The W3C bites back?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

This has been a long time coming, and not sure where it will go. It started innocuously enough: remove a paragraph associated with the alt attribute, about user agents using some form of heuristics to determine replacement text. It wasn’t associated with a bug—it predated the current decision process. It did have an issue, though, Issue 66.

Consensus was: remove the text. Simple, easy, and absolutely no impact on HTML5.


Except that Ian Hickson decided to do a little editorializing:

The latest stable version of the editor’s draft of this specification is always available on the W3C CVS server and in the WHATWG Subversion repository. The latest editor’s working copy (which may contain unfinished text in the process of being prepared) contains the latest draft text of this specification (amongst others). For more details, please see the WHATWG FAQ.” — <>, “Status of this document”.

And what does the WhatWG document now contain?

The W3C has also been working on HTML in conjunction with the WHATWG; at the W3C, this document has been split into several parts, and the occasional informative paragraph or example has been removed for technical or editorial reasons. For all intents and purposes, however, the W3C HTML specifications and this specification are equivalent (and they are in fact all generated from the same source document). The minor differences are:

  • Instead of this section, the W3C version has a different paragraph explaining the difference between the W3C and WHATWG versions of HTML.
  • The W3C version refers to the technology as HTML5, rather than just HTML.
  • Examples that use features from HTML5 are not present in the W3C version since the W3C version is published as HTML4 due to W3C publication policies.
  • The W3C version includes a redundant and inconsistent reference to the WCAG document.
  • The W3C version omits a paragraph of implementation advice for political reasons.

So the W3C specification contains a link to the WhatWG document, which contains a rather inflammatory statement, prompting Sam Ruby, the HTML5 WG co-chair, to write:

To have the W3C specification refer readers to another specification for an exact list of differences, and to have that other specification indicate that the omission was due to political reasons is intolerable.

Earlier this afternoon, I filed a Formal Objection against publication of the HTML5 heartbeat documentation, until all references to the WhatWG version of the specification, and the WhatWG mailing list, are removed from the W3C document. That this state has continued for so long is unconscionable. What, on earth, was the W3C thinking?

I was pleased to see that two of the HTML5 co-chairs, Paul Cotton and Sam Ruby, have stopped the heartbeat publication of the HTML5 specification, until the offending material is withdrawn. This effort was not prompted by my Formal Objection—the chairs are reacting to the editorial changes.

Even now, the HTML5 editor, Ian Hickson, is demanding an accounting of decisions that satisfy him. I wonder how many fan boys will rush to provide him support, or whether the browser companies finally start to realize that he is more wall, than doorway.

Regardless, if you’re thinking that the WhatWG will pull out of the HTML5 effort, and doom it by their lack of participation, think again: the WhatWG organization is not a legal entity. It is an informal group of a handful of individuals, half of whom became disillusioned with the effort years ago and have not participated since.

The group does not have a patent policy, so there is no way possible that Apple would allow something such as Canvas to be managed under the auspices of the WhatWG. The group can’t even support a copyright license, because there is no legal entity to act as holder of copyright. Not unless you count the person who provides the WhatWG server, who restarts the WhatWG server when it’s down, and who has complete editorial control over the WhatWG HTML5 document: Ian Hickson. And I don’t think even Google could tolerate handing that much power over to one, single individual.

The W3C is also not a legal entity BUT…members of the W3C organizations have to enter into a contract and agreement with the three legal entities behind the W3C: MIT, ERCIM, and Keio University. Though frequently contentious, and overly bureaucratic at times, the W3C effort is the only effort where people other than Ian Hickson may have a say about what is, or is not, in the HTML5 specification. Just as important, the W3C provides the legal stability that allows all of the browser companies to freely, and safely, participate.

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