The Widening HTML5 Chasm

By Simon St. Laurent
February 15, 2010 | Comments: 61

Update: I recommend anyone interested in this check out Sam Ruby's explanation of what happened. (He's one of the HTML5 WG co-chairs.)

[These are solely my opinions, not any kind of official statement from O'Reilly Media, Inc.]

Every now and then something comes up so wrong that it's time to put aside my pleasant retirement from the web standards process and get out the high horse again.

This time it's the spin that WHATWG folks have been pushing about "Adobe's secret hold":

the latest publication of HTML5 is now blocked by Adobe, via an objection that has still not been made public

I'm alternately laughing and crying at claims that Adobe, Larry Masinter in particular, has put a "secret hold" on HTML5. It's just like the US Senate, right? Individuals and corporations insisting that their position is so important that it has to block everything else?

No, not really. The sanest complete description of what's going on appears to be here, listing Masinter's objections to the publications that he believes are out of scope based on the HTML Working Group Charter and pointing out that claims that these objections block HTML5 itself don't make sense, a point reiterated here.

Who am I to say such things?

I'm very confused to be defending Adobe and the W3C here. That's not my normal role.

One of the happiest days of my life came when I decided I had had enough of tilting at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)'s windmills, signed out of xml-dev, and focused on other projects. I'd worked on a site keeping track of W3C work, enjoyed promoting news that caused turmoil at the W3C, questioned the model of expert-driven rather than community-driven standards, wrote a guide to help outsiders understand the mysterious and broken workings of the W3C, and spent countless hours at odd places like the www-tag list attempting to convince the W3C of its many technical and political sins. I mostly failed, I think.

I've also been a harsh critic of efforts to expand the importance of Flash, and my last interactions with Adobe's Larry Masinter involved jousting over MIME types and Borges. Sam Ruby, a current chair of the W3C HTML WG, complained that I was spitting out the seeds he was trying to plant.

On top of all that, I'm a big fan of HTML5 in practice and the new projects it's letting me take up. A large part of me just wants it done.

Despite that, I simply can't find sympathy - any sympathy - for Hickson's position. In his position as editor, he hasn't needed any "secret holds" - he just controls the specification. This is a process, after all, that's inspired more than a few CSSquirrel episodes, and unleashed the remarkably foul (NSFW) Mr. Last Week, who'd probably be more effective if he just published IRC transcripts without the dada commentary.

The most difficult aspect of W3C process, beyond the simple fact that there is a process, is that it includes stakeholders in the Web who aren't necessarily the people who want to follow a given leader's direction. They're not exclusively implementers. They have their own opinions, motives, interests, and needs. They're supposed to ask difficult questions about specifications under development, ask hard questions about things like whether a project is still operating within its scope or not, and expect actual change to emerge in documents as a result of discussion. Friction is a key part of the process.

The W3C process hasn't worked in HTML5. Partly it's because HTML5 is managed by two separate organizations, the W3C and the WHATWG. As the WHATWG site puts it, "The W3C HTML working group and the WHATWG are working on the same specification, with the same editor." That editor, Ian Hickson, is not only editing a document, but "is acting as a spokesman for the [WHATWG] group." In practice, that has largely meant that Hickson does what he wants to do. As Jeni Tennison once put it:

So with HTML5, we have a situation where the Designer has decided not to design by consensus, and has very different priorities from the members of the Semantic Web community. The benefit is a certain level of consistency of approach with HTML5 (as much as that's possible with the legacy constraint). The cost is that the Semantic Web community, indeed any community with different priorities from the Designer, can have very little input into that design, and this causes a whole load of conflict.

Consensus, for better or worse, has been the heart of the W3C approach for a long time now, and the task of the editor on a W3C project has long been to reflect that consensus. I've complained in the past about overly determined W3C projects led by their editors, but this appears to be a whole new level of this issue. As Larry Masinter puts it in one of the "secret" messages:

My personal observation is that the current HTML5 process combines the worst elements of the IETF process and the W3C process. From the IETF, there is the chaos of an open mailing list, wide ranging comments and free participation, but without the "adult supervision" that the IETF supplies in the form of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) and the area directors. From the W3C, there is the overhead and cost of W3C activity management and staff, and a process that assumes that voting members actually have a say in the final specification, but without any actual responsibility or response to normal W3C safeguards and cross-checks.

So what now?

Ideally, I'd like to see the W3C take its consensus-based process seriously, and the WHATWG agree to abide by that.

Realistically, I just can't see either part of that happening. The W3C is too willing to bend; the WHATWG too unwilling. That seems to leave two options:

  • The W3C continues its wobbly HTML5 process, lending its imprimatur to a specification over which it has little real control, or

  • The WHATWG decides that the W3C's imprimatur isn't worth the effort of the process, drops the cooperation with the W3C, and fractures the HTML world severely.

I suspect that in the end, the WHATWG will take choice #2, likely because W3C members (like Adobe) rightly insist that the W3C behave like the organization it's claimed to be all these years. After all, no less than the Chair of the W3C HTML Working Group has called in the past for "A Bias For Action," writing:

The way that these disputes tend to get resolved in Apache is that somebody steps up to the plate and builds the darn thing as best as they can and solicits input in the form of "patches" (tangible suggestions in the form of working code). The original code provided is generally not important - it tends to get refactored away anyway into oblivion. What is important is that it focuses discussion into the form of constructive and tangible input.

