Non-standard bodies

Neil McAllister’s Infoworld article yesterday about WhatWG and how it differs from W3C is worth reading… the headline is rather linkbait-y about the markup spec, but it’s the dynamics of the “standard” groups themselves that’s most important in this essay.

The W3C reaches group decisions with a large variety of participants, and ends up producing something which works for all. The WhatWG is four browser vendors (intentionally omitting the most important one) and tends to reach decisions which benefit those members (as shown by the eventual progress of VIDEO, which in practice just let Apple protect its proprietary business model). Neil makes clear the difference better than I… worth the reading time.

You might want to skip the headline and implications about “HTML5″… markup will always progress, at the pace that consumers accept new runtime engines which agree on new functionality. HTML will work out fine. The W3C may be slower, but it includes a wider variety of viewpoints, that’s the main point.

(Addenda: Slashdot was one of the few venues to pick up on Neil’s article yesterday. The WhatWG’s acceptance of alternative viewpoints seems less open than Adobe’s community process for Flash. And a disclaimer, currently I’m a bit annoyed at apparent war by other means, complete with plausible deniability.)

7 Responses to Non-standard bodies

  1. Jon Fingas says:

    No, you’re upset the VIDEO tag undermines your proprietary business model. When does all Flash content creation and format technology go under a GPL license, again?

    Also, Google just adopted HTTP Live Steaming for Android 3.0, giving plugin-free video an adaptive bitrate. So much for it solely being about Apple!

  2. Vamsmack(Kel Stewart) says:

    Google is part of the WhatWG as is the Mozilla Foundation and Opera, were they also just trying to further Apple’s proprietary business model? That furthering of Apple’s proprietary business model would also further Microsoft’s proprietary business model wouldn’t it? In fact Opera and Mozilla are dead set against h.264 as is the Google Chrome guys so why would they be supporting any move made by Apple in this regard?

    • John Dowdell says:

      You objected to my clause “the eventual progress of VIDEO, which in practice just let Apple protect its proprietary business model” by imagining that this was anticipated by Mozilla or Opera, but did not address the observation that the whole first few years of VIDEO discussions did indeed just end up giving a nominal blessing to Apple’s garden. That phrase “in practice” means something a bit different than term “in theory”.

      Meanwhile the larger point of the massive differences between W3C and WhatWG was ignored. Interesting.

      • Vamsmack(Kel Stewart) says:

        Your larger point of the differences between the WhatWG & W3C is sort of where but not quite. The WhatWG will accept contributions from anyone but you’re right the members are representatives from the browser manufacturers, if you want to be a member of the W3C and actively contribute you need to pay membership dues which are around $7,900 for an individual or almost $70,000 for an organisation. So really even a standards body like the W3C isn’t actually open to the public to make their contributions unless they fork out a hefty chunk of change each year. With that sort of money flying around doesn’t this also cause a barrier to entry which would then leave this in the domain of the browser vendors and large corporations.

  3. Watts says:

    McAllister’s point wasn’t about video tags or entirely about the “massive differences between the W3C and WhatWG,” though, was it? He was making the case that dropping the version number from HTML is a bad idea. I see his point, but for a good alternative case look at Jeremy Keith’s _HTML5 for Web Designers_ when he writes about the HTML5 doctype, which deliberately specifies no version number: “Any future versions of HTML will also need to support the existing content in HTML5, so the very concept of applying version numbers to markup documents is flawed.” The WhatWG’s implicit case is that in practice we’ve never been able to rely on version numbers for web standards anyway, which is absolutely true. No browser supports all of CSS3, still, yet some of them were supporting *parts* of CSS3 years ago — in fact, Internet Explorer 7 supported some parts of CSS3 before it supported some parts of CSS 2.1. You can argue that the WhatWG has been selective and discriminatory, but it’s very hard to dispute that the WhatWG has been essential in lighting a fire under web standards. WebM-vs.-H.264-vs.-FLV is a loud and flashy (ha! get it?) sideshow, but it’s a sideshow nonetheless. You really seem to be more interested in implying that the WhatWG is Apple’s lapdog because… well, you don’t actually say why, other than alleging they’re deliberately protecting Apple’s “proprietary business model.” Since the WhatWG HTML5 spec actually deliberately avoids specifying any video format at all, I’m interested in what you think they should have done. Are you suggesting that they should have (a) named a specific video format to use and (b) made sure that specific video format wasn’t Apple’s chosen favorite? If they’d chosen WebM, which has much less industry support currently, wouldn’t that be making a very consciously pro-Google decision? They could have chosen Ogg Theora, which would avoid the charge of corporate bias, but it would open up other cans of worms. Didn’t WhatWG, in fact, do the right thing by not stepping into this mire and instead tacitly saying it’s up to the market to sort it out?

  4. Ian Hickson says:

    W3C HTML WG: 433 participants.

    WHATWG: 1670 participants.