Proper language

I am not a subtle person. I tend to be blunt, can be confrontational, and am not always easy to be around. I realize this sometimes costs me jobs, readers, and on rare occasion, a friend. I accept the consequence— even the painful ones.

I’ve been told I’m pricklybitchyshrillhysterical, and otherwise evil from tech people. Some guys seem to have no problem with who I am; others, though, dislike me, and on occasion, hate or despise me. Even some women will feel uncomfortable around me. I’m too blunt, too confrontation, too aggressive. Let’s face it, I’m not the most nurturing woman in technology. Frankly, I don’t aspire to be.

Where this is going…

I have joined, and quit, the W3C HTML5 Working Group twice. Both times I joined only reluctantly.

The first time, I was reluctant, because I wasn’t sure I could devote enough time to the group. I also wasn’t sure about working with people whose sole job is writing specs. I am a web developer and a writer—neither of which is particularly adapted to developing specifications.

The second time I was reluctant to join because I was, and continue to be, immensely uncomfortable in the Working Group. The rules seem to change on a frequent basis: fluctuating based on who you are, what you are, and what “group” you belong. There are no strong guiding principles for the group, or for the HTML5 specification, either. It’s a play-it-by ear situation, with those who are not part of the browser community having to struggle twice as hard just to get heard half as much. It is not a pleasant place to be.

Recently, I expressed interest in writing a change proposal for an issue. Since I was the one that asked for it to be upgraded to an issue, I felt obligated to follow through and write a proposal. I was informed that I would need to be a member of the group in order to write a proposal. This is due to patent issues, and the agreement we all sign when we become part of the group. There is no separate agreement outside of the membership process.

I didn’t want to rejoin. I truly did not want to rejoin. At the same time, the only recourse I have if I can’t write change proposals is to file Formal Objections. I’m not adverse to filing a Formal Objection, which requires Directory intervention. But I believe that every issue should have its day in the HTML WG court.

Most of the time when the HTML5 Editor declines a bug request he does so with little or no rationale. The only way to get good rationales for and against a change, is through the issue process. I believe good rationales for all sides should be present before an item goes to the Director. I also believe every change should get its fair say in the group.

So here I am back, a third time, asking to rejoin. Reluctantly, and determined to keep my participation to a minimum. Enough to submit change proposals, formally write out objections in surveys, and ask for a status on my items every few weeks, so they’re not forgotten.

I did hear back from the W3C representative, and the co-chairs. I gave them forewarning that I was going to make their reply public. It may be the gentlemanly thing to do, to not publish such emails online.

It’s a good thing I’m not a gentleman.

Hi Shelley,

I’m writing in regard to your application to rejoin the HTML
Working Group. I have agreement from the chairs to approve your
application on the condition that the following be made clear:

1. You will be re-joining on a probationary basis.

2. You are asked to avoid filibustering and provocative language
and understand that if you decide to quit from the group again,
you will not be allowed to rejoin it after that.

If you can just let me know that you have received and read this
message, I’ll go ahead and push the button on approving your


I replied with:

I had no interest in joining the group, but it was a condition demanded
in order for me to submit change proposals. I felt that change proposals
were less disruptive than filing formal objections, which would then
necessitate Director intervention.

I consider the caveat about what language I can, and cannot use, to be
discriminatory. Dangerously discriminatory.

As for quitting from the group again, is there anything in the charter
or policies of the W3C that provides a baseline for who may or may not
join the group, or controls how often they may leave and return?

In other words, I want a substantiation of these demands based on W3C
policies. Then I will consider whether to agree or not.


I am somewhat sympathetic to the caveat about not quitting again. I have done so twice before, and doing so can be disruptive. At the same time, though, there is no policy on this in the W3C. The only policy on Invited Experts in the W3C is that they’re allowed in at the discretion of the chairs.

However, the caveat about filibustering and using provocative language is inexcusable. Tell me, what is filibustering in the working group? writing several emails in a thread on an issue. Like this thread? This thread? This thread? Now, I did participate in this one…but as can be seen, I wasn’t the only, or the one who participated the longest.

This thread? And any of the other hundreds of threads that seem to go forever, in which I have not participated?

And what the hell is a filibuster in a specification group?

Come to that, what is provocative language? Is it something like this? Or this? Or this? How about this?

Did I use provocative language with the email leading to this response? It was challenging. Is that what provocative language is? Language that challenges?