That's not so far from the WHATWG approach, after all. While I do think a separation would be a disaster for the W3C's credibility as well as the WHATWG's ability to influence what Microsoft and other companies outside the WHATWG core do in its browsers, I can't help but forecast that result. I'd like to be wrong, but fear I'm not.

HTML5 will be damaged, its credibility weakened, but will still be important, one way or another.

You might also be interested in:


“Consensus, for better or worse, has been the heart of the W3C approach for a long time now, and the task of the editor on a W3C project has long been to reflect that consensus.”

Right, but what did that produce in terms of advancing HTML? As I understand it, it produced XHTML. In other words, nothing. (Because XHTML was the same language as HTML, with a different syntax, and because Internet Explorer still doesn’t parse XHTML as XML, so you don’t actually get any difference from HTML at all.)

As an HTML author, I’d rather have a process that moves HTML along. The only process that actually does that is the process of browser vendors writing code. Adobe isn’t a browser vendor, so I’m not really clear why they should get a say in how the canvas tag works.

I agree with the comment above. It's time to move forward. Consensus is keeping the open web back. 10 years without progress shows that the W3C can't handle it. So enough is enough. I rather see a good ditactor than a bad democracy.

The HTMLWG is working on HTML5, and the Canvas 2D Context API is part of that work - even though it was split out of the main HTML5 document (to make it more *modular*):

"This specification is an extension to the HTML5 language"

Larry Masinter appeared to make a formal objection to publishing 2D Context (and Microdata and RDFa) in the next round of FPWDs, behind the W3C's paywall. HTMLWG work is conducted in public.

"The message directly addressed to the [w3c] team did not contain the rational but Larry documented the rational for the objection at [paywalled w3-archive url]

Larry Masinter's actions also convinced others that a secret formal objection had been posted, eg 2 of the WG's co-chairs:

"So far as I am aware, any objections that have been made were in Member-only space and via private contact to the W3C Team."

"My understanding is that there is a formal objection that I have yet to see. Perhaps that's it, I honestly don't know. In any case, I have asked that it be posted to this list."

Larry's objection email was eventually posted to the public list. Given the outrage his actions created, he didn't really have a choice.

All I can say is be careful what you wish for.

I actually agree with you on most of this. Paul Waite misses out on a simple fact, although Adobe doesn't 'code browsers' they are the main tool provider and thanks partly to its Macromedia acquisition an industry leader in the field; in this you must accept that they will play a pivotal role with the browser developers in bringing around a proper formal structure to this specification and development of the modules required for it to work.
If we side step the sniping politics and Ian Hickson making vague "revelations" that are more twisted and bent of shape then a tabloid newspaper story; it's Google, Microsoft and Mozilla that will, through browser development, lead the actual specification to fruition. Its really these leaders, or c/c++/js geeks, that will define what will and wont work in the web, these people that will agree consensus through developing modules that behave in the same manner that will push (x)html5 forwards... not Hicksons sh*t-stirring.
Adobe have big stakes in Flash, and regardless of HTML5' CANVAS tag, Flash will be around for a long time as an impressive tool for creating interactive experiences, and as a fall-back for none-html5 ready browsers in the event of video; I don't see anything in Masinters' email that looks to be trying to crush the web with some imaginary giant, godlike, adobe fist. Their influence is large but they have nowhere near as much control in the future of the web as Microsoft or Google or Mozilla; Microsoft develop their own web development suite now so they can tool it as they please; Microsoft also has a vested interest in Silverlight which going off allot of the complaining would put them in the same boat as Adobe with regards embedded interactive media components v CANVAS/VIDEO.
I don't really see any good that could come from the 'whatwg' stopping its work with the W3C, other than creating another divide that will in all likeliness kill off whatwg and have little affect on HTML5 other than removing a certain amount of community input.


"It's time to move forward."


"I rather see a good ditactor than a bad democracy."

Ahh, see this is exactly the problem. If the BDFL just so happens to be named Guido or Linus then I absolutely agree with your point. But we're not taking about Guido or Linus. We're talking about Ian Hixie who has continued to prove time and time again that HTML5 is /his/ specification and it's his opinion and his opinion alone that defines what makes it into the spec and what does not.

And this is exactly where the problem with the HTML5 spec development process exists as to become a truly effective BDFL -- one in which trumps the power and benefits that come with a more democratic approach -- you have to be consistent with pushing out code to match your ideas in a steady, progressive pace using the "release early, release often" approach to ensure the ideas that drive the software design are thoroughly tested by a large body of developers dedicated to ensuring the end result matches the stated goals that were put in place by the BDFL at the beginning of the iterative process and the ideas behind the design of the code work not only in theory, but in practice too which, once proven, can then be used as the basis for the official specification rather than the other way around.

