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The problem may well not be the process and a process based solution may
not fix it. The simple fact is by its nature, the W3C is spending a lot
of time in experimental areas. They are blazing new ground, and that's a
However any pioneering organization like the W3C is likely to have at
least as many failures as successes, probably more. Clearly the W3C has
had both. While we can tweak the process here and there to try to make
success a little more likely, I think no matter what process is used
there are sure to be some truly spectacular failures. Sometimes when you
reach for the sky, you fall back to earth with a pretty resounding thud.
But that doesn't mean we should stop reaching. Sometimes we do make it,
and I think the W3C's successes are more important than its failures.
Perhaps all we need to change is the attitude and belief that a W3C spec
cannot be allowed to fail. In effect, it is extremely hard for the W3C
to recognize failure and either not recommend or unrecommend a bad spec.
In fact, I can think of only one case in which a major spec effort
failed to produce a final spec. (xpointer scheme) and even that was only
a partial failure. Several other parts of XPointer did advance to Rec.
I can think of numerous other cases where the problems with a spec were
blatant, obvious, and actively acknowledged by the community, in which
probably half of the people considering the spec believed it to be
fundamentally flawed, and yet it advanced to REC anyway (Namespaces,
schemas, XForms). In the first two cases, I think experience has shown
the doubters to be correct. The jury's still out on the third.
I can only think of one case where, to my recollection, there wasn't a
lot of early dissent, but experience proved the spec to be badly flawed
The W3C is not the only organization with this problem, of course. The
JCP also has some issues, as does OASIS. In all cases the problem seems
to be a failure to acknowledge outsider resistance and an unwillingness
to allow a spec to die. In my experience, if half the community is
telling you a spec is good, and half is saying it's not, then the half
deriding the spec is far more likely to be correct and their opinions
need to be given more weight when deciding whether or not to go to REC.
Elliotte Rusty Harold firstname.lastname@example.org
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