HTML5: Put up or shut up

Sam Ruby

I question the presumption implicit in the notions of “the” editor, and “the” spec. I reluctantly accept the notion that any individual spec development process need not employ processes requiring consensus or voting, but I reject any implication, however subtle, of inevitability or entitlement.

Simply put, there needs to be a recourse if a person or a group disagrees with a decision made by the editor of the WHATWG document. That recourse is forking.

I realize that that is a very high bar, and will say that is intentionally so. Simply put, specs don’t write themselves… I don’t care how good you think your idea is, either you need to step up and directly write the spec text yourself, or accept that you need to be persuasive.

Quite simply, that is the most absurd set of statements I have ever read. What Sam is saying, if you don’t like it, fork, or shut up.

Have to be persuasive? How can one be persuasive when there are underlying biases and prejudices in play that makes it impossible to ever…ever persuade the gatekeepers to change their mind? Or even open their minds?

So the alternative that Sam allow us, is to fork the entire HTML specification. Contrary to some people involved in this discussion, most of us are not employed by large corporations and can spend all of our time reading mailing lists or participating in specification work. Most of us have to do other things in order to pay the rent, or buy food.

But we are still dependent on the same specifications, still concerned that what comes out of a group such as the HTML5 working group is the best specification for as many people as possible—not just representatives from one or two companies who control the HTML5 specification development with a fist clad in an arrogance as dense as the thickest iron.

As for contributing to the group, the HTML5 editor did put something out, recently, on the mailing list about other editors. The requirements demanded for these voluteers were such that few of us could even consider applying. I can’t guarantee I have 20+ hours to devote every week. I can’t guarantee that I can fly to meetings with other editors, no, not even once a year. The most I, and others like me, can guarantee is that we would try our best, but keeping the roofs over our heads has to be our first priority. When was the last time the powers-to-be behind the HTML5 effort opened their windows and got a good whiff of our troubled times?

I also resent the assumption that those of us not directly contributing to the editing of a specification are not contributing. Contrary to what Sam seems to believe, we don’t need to be a member of a specification group, or an editor of a specification, to contribute to the overall success of the specification. People who write about the specifications, in books or articles, or who provide tutorials, example applications, libraries, help others—we contribute just as much as those who formally create the specs. The only difference is that our names don’t get listed, we rarely get credit, and evidently, according to Sam, we shouldn’t express any concerns, or frustrations, either.

Well, perhaps that is the way of the world for HTML5, but thankfully it hasn’t been that way for any other web specification I use, including XHTML, CSS, RDF, SVG, and so on. Oh, we still may not be able to influence these specifications, but I’ve not seen any of these groups give so much power over the direction of the specifications to so few. I’ve not heard once, from any of the people behind the specifications, to either put up, or shut up.

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