In other words, an effective BDFL defines the initial focus and then writes software to match which, once proven to be sound, can then be used as the basis for the official specification, not a specification that then acts as the basis of building the software to prove the specification is sound.

As to your original point:

"It's time to move forward."

Absolutely! And the way to move it forward is to get each and every one of the key stake holders in whom have a vested interest in a completed specification to push things forward using an iterative development process, using real world code and resulting product as the basis of debate for defining the final specification in which, once ratified, can be used to make the final finishing touches on a mature, well tested code base to ensure proper compliance.

Wow, that's a lot of quotes. Here's another one (from , the official minutes from the February 11th teleconference of the W3C HTML Working Group):

masinter: do I need to repeat objections?
paulc: the co-chairs are aware of the formal objection
rubys: it would be helpful to repeat the objection
paulc: it would be helpful to people who aren't reading w3-archive email
plh: we won't approve the FPWDs until the FO is resolved
masinter: sure, i'll forward my comment on scope
paulc: plh and larry, can you post the FO on the public-html list and the affects on the plans?
(plh and larry each agree)

For those of you playing along at home, "masinter" is Adobe's official representative on the W3C HTML Working Group; "paulc" and "rubys" are the co-chairs of the W3C HTML Working Group; "plh" works for the W3C; "w3-archive" is a members-only mailing list in the W3C that is not only not viewable by the public, it is not viewable by the hundreds of non-W3C-members who have been invited to the W3C HTML Working Group.

Oh, and "Simon St. Laurent" is apparently some guy with a blog who enjoys cherry-picking quotes from a bunch of other blogs that fit his preconceptions. But don't let that stop you from reading the primary sources for yourself, where you will clearly see that on February 11th, the co-chairs of the W3C HTML Working Group were trying to convince Adobe's official representative to make public the Formal Objection that he had previously only made on a members-only mailing list, a Formal Objection which the W3C representative said would have to be resolved before the W3C would agree to publish the W3C HTML Working Group's working drafts.

If Ian and others were concerned about a few IRC blurbs, recorded second hand from a teleconference, a quick email to the HTML WG would have provided all the clarification they needed.

It worked for me.

But no, it's so much more fun to indulge in posts and other communications, rank with innuendo, seeking only to disrupt or harm.

Makes one wonder what Google has to gain from all of this?

Mark writes:

'Oh, and "Simon St. Laurent" is apparently some guy with a blog who enjoys cherry-picking quotes from a bunch of other blogs that fit his preconceptions.'

Actually, it's pretty easy to find out who I am. I guess my bona fides failed to impress? Or are you simply not interested? From the dismissal, I'm guessing the latter.

I don't find those transcript particularly startling, or anywhere close to grounds for the firestorm of "oh my god Adobe and the W3C are blocking progress on everything" that we've seen. Perhaps it's hard to be shocked after following the WHATWG IRC channels for a while. That may well have hardened me.

I've been following the XHTML and HTML5 sagas for a long time, and have to say that at this point, I'm extremely comfortable with my "preconceptions" and the distances between theory and practice at both the W3C and the WHATWG.

I'm at all sure who you are, though, so it's hard to judge your preconceptions.

You don't know who Mark Pilgrim is, or his 'bona fides'?

Another guy who works for Google?

If he'd actually identified as Mark Pilgrim, then yes, of course I'd know who he was.

But just "Mark"? Could be one of lots of people. Or was, until I asked on Twitter and @diveintomark / Mark Pilgrim confirmed that yes, these were his comments.

Mark: w3-archive is not members-only. It is a public list. Larry (Masinter)'s Formal Objection from Feb 5th is here:

Anyone who takes a minimal interest in W3C politics knows that, and checking the archives isn't too much to ask. The existence and nature of the complaint was public knowledge the moment the transcript you quote was published.

Richard - w3-archive and www-archive are not the same thing. w3-archive is not a public list.

Thanks Doug, I didn't realize that they are different. But at any rate, Larry Masinter posted his objection to www-archive (the public one) on February the 5th, see the link in my comment above. I don't know if there was some separate thread happening on w3-archive, or if paulc in was confused like me in the transcript that Mark quoted.

Richard Cyganiak:

There was a separate thread on the private w3c-archive list, apparently. Don't know for certain because it's, er, private...

The earlier message from Larry Masinter on the 5th Feb to the public www-archive list that you're referring to was addressed by PLH here:

Touché Mark :D

""w3-archive" is a members-only mailing list in the W3C that is not only not viewable by the public, it is not viewable by the hundreds of non-W3C-members who have been invited to the W3C HTML Working Group."

w3-archive is a publicly viewable mailing list, and the hundreds of non-W3c-members who care a minimum about the future of HTML should have been subscribed to it for a long time already.

Wrong. See Doug's reply above.

You're right on that, I made a mistake. Clearer with a link though:

It still remains that, with or without that mythical discussion on the private mailing-list, the core argument is whether or not a WG can decide by itself of its charter (and scope) (the answer is "no"), and whether or not there is a formal objection (since a Formal Objection is by definition public, the answer is, again, "no").

So we have a bunch of grumpy XHTML 2.0 people at W3C that Adobe now is playing to help them block HTML5.

