Thursday, April 26, 2012

WHATWG as W3C Community Group in Name Only

As of Monday, April 23, The W3C has announced that it is looking for a new editor for the HTML Working Group specifically tasked with shepherding HTML5 through the process until it reaches a formal recommendation. Ian Hickson (Hixie) made the request for a call for his replacement so he could focus on ongoing HTML development, such as HTML.Next. With that announcement the W3C is also making the following changes:

  • The W3C is beginning its replacement editor search specifically for HTML5 and HTML Canvas 2D Context to carry them both through the Recommendation phase of the specification process. The W3C expects the process to take 30 days, though it isn't clear if that means it will have candidates to consider at the end of the 30 days or a new editor by then.
  • The W3C reminds us that W3C Community Groups and HTML WG Task Forces can continue to submit proposals to the specification.
  • Hixie, the current HTML5 editor, will continue working on the WHATWG HTML specification. Though it will be versionless, the W3C expects it to spin off proposals to its HTML WG.
  • The W3C states that editors of "Recommendation-Level" specifications (specs going through the W3C process, with versions) and authors of (the WHATWG versionless specs) are free to make changes directly to their own specs, but the W3C is urging them to work together.
  • The W3C is expanding the W3C HTML WG charter to allow it to work on HTML.Next at the same time the HTML5 specification is snaking its way through the official process. Once that happens, the W3C will be looking for more editors.
  • The W3C is making clear that it plans to continue its partnership with WHATWG.

The W3C also created the Web Hypertext Application Technology Community Group on Monday. Given that W3C Community Groups allow open participation and can submit proposals for the specification, it looked like the W3C and WHATWG might be coming together and possibly opening up to more community feedback.

The potential and hope of moving all HTML5 (etc) development under one organization was quickly dashed when Hixie sent this message to the WHATWG mailing list:

[…] [I]t means we have a clear patent policy. Historically, we've relied on the W3C HTML working group for this, but as the W3C has focused on stablising their HTML5 snapshot, newer features have not enjoyed the same coverage. […] This will basically have no effect on how the WHATWG operates, except that when we make use of the W3C Community Group "Final Specification Agreement" (FSA) mechanism, anyone who wishes to co-sign the agreement [2] will be invited to do so.

The W3C Web Hypertext Application Technology Community Group echoes that message:

This is the W3C community group for the WHATWG, a mechanism through which the WHATWG can publish specifications with patent agreements.

At first glance it may have looked like WHATWG was coming together with the W3C, and by using a W3C Community Group allowing anyone to participate, but that does not appear to be the case. Instead this move seems to primarily be a method to bring WHATWG into the patent protection that the W3C enjoys through some of its partnerships, as suggested by Steve Faulkner:

but the Hypertext Application Technology Community Group appears to be nothing more than a ploy to get microsoft on board at the WHATWG via the provision of a patent policy.

Any hints of bringing WHATWG into the W3C fold appear to be gone. Any hope that anyone can participate appears to be dashed as well, since it doesn't look like the Community Group will have its own mailing list and the forum will likely be ignored.

Unfortunately, I was quick to sign up for the Web Hypertext Application Technology Community Group but took far too long to realize it wasn't going to change the process of participation. I suppose I could blame patent chaos for all of this, or I could just accept that the HTML5 process isn't going to change.


  1. Anyone is welcome to participate in the WHATWG.

    1. Anyone is welcome to contribute, 'participation' is confined to WHATWG members only.

  2. I should have qualified that better, you are right to correct me. What I was trying to convey is that being a part of the W3C Community Groups doesn't allow you to participate in the process automatically. In short, nothing has changed on the participation front -- someone still must participate in WHATWG separately from W3C.