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   Re: Open Standards Processes

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  • From: len bullard <cbullard@hiwaay.net>
  • To: Tim Bray <tbray@textuality.com>
  • Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998 13:05:36 -0500

Tim Bray wrote:

> To be fair, while the structure is a bit weird on the face of it, there's
> a good reason.  Namely, a consortium such as W3C is highly vulnerable to
> litigation on antitrust and restraint-of-trade; anyone whose business
> plan goes up in smoke because the W3C blessed something incompatible might
> be inclined to sue, whether or not this is reasonable, simply hoping to
> be bought off.  If you look closely, legally, the W3C hardly exists
> at all - there is a structure of contracts with MIT, Inria, and Keio,
> and the decision-making is de jure done by one individual whom it would
> be worth no-one's while to sue.
> In practice, the W3C management and staff do pay careful attention to
> the views of its members. -Tim

It is understood. I don't attribute the problems to maliciousness 
or conspiracy.  Immaturity and inexperience are the likely culprits.

I remember saying to Connoly et al some years ago that to make the 
HTML/HTTP systems work and remain open (the subject was the predatory 
practices of MS at the time), they would have to become monks 
vowing poverty.  Sounds like that was the solution but hasn't worked. 
(BTW:  not pounding on MS.  They have played by the rules in XML.  It 
is the rules of the W3C that are flawed.  They suit the egos of 
some and the needs of the owners, but ultimately, are destructive.)

The issue is the openness of the process, the lack of which paralyzes 
competition.  Too often the excuse "Internet time" disallows 
careful consideration in open forum.  Yet, Internet time also 
makes it too easy for any company to get the kind of market lead 
that eliminates competition.  Only a very experienced and 
resourceful company such as MS was able to withstand and overcome
the lead of NS in the browser market.  As the twig is bent...

Results and means are both important.  As was feared originally, 
the closure of the XML process enabled it to achieve the necessary 
technical standard, but at a cost of the openness which characterized  
the goals, the means, and the individuals whose staunch ethics with 
regards to their work made SGML one of the truly independent 
standards.  One price of this was SGML's disregard for the 
implementation/systemic requirements.   The consequence of this 
has been discussed elsewhere.

Yet the results of XML may be more limited, for while it has 
a perceived new quality, it is still essentially the work of 
Dr. Goldfarb, et al with systemic extensions.  Granted, the 
tactic of renaming and representing it as an emerging technology 
freed it from the hobbling effects of years of standards 
wrangling followed by the well-promoted misconceptions of 
those who designed HTML/HTTP, it has been at the cost of 
surrendering it to the kind of domination which Dr. Goldfarb 
and the ISO working groups resisted even at great personal 

Markup, by design, frees the information.  XML, 
by accident or design, may result in a monopoly on 
the means of production.   This is at the heart of the 
DOJ actions.  The consortium members would be well 
served by scrupulous records and public view of the 
XML process should these actions ever be cited in 
well-financed and well-executed legal actions.  That 
such records may not exist can be laid at the feet 
of the chair, the process rules, and unwillingness 
or inability to function in the open.

So, perhaps monkdom is the only solution.  It probably 
takes practice to be a good monk and The Director et al 
may not have mastered the practice.  Lawsuits have no 
regard for the ability to recoup damages.  They are often 
used simply to limit actions.  That is the learning curve 
that Bill Gates refers to.

Observing the DOJ actions of late, a friend and coworker 
observes that we may be entering a time when the societal 
impact of complex technologies which overlap the demands 
of law and contractual obligation will spawn a judiciary 
specialized in the adjudication of technical suits.  In other 
words, lawyers with CS degrees, essentially, Dr. Goldfarb's 
background.  I don't think the computer scientists are ready 
for the rigor of the juris disciplines.

If the standards process is not reopened after this highly 
bizarre and somewhat unethical heisting of the international 
process, I do think that the W3C will become entangled in the 
suits emerging from the DOJ.   The VRML Consortium has a 
much better model and it will behoove the Director to learn 
from it.  The recommendations I made in the earlier post are 

How odd that some will say "The HTML experience taught us 
the futility of the open list process" when apparently that 
process worked and produced a winning solution.

len bullard

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