I dont understand why Adobe is in the HTML5 working group? Just look at todays news ... Adobe is pushing Flash 10.1 everywhere - competing with HTML5.

Where do I leave my, formal or whatevz, objection to Adobe sitting in the Working Group? I find it very hard to beleive someone accepted them into that group.

Wilhelm, unlike the WhatWG group, which restricts membership to an elite few friends of Ian Hickson, everyone is invited to be a participant in the shaping of HTML in the HTML WG. It doesn't belong to a few browser developers.

The HTML WG brings in people from the accessibility community, HTML tools developers, Content Management System developers, those with interest in web graphics and semantics. web page authors, developers, designers, and yes, browser developers--we are all stake holders in the future of HTML.

Oh, and next time try reading what Simon wrote: Adobe did _not_ block HTML5.

I am saddened that the same people who, seemingly, celebrate open source would advocate some form of dictatorship from an elite few when it comes to a specification that impacts on so many of us.

> the WhatWG group, which restricts membership to an elite few friends of Ian Hickson


Do not confuse participation with membership - WHATWG is very clear that membership is by invitation only, and those invited are from Google, Mozilla, Apple, and Opera.

Membership is by invitation only, and consists of a number of representatives from various browser manufacturers.

Adobe is not a member, nor Microsoft (nor Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, Oracle, Yahoo!, Amazon, the myriad of web companies we rely on daily - from twitter to 37signals - nor any government or public-service organization). Sure, you can subscribe to their mailing list, and even drop in on the Cabal's IRC channel, but that doesn't make you a member, simply an observer.

Trusting 3 or 4 companies to get a technology so important to the world as html5 will be is a tall order, and a foolish 'hope'; their own commercial interests *do* shape their decisions and processes (maliciously or not), and to think otherwise is akin to burying your head in the sand. The canvas attribute came fully emerged from Apple, was blessed by Hixie and Co., and inserted into the spec. Oops... then we discovered that canvas, iteration 1, was totally and completely inaccessible - in fact it still is inaccessible but thanks to work happening inside of the W3C, it might very well be so one day very soon.

Yet WHATWG claims that 'HTML5' is done, ready, into Last Call (, and away you go... just in time for the iPad, and Google Wave, Buzz and YouTube's roll-out of video. But does YouTube's video implementation work in Firefox? Nope. So is HTML5 ready then? You decide.

I believe that what you have is a document that is essentially a Beta document - great to play with, and in some ways a very good indication of where we are headed. But for HTML5 to be truly legitimate, organizations who' multi-billion dollar fortunes rest on getting this right, or governments and NGO's using the web to communicate with their constituents effectively, and without discrimination - for those stake holders the W3C is the only game in town, and any member of the W3C has a right to say, "hang on a minute, have we missed anything?"

I mean, shouldn't they have that right too? Or is it all Hixie, all the time, and screw the dissenters?

What attribute would that be?

He was talking about canvas and video, I think - I just went through his comment and removed some angle brackets that made the element/attribute names disappear.

Sorry about that!

"Wilhelm, unlike the WhatWG group, which restricts membership to an elite few friends of Ian Hickson, everyone is invited to be a participant in the shaping of HTML in the HTML WG. It doesn't belong to a few browser developers."

Nice bit of semantic tap-dancing, there, Shelley. 'Member" in WHAT-WG is compared to 'Participant' in the W3C's HTML WG.

Participation in both groups claims to be open to whoever wants to participate, but membership in both is quite restricted. But in point of fact, I've sent email with comments/suggestions/info requests to both organizations, but the WHAT-WG is the only one that replied, the only one that appears to even have heard what I had to say. (Even more interesting when you consider that one of the topics I was responding to was a request on the w3's own site.)

Given that, it seems clear at least to me that the WHAT-WG process is more open to participation by we poor slobs that will have to make the result work in the field than the W3C, whose attention span seems limited by the size of the speaker's checkbook.

It's a little more complicated than that.

The WHATWG is more open at the organizational level to public participation, but has a much smaller core membership group that actually has the power to make decisions. Real decision making is very tightly limited to a few people and a few companies. (And somedays it really does seem that Ian Hickson just does whatever.)

The W3C is less open to public participation, only going that route on specific projects, but has a much larger membership group at its core. The power of that group is more diffuse, but it does include a lot more people.

The WHATWG may well "shift decision power to technology providers", but for some reason they thought that having the W3C's imprimatur would be useful - and to be honest, I'd much rather have decision power more broadly spread than that.

Exactly. Both the W3C and the WHATWG, at their core, have a single entity (in the W3C, the Director, although he often delegates to the Team; in WHATWG, the Members, although they often delegate to Ian).

The rest of us are Participants (in both cases), and ultimately, the only recourse we have is to walk away if we don't like what that entity decides. Both of them say they'll pay attention to our concerns, etc., but at the end of the day they call the shots.

From this 100,000-foot perspective, the most obvious difference between them is that the W3C is a separate legal entity (actually an agreement between three "hosts," but that's mostly details), whereas WHATWG, AFAICT, is just a loose consortium between employees of major browser vendors, Microsoft excepted (a caveat that I suspect is giving Google and Apple's anti-trust lawyers ulcers).

