAG members with proven leadership skills as well as interest and experience in the architectural topics of most interest to W3C members.
  • Recommendation: The TAG should focus its efforts on the "Web of Applications" at the expense of shedding work on the semantic web and pushing ISSUE-57 and related topics to a working group or task force.

Updating AWWW to cover Web applications, Web security and other architectural components of the modern Web is a massive task, and those most qualified to document the architecture are also likely to be inhibited by the overhead and legacy of the TAG.

  • Recommendation: Charter a task force or working group to update AWWW.

Resolving issues involving general Web architecture brought to the TAG

To resolve an issue requires addressing it quickly, decisively, and in a way that is accepted by the parties involved. The infamous ISSUE-57 has been unresolved for over five years. The community has, for the most part, moved on.

  • Recommendation: encourage Working Group chairs and staff to bring current architectural issues to the TAG.
  • Recommendation: drop issues which have not been resolved within a year of being raised.

Coordinate cross-technology architectural developments inside and outside W3C

Within W3C, one contentious set of issues involve differing perspectives on the role of standards.

  • Recommendation: The TAG should define the W3C's perspective on the Irreconcilable Differences I've identified as disagreements on the role of standards.

For coordination with standards outside of W3C:

  • Recommendation: The TAG should meet at least annually with the IETF IAB, review their documents, and ask the IAB to review relevant TAG documents. The TAG should periodically review the status of liaison with other standards groups, most notably ECMA TC39.

On the current TAG election

An influx of new enthusiastic voices to the TAG may well help bring the TAG to more productivity than it's had in the past years, so I am reluctant to discourage those who have newly volunteered to participate, even though their prior interaction with the TAG has been minimal or (in most cases) non-existent. I agree the TAG needs reform, but the platforms offered have not specifically addressed the roadblocks to the TAG accomplishing its Mission.

In these blog posts, I've offered some insights into my personal perspectives and priorities, and recommended concrete steps the TAG could take.

If you're participating in W3C:

  • Review carefully the current output and priorities of the TAG and give feedback.
  • When voting, consider the record of leadership and thinking, as well as expertise and platform.
  • Hold elected TAG members accountable for campaign promises made, and their commitment to participate fully in the TAG.

Being on the TAG is an honor and a responsibility I take seriously. Good luck to all.

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