Comic Update: Madness? This is HTML5!April 13, 2009
Warning: this post falls into diatribe territory. I strongly feel that important technologies should be determined by consensus and not closed circles, and I’m not convinced that this is currently the case of HTML5.
I seriously doubt that Ian Hickson would ever kick Manu Sporny into a deep well (as today’s comic implies). For that matter, I’m not convinced he’d run around in only a cape, sandals and shorts, but I don’t know him as a person so I could be wrong on that point.
However, everything I’ve read, from the W3C’s mailing list archives, to blog posts by various people ranging from ARIA to RDFa, to Ian’s own words have convinced me that Hickson has fallen deep into a self-important gatekeeper mentality on the HTML5 spec, and anyone else’s opinions be damned. Although I will rant a bit on the topic, I’ll start by directing you to the following blog post/chronology by Sam Ruby that discusses this (albeit without the rhetoric I’d be more likely to fall into). The whole thing is a good read, but if you’re impatient you can jump to the end and check out his conclusion. He discusses the need for consensus over dictatorship in the open web again here (I get the impression he discusses that a lot, this is just a sample. I also don’t think he uses the word “dictatorship.”)
It’s become clear to a good deal of people more involved in these circles than I that a Not Invented Here attitude has tainted the HTML5 group, as discussed by Jeremy Keith here in a post about ARIA and HTML5. I’m guessing it’s an easy enough trap for any group of experts to fall into, but it still creates a situation where an otherwise open process becomes a closed loop. Case in point? Well, if ARIA isn’t enough for you, how about the attempts to get RDFa into the HTML5 spec?
RDFa has been facing a Hixie-manufactured road block for months now on inclusion into the HTML5 specification for what on the outside appears to be no better reason than its origination outside of his inner circle. Ian claims he’s seen insufficient use-cases and that he is “confused” by how RDFa is used, despite constant feedback by the RDFa proponents such as Manu Sporny providing both use cases and tutorials. Considering his technical expertise, I find the confusion claim by Hickson more than a bit perplexing. My own technical pedigree doesn’t come close to Ian’s, and yet I was able to successfully use valid RDFa syntax after less than a hour of reading the convenient RDFaWiki. Heck, if reading isn’t your strong point (which would be an unusual situation for a web professional) you can even watch videos they provide.
As near as I can tell, the only reason that he’d be “confused” by both the problems RDFa is designed to solve and how to implement it is because he wants to ensure that it doesn’t make it into the HTML5 spec, and he’s simply counting down the timer. Ian’s guide to handling people starts with Step 1: “There is No Situation” and concludes with Step 4: “Something could have been done, but it is too late.” Considering the stalemate for the past few months as he says repeatedly “There aren’t enough use-cases” or “I’m confused”, one could guess that he’s holding out until October, which according to his often derided timetable is when the Last Call Working Draft is supposed to occur.
Ultimately, though, the problem is more deeply routed than stubbornness. It seems, by all accounts, an unwillingness to play well with others. Quoted in a comment to Sam Ruby’s post Half Full, Ian said “The HTML5 work isn’t using the traditional W3C approach, and will never use a consensus approach so long as I am editor. Consensus simply isn’t a good way to get technically solid specifications, and is in any case basically impossible to achieve in a group with hundreds of participants such as this one.”
Someone with that mentality shouldn’t be allowed to steer the ship for a standard that will define how millions (if not billions) of web pages are made over the next few years. We’re all going to be impacted by HTML5, so even though we don’t need to all agree (an impossibility considering human nature) at least attempting a consensus of those involved is desirable. Even if I’m frustrated by glacial pace of CSS3 implementation, I prefer the W3C’s attempt at a participatory process to some sort of autocratic decision-making on how I’ll be coding for next few years.
For more views about the challenges of trying to be involved in the HTML5 process, peruse these bits about the RDFa/HTML5 conflict by Shelly Powers. Also, I reccomend checking out the advocacy of rev=”canonical” by Jeremy Keith here and here. These posts are notable because they illustrate issues with how the HTML5 group is impacting web development (without hitting the topic over the head as I’d be inclined to do) from the angle of an easy to state problem: the prevalence of URL shortening, the potential for link-rot, and a proposed solution that includes using rev, an attribute that the HTML5 WG has already decided to remove from the HTML5 spec.
What can be done? Well, you can do as Keith proposed for rev=”canonical”, and use it, validation be damned. If, for example, RDFa or ARIA is used enough by authors, then a time will come that no option will exist other than it be included in the spec. It’s a brute-force approach, but it’s a democratic one, which is far preferable to letting one Google employee decide what’s best for us.
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