As such, the scope of the WHATWG -- just browsers, explicitly -- is causing a lot of people who work on servers, networks, intermediaries and other components of the Web concern.

As I understand the WHAT-WG process (and I could easily be wrong) there's a two fold decision-making process in place. One part depends on how well, technologically, you make your case, even if you're the only voice. But lurking behind this is a "veto power", because unless at least three of the major browser engines (IE, WebKit, Mozilla, Opera) commit to supporting a feature, it's dropped from consideration. As with Ogg v H.264, or some other things along the way. The theory is there's no point in putting it in the standard if the browser makers won't salute it.

And that's a real issue in all of this. Bottom line is what goes in the standard isn't all that relevant. It's what get supported in the browser that really matters.

Richard: I believe Mark is referring to the list containing messages such as these:

Furthermore, this e-mail ( indicates that the e-mail you reference is not actually a formal objection.

Finally, this e-mail ( appears to be a reposting in a public mailing list of what Adobe's official issues are. Whether that e-mail is a formal objection or not, I could not say.

After refreshing, I see that I have been ninja'd somewhat, but hopefully this will serve as a summary.

I chaired a W3C WG a decade ago, and this sounds depressingly familiar: a big W3C member company can hold a spec hostage almost indefinitely behind the curtain, while choosing an innocent- or even noble-sounding excuse and maintaining plausible deniability in public. It wasn't Adobe doing that in my day, but the song was the same.

I don't think it matters all that much, though. Standards groups are like superstitious sports fans, believing that their private rituals control how major events turn out. When a spec succeeds, it's usually only because it's something people were ready to do anyway (think CSS, XSLT, DOM, SAX, etc.). Neither the W3C nor WHATWG is powerful enough to make something like HTML5 happen if people aren't ready to do it, nor is Adobe powerful enough to block something like HTML5 if people are ready.

Now it's time for me to shave using only my left hand, chant "Go Team Canada" 10 times while turning counter-clockwise, and skip every third step on my way downstairs ...

When the only members of WHATWG are employees of companies that are W3C members, what meaningful distinction is there?

And since W3C has copyright publishing rights, you can rest assured that it will publish an HTML5 spec as a W3C Recommendation, with key issues about accessibility, extensibility, and other matters resolved, and under a Royalty-Free license (something WHATWG can't provide).

As far as shipping implementations influencing the spec, that's always been the case with W3C specs, for better or worse (see , and earlier drafts of HTML that specified what was already implemented). You seem to think that's always a bad thing, but often it's great... it proves it can be done, and it provides a reference implementation.

Masinter is engaged in procedural sabotage rationalized by "2d graphics" not being in "scope". If you read the WHAT-WG's charter you won't find "text" or "video" in scope, but you will see that documentation of the DOM APIs for everything in HTML5, including the canvas element one assumes, is an explicit deliverable.

Here's the charter -- it's quite readable:

Look under scope. Yes "2d graphics" isn't there, but neither is "text", "audio", or "fonts".

Look under deliverables: "Document Object Model (DOM) interfaces providing APIs for such a language." Where 'the language' is HTML5, so the API would in the case of canvas be the canvas API. Is this really very complicated?

So basically this is all, essentially, either (1) Adobe having the unique insight into the charter that the fact that "2d graphics" are not explicitly mentioned in the charters means that documenting how the tag works is out of scope, or (2) filibustering.

No, he's not. He has a valid point about scope which warrants further discussion. See Shelley's comment at February 16, 2010 10:35 AM.

Paul Waite misses out on a simple fact, although Adobe doesn't 'code browsers' they are the main tool provider and thanks partly to its Macromedia acquisition an industry leader in the field; in this you must accept that they will play a pivotal role with the browser developers in bringing around a proper formal structure to this specification and development of the modules required for it to work.


they are the main tool provider

What, because they make Dreamweaver?

thanks partly to its Macromedia acquisition an industry leader in the field

Sorry, do they lead an industry, or a field? What is that industry/field? The Flash field? They’re the leader in that, because they make the Flash plugin. I don’t want them to ask for consensus every time they want to make a change to how the Flash plugin works. They just ship code.

With HTML, because we’ve got more than one company shipping HTML renderers, I want those companies to agree how HTML is going to work, so that I don’t have to write different HTML for different renderers.

you must accept that they will play a pivotal role with the browser developers in bringing around a proper formal structure to this specification

Again, why? Because they make Dreamweaver? Are they going to have trouble making an authoring tool for canvas with the spec as it stands?

As I understand it, Adobe reckons RDFa, Microdata and canvas are out of scope for HTML5. I may have the wrong end of the stick, but I thought canvas was one of the first things in what’s become the HTML5 spec, because Apple implemented it, and others followed suit. As there are implementations out there, seems like a good idea to get them standardised.

Adobe is a company that basically has many stakes in the browser world but not a company that is very active in either developing its own browser or contributing much to the development of one of several browser open source projects. That makes them a stakeholder on the sideline. And since browser related development tooling is their core business, I would say that is really the result of a decade plus of not putting their money where their mouth is. A choice.

