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Misplaced Anger: A Rebuttal to Zeldman’s Criticism of the W3C

By Molly E. Holzschlag | July 26th, 2006 | Filed in General, W3C/Standards Documentation, Web Standards (general)

There’s been discussion in the community about unrest at the W3C. This isn’t exactly news to most, particularly if you’ve been following the WCAG 2.0 saga. This time, however, the criticism comes from a strong voice, none other than Jeffrey Zeldman.

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In his article An Angry Fix Jeffrey Zeldman writes:

“Alas, the organization appears unconcerned with our needs and uninterested in tapping our experience and insights. It remains a closed, a one-way system. Like old-fashioned pre-cable TV advertising. Not like the web.”

While I’m certain it appears that the W3C is this way to most people (heck, it always appeared that way to me before) now that I’ve spent some time experiencing the W3C from the inside I understand with a lot more clarity why the W3C is the way it is.

Am I defending the W3C’s slow-to-move process or its over-bureaucratized administration? Its lack of attention and sensitivity to gender (count the women, go ahead, dare you) and racial diversity, its frightening disregard for the real needs of the workaday Web world? Oh no, nor would I want to.

What I will defend is the fact that the W3C is, in my experience, actually opening up to new things rather than closing down as Zeldman and others have suggested. The CSS Working Group is finally aware that it must include at least one classically trained artist and graphic designer on the team. Has that taken a really long time to accomplish? Yes, but it’s happening, and that’s a good thing.

There might be strife but there’s still a fundamental passion and care about the Web at large. There’s evidence, too: A panel on microformats wouldn’t have been top of the W3C Tech Plenary Day in February if people hadn’t appreciated the hard work done by contributors working inside as well as outside the organization.

I also believe that the W3C suffers from a certain shyness. You, whoever you are, can get involved if you just ask. Get on a list and participate. Email a Working Group chair, ask to show up at a meeting. I’d be shocked if your interest was turned away, at least in all the groups I’ve ever participated in. There’s just not a lot of outreach going on, which is and always has been a fundamental flaw of the organization.

Jeffrey is wrong in his current assessment of the W3C. Clearly, there are a lot of reasons to dislike the organization, and surely we shouldn’t put all our standards attention to an organization that is known to be filled with difficulties. But the reasons Jeffrey cites aren’t the ones I’d choose as being up for criticism, knowing what I do at this point.

The W3C has been more open to a new breed of interested people than ever before. Slowly, yes, and perhaps only in certain sectors. But it is only perceived as a closed system. It isn’t one, but you have to have the initiative.

Hell, they let me in, and you all know I’m just plain TRBL.

Your Replies

#1 On July 26th, 2006 8:59 am