The "Test The Web Forward" Movement: engaging the community to move towards a better Web
What makes a better Web?
Features are certainly important and there are multiple improvements to the web platform in the woks, for example the “SysApps” working group, the Linked Data effort or the new functionality added to CSS (such as CSS Regions and CSS Filter Effects which Adobe is actively contributing to).
However, while features are obviously key to a better, richer web, they are one of several elements which, when combined, deliver an enhanced web experience.
One is proper implementation of the web standards. For the web platform to be reliable, it is very important that implementations follow the various standards properly and reliably. The specifications define what browsers and other web components should do, but we need to make sure that implementations stick to the specification, from the most common features and down to the most obscure corner cases.
Tightly related to proper implementation is interoperability. It is possible, and this has happened many times in the past, to have standards, pretty solid implementations but poor interoperability because of various interpretation of the specifications by implementors. For example, in the early days of the Web, there were a lot of discrepancies between implementations of the Cascading Stylesheets specification. Interoperability issues are the plague of web developers as it either neuters the use of features (because the feature is not guaranteed to work in a consistent way across browsers for example) or weakens its appeal (because it will only be available to a fraction of the end-users).
Testing is the key to insure proper implementation and address interoperability issues. And great testing is the recipe for great implementations and awesome interoperability. In the realm of web standards, testing comes in the form of specification test suite which are used to validate that a specification is implementable.
The testing challenge
Unfortunately, writing tests is fraught with difficulties. It requires dedication, expertise, persistence and careful attention to details. In addition, it is important to have the widest test coverage as possible to ensure testing depth and the desired implementation quality and interoperability. Historically, it has sometimes been difficult for implementors of particular specifications and working groups defining specifications to create test suites that are as deep as they would like. This issue has been at the root of implementation, interoperability and adoption difficulties for new standards.
Test the Web Forward
“Move the Web Forward” is a grass roots movement that engages the community and challenges those passionate about the web to act on their desire for a better web. “Test the Web Forward” is exactly in that spirit: there are implementation or interoperability issues which the community of developers is painfully aware of, let’s try to enable developers to do something about this and contribute to better test suites which are an excellent way to improve the web.
Following that train of thought, Adobe and others in the community such as Microsoft, Mozilla, Google, W3C and Facebook have started to engage the community to contribute to web standards tests with a series of events call “Test the Web Forward”. To date, three events have been held: one in San Francisco (in June), one in Beijing (in October) and one in Paris (also in October). So far, about 700 new tests have been created that will be contributed towards web standards test suites. The events are typically held over a day and a half. During the first half day, experts from the standards working group (such as the CSS or SVG working groups in W3C) give short presentations about standards testing frameworks, browser bug filing and other topics related to reporting issues, isolating problems or ready a specification carefully to identify testable portions. The full day that follows is dedicated to ‘hacking tests’ in groups where the web developers work with the experts to write new tests, convert tests that may need reformatting or review existing tests so that they can be integrated into official test suites.
The following blog posts relate the events as they happened in San Francisco, Beijing and Paris and this video gives a good description of what the events are about, how they foster interest in testing the web, generate good discussions, suggestions and produce concrete results.
While the Test the Web Forward events are fun, there is a desire to find ways to keep engaging between events and at the recent W3C Technical Plenary meeting in Lyon, France, Adobe suggested concrete ways for interested web developers to keep contributing. There are also very interesting discussions about how the “Test The Web Forward” movement relates to the Web Platform Docs effort and a lot of suggestions that the two efforts should be closely related.
It is very encouraging and exciting to see the web community interested in contributing to a better web and offer time and expertise in efforts such as TestTWF. Our team at Adobe will continue working on this effort and with our partners to help it grow and further demonstrate its efficacy to help build a better web.
So if you and your team are passionate about the web, want to help move it forward please follow #TestTWF on Twitter and visit http://testthewebforward.org to learn about upcoming events and new developments around this initiative!