So, "Adobe reckons RDFa, Microdata and canvas are out of scope for HTML5". Tough for them. To bad they don't develop browsers. Otherwise they could opt to not implement those things. The reason they don't like it is because canvas removes the need for their non standard flash component, which is conveniently beyond the control of W3C or indeed any other standardization body. Indeed, Apple is shipping its iphone without flash now for the simple reason it believes it is no longer essential. That must hurt.

So, the fact of the matter is that Adobe is using their bought influence in W3C to frustrate the progress of a standard they don't implement because it competes with proprietary products they sell. It would be very sad indeed if that would work. MS used to depend on the same strategy. This was the direct reason for the formation of the whatwg since the W3C had been reduced to a paper pushing toothless tiger. The whatwg is of course not free from politics but it shifts decision power to technology providers instead of sidelined competitors with an explicit interest in seeing standards fail in the market.

Ugly but it helps to spell it out. Now WHATWG going its own way would reduce the W3C to its former self. Already there are clear signs that things relevant to the world wide web such as security standards (OAuth, OpenID) are moving around the W3C in favor of more agile and effective institutions. The IETF has been quite successful in scooping up several such standards and maturing them. Html5 is the most important standard under control of the W3C. Losing HTML5 would reduce the W3C to its former self, which was a failing institution that rarely publishes standards that matter.

You might want to actually read the facts associated with this event before you repeat the populist "Adobe is teh evil" rant. And if Adobe is evil, then so am I because I've been protesting the same thing as the Adobe rep, for months: the Canvas element and API belongs in the more topically related W3C graphics group; RDFa-in-HTML belongs with the topically related RDFa group. I suppose Microdata can stay in the HTML WG, because I don't know where else it would go.

(Frankly, I think a better home for Microdata is with the Microformats organization.)

As for the W3C/WhatWG venture, and the possibility of the WhatWG going its own way will, it will, most likely, do so without the concurrence of several companies, including browser companies.

The W3C has both licensing and patent policies that allow companies to contribute to the specification, and know that one member won't be suing the other some time in the future. The WhatWG does not have this. The WhatWG isn't even a legal entity, as far as I know, nor does it have anything remotely approaching an organization or procedures that ensure concerns are addressed.

The W3C's organization membership lists in the hundreds, if not thousands. The WhatWG membership list can be counted on two hands, and the number of companies, counted on one. Don't have to take my word:

Most companies and organizations are not going to trust to anything under the auspices of such a casually maintained and loosely organized group.

Frankly, the WhatWG has a whole lot more to lose than the W3C. And, even if the WhatWG group has a hissy fit and pulls out, from my understanding, the W3C is committed to publishing HTML5--with or without the WhatWG.

As for how the HTML WG works, including the fact that it is probably the most open organizations of its kind, in the W3C and elsewhere--when you have so many different communities impacted by a standard, there is going to be contention. Yes, the specification would release more quickly if Ian "benevolent dictator" Hickson was given his way to edit as he sees fit. But he'd do so at the cost of support for a significant portion of those people who are impacted by the specification. The HTML standard is not just for the a small group of five browser companies.

If you're pissed at what you perceive as Adobe's supposed control, why would it be better if Apple were in control? Or Google? Are these two organizations more benevolent?

Interesting discussion really. The stated support for brute forcing people's concerns aside is not something I would have expected an O'Reilly reader to support. I must say, the comments to this post have been eye-opening.

Although Adobe does not ship a major browser it does ship Adobe AIR; a platform in which they _advocate_ cross platform applications written in HTML/CSS/Javascript. They are actively promoting the increasing use of open web technologies to create RIA's that can be compared in terms of interactivity with Flash or Flex.

I personally agree with Adobe's complaints; and I can't say for sure that they aren't simply blocking HTML5 because of flash but they are raising real concerns about the monolithic status of the HTML5 spec.

Ah, fair play, I’d forgotten about AIR.

Still, AIR uses WebKit as its HTML/JavaScript rendering engine, right? And that’s open source? So (as mentioned elsewhere) they can fork it and do something different if they don’t like the way HTML5 is going.

(Obviously that leads to less standardisation, and more work for folks like me, but if their implementation gets popular, then others will follow suit. If it doesn’t, it’ll wither and die. Good old market forces. I think you get better feedback quicker by trying something in practice than by spending several years hypothesising about whether it’ll work.)

the Canvas element and API belongs in the more topically related W3C graphics group; RDFa-in-HTML belongs with the topically related RDFa group. I suppose Microdata can stay in the HTML WG, because I don't know where else it would go.

I’m having trouble understanding what Adobe’s objection actually is (probably because it hasn’t been published yet). What difference does it make where a spec “lives”? Does Adobe want different people working on these specs? If so, who, and why are they better than whoever’s working on it so far?

"I’m having trouble understanding what Adobe’s objection actually is (probably because it hasn’t been published yet). What difference does it make where a spec “lives”?"

