UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Are W3C Crazy?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 18 June 2007

Phil Wilson recently reported on his trip to the XTech 2007 conference. Phil’s report included a bullet point which said that “The W3C are crazy”. In response to my request for clarification Phil said that:

There seemed to be a couple of big fat W3C elephants in the room.

The first was that the w3c are doing stuff for use in five or ten years’ time whereas most of the other talks are about things you can do today or next year, which makes them seem like futurologists.

The other is that they really didn’t seem that happy that HTML5 was going ahead, and what the hell was wrong with XHTML2 anyway?

It must be nice to work in a standards organisation where everything you do meets some Platonic Idea of perfection.

I think it is clear that W3C have had a very purist approach to the development of Web standards. Indeed Chris Lilley admitted in a talk on HTML Reloaded at the WWW 2007 conference that “99.99999% of the Web was invalid HTML. W3C pretended that didn’t exist.

The W3C’s purist position is under pressure from companies such as Mozilla and Google, who feel that it is foolish to ignore that Web environment as it is today and build a new version of XHTML which is incompatible with HTML 4 and XHTML 1. Instead these companies, together with others who wish to build on existing tehcnologies, have been pushing evolutionary development of HTML 4, under the name HTML 5.

Under such pressure, the W3C has been forced to back both camps, with the chartering of a HTML Working Group (which will develop HTML ‘classic’) and a XHTML 2 Working Group.

Despite this concession, I feel that there is a culture at W3C which is uncomfortable will the need to address real world constraints and, as Phil describes it, prefers a world  which conforms to a “Platonic Idea of perfection“.

Are W3C crazy? No, not crazy, I would say, but idealist – and perhaps teasing the user community with a vision of perfection which is unlikely to be realised. And when Phil states they are “doing stuff for use in five or ten years’ time” it would seem he underestimates the timescales, as the WHATWG FAQ states, in response to a question on when HTML 5 will be finished: “Around 15 years or more to reach a W3C recommendation (include estimated schedule)“.

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2 Responses to “Are W3C Crazy?”

  1. I mean things they’re working on now, like CSS2.1, which was started in 2001, which might even be finished soon. Things like HTML5 haven’t even started in W3C terms.

    Although bearing that in mind, the WHATWG timescale is clearly different to that of the W3C. See the Milestones section under where they say HTML5 will reach Q3 Recommendation in 2010 (that was also the date I heard at XTech).

  2. [...] begun to question the wisdom of this view. I raised this issue last June in a post entitled “Are W3C Crazy?” in which I picked up on a comment made by Phil Wilson, a Web developer based at the [...]

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