It would matter if your competitive strategy includes a divide and conquer tactic to isolate and then block elements of standards that frustrate the profitability and market domination of your proprietary business model. Once the elements are split off and isolated, they can be delayed quietly with minimal impact on other commercial entities involved in the process thus ensuring their tacit complicity and less public protest. I don't know Adobe's real reasons for raising this objection now. But I do know that they they have a significant commercial interest threatened by some features of HTML 5--the very ones they want moved. Coincidence? If you believe that, I have a beach front cottage in Arizona for sale you might be interested in. I do know from experience that few successful commercial entities act against their own interests. Neither do their employees. So despite the excuses. Motive and opportunity sure fit. All that said, Adobe is not evil--they are a self-interested corporation as are Apple and Google. None of them should rule standards bodies nor should they all wield strong influence. But they all do. I am slowly of the opinion that standards are like sausages: ugly being made, profitable for the makers, and not made with the health of the consumer in mind most of the time.

PS The W3C has posted an overview of its procedures and policies relating to this event:

I think the Senate analogy is perfect. With a supermajority necessary to bring anything to fruition, the dictatorship of the minority party is complete. Adobe has lots of interest in retarding HTML 5, and as far as I can tell, only some mealy-mouthed "agreement" that it "should happen." In practice, they say no. Let 'em. Publish the standard.

No, the Senate analogy is a poor one. The Senate doesn't have a quasi-governmental organization usurping their power and throwing bombs into the middle of their process.

The W3C is a slow, plodding system driven by rules and process that fails to deliver on their promise, only on creating more process. The WHAT WG is a quasi-dictatorship driven by a cult of personality and an underlying belief that only the Chosen Few within the WHAT WG can truly bring order and reason to the Web.

Therefore, you could argue the W3C is the Old Republic, while the WHAT WG is the rising Empire.

Lest you be taken in by the Adobe apologists, you should go read the relevant articles on for yourselves. They're titled 'Publish {a list of things} as FPWDs', and 'clarification on Adobe blocking'. In fact, Larry Masinter, Adobe's representative to the W3C HTML5 WG, is seeking to specifically block Canvas 2D until some arbitrary future time when a competing document can be produced. Essentially he's trying to disassociate Canvas from HTML5, either by public perception or by standards process wankery. (Larry is also objecting to Microdata, which sucks as RDFa doesn't have an RDFa-in-HTML component yet and doesn't look like it will anytime soon.)

Also, Shelley above talks about how Canvas shouldn't be part of the W3C HTML5 WG's charter. That was decided, clearly and completely, over 2 years ago, and it is most definitely in scope.

Feel free to read through the public-html archives above. If you've ever sat in a meeting with someone who can't stop talking about the details of the process ('but you SAID you'd do it like THIS!') and focus on the actual work to be done, you'll recognize a lot of the posts, especially ones by Shelley.

Having blown way too much time reading the public-html mailing lists, trying to understand where all this comes from, I can't blame Hixie for his attitude towards the majority of them, although he controls it surprisingly well. IMO he's a fricking SAINT for not blowing up at the lot. The chair folk who I've read are decent people trying to get things done, and trying REALLY hard to work towards consensus, but various folks (Shelley, Larry, Krzysztof especially) are way more interested in making process nits and griping than Getting Things Done.

tl;dr version. Adobe's representative is objecting to Canvas2D indefinitely. Canvas2D is an integral part of HTML5, but Adobe's representative is trying to claim that they AREN'T objecting to HTML5, just HTML5 with the canvas element.

Gee, that makes me feel so much better.

So because they bought the company that makes Dreamweaver, a truly crappy HTML generation tool, they get to play process wonkery games against the canvas element, the thing which might break their Flash lock on graphical interactive content?

Awesome. The W3C is so smart.

Thankfully it appears many browser developers are building to the WHAT-WG spec, and are not waiting for the W3C to go through its motions.

Roger, I don't believe I've ever argued against any technical idea purely by „making process nits and griping”. I always try to give technical arguments the highest prominence. Nevertheless, the process (and especially predefined scopes of work, aligned for the important sake of modularization and orthogonality with those assigned to other W3C groups and external bodies) is there to guide the technical work and ensure some basic sanity checks and balances. It's supposed to help most of the time, and looking from perspective at some past endeavours, following it was really the right thing to do. As soon as it becomes more of an obstacle than help, propose to amend it and build agreement around your proposal in the W3C community.
I'd also like you to know that my involvement in this effort is currently more superficial than I'd like to, because I'm very busy. I joined the WG because I saw how terribly wrong some things were going with the WHATWG. I post to public-html only when I consider something really urgent, taking into consideration the amount of text to write and how well others may state opinions concurrent with mine, or when I'm specifically called to reply. I expect to be able to focus more on standards and related stuff in some time from now and there are some ideas on the back burners of my mind I consider pretty big. So beware ;-).

Adobe may be motivated by selfish reasons but so are the browser makers. I am truly amazed how the browser makers managed to buy the loyalty of so many developers with a few new shiny trinkets.

To be fair, only three browser companies: Google, Apple, and Opera.

Both Microsoft and Mozilla have been staying out of all of this. Both companies have been quiet in this recent Adobe/HTMl5 discussion, and neutral in most other "political" discussion.

In fact, I rarely see anything from folks from either company that's not specifically focused on technology.

I'm pretty disappointed at how many people here have expressed an opinion that is contrary to having an Open specification process where many individuals and organizations can have an influence on the result. I always have wondered why so many technical folks are fans of such dictatorial processes.

Sure I don't think that Adobe has done much good for the open web. But the notion of excluding them from following a documented and consensus driven process because I might not like them seems awfully counter to "open" to me. Following the logic that because we don't like somebody we should exclude them gets us to a place that's arbitrary and certainly not open. It's like mob rules and Monty Python's Burn the witch!

Dave, I think that we're fans of "dictatorial processes" because we use the word "dictatorial" in tongue-in-cheek fashion. What we're really fans of are well-designed systems such as Python, XML, RELAX NG the Mac, REST, Java (the language), and XSLT that are created by one or a few wise people with a strong, shared vision. However these designs are not mandated or imposed on us. We choose to use them because they're good. Even if one person controls the spec, there are many specs to choose from (and usually for successful specs that one person knows when to listen to others).

The real dictatorial approach is when a bunch of companies get together behind closed doors to bang out a spec designed by committee that they plan to impose on the rest of the world by fiat, and assume that we will all bow down to their brilliance. This is the process that lead to W3C XML Schemas, SOAP, WSDL, DOM, Java (the libraries), most of the web services stack, desktop Linux, and much of the ugliness in the tech world.

As you'll note from the examples I pick, the W3C is not incapable of producing good work. However when they do it seems to be the case that the eventual spec still reflects the vision of a very small group of folks who were mostly ignored by the big players until it was too late. The only exception I can think of is XQuery; and while I like XQuery, I still wouldn't be surprised to see an individual with a strong vision produce a demonstrably better alternative.

Elliotte, it's not the "tongue-in-cheek" of it that bothers me personally. It's the hypocrisy of the process. If the browser makers would have come out and said "for reasons X and Y, we alone are going to shape the future of the Web", I would only be disappointed. But I am furious at the hypocrisy of calling HTML 5 an open process when it really is not.

People should pay attention to this comment. It pretty well sums up my impressions, too.

Using procedural methods to stop progress in a committee is a well known as a method of sabotage.

Let's be 100% clear here. Anything that decreased HTML5's capabilities or slows down it's adoption is good for Flash (and hence Adobe).

Canvas2D should be part of HTML5. There is no serious technical argument about that (the majority of browsers already support it). Objections to it are just delaying tactics.

(I read the Microdata objection as just a way to stir up the RDF crowd, who'll make a whole lot of noise again, of course)

If you want to interpret everything as a power play, you can. Standards often do work that way.

In this case, I'm not remotely convinced. Adobe certainly has less to lose by calling foul on the not-really-a-process and certainly not regular W3C process the HTML5 group has used, but these objections are hardly thermonuclear in the W3C context. I'd even call them too ordinary to be worth the news they've generated.

The only substantial power play I see in motion here is the WHATWG folks insisting that W3C process should get out of their way. That's nothing new, either - just a little better publicized this time.

I think this message sums it up nicely:

Larry uses procedural objection to avoid posting his emails to a public list.

Someone needs to dump the Member/w3c-archive/ on Wikileaks please!

Ah, N. It is an interesting post. However, the component is this, with my emphasis added:

I am the author of message 108 above, to a small list, including W3C Team members (but not WG chairs). The first line is "To the W3C Team". It concerns scope and "Status of This Document", a subject the chairs would rather not see discussed on public-html. "w3c-archive" was also cc'd.

That's not precisely a "procedural objection".

At this point it might be wise to have done everything in public, if only to calm down the paranoid streak you're trying to encourage, but that's never really been the W3C way.


Why should we think that any given person is better served by hixie determining the future of the web compared to Microsoft, Adobe, or (gasp) a truly open group? You pick just about any type of role, and I struggle with what makes Hixie domination better. For example, there's an awful lot of folks working on socket/hybi/long-poll/reversehttp/etc. that are up in arms over that part of "the future of the web". The list of oxes gored just goes on and on.

He has done enormously well at synthesizing a huge amount of input and producing a large volume of consistent specifications that follow certain architectural/design principles. Of course, the problem is that there's no room to disagree with those principles or scope of work!

If Mr. Hixie is able and willing to do this work and has earned the trust of most of the major browser implementors then I see no problem. Thank you Mr. Hixie. We *need* people that loves HTML to do this.

What is the alternative? The endless meanderings of the W3C committees? We have tried this. It didnt work. I have no trust in that model.

Right now the world needs HTML5. We cant all wait for Adobe to support our little internet devices with their Flash platform even if this is the alternative W3C offers us in the real world - while they are producing nothing but formalities.

So get HTML5 with Canvas out the door. And throw in Microdata just for good measure.

The W3C can sit down and try to figure out a better procedure to handle HTML6, discussing procedures seems like their first love.

In my opinion the W3C needs to start earning the trust of developers. So does Adobe, I have yet to see anything said/written that changes the perception Adobe are filibustering HTML5.

1 - The arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov

2 - The Flash abomination

3 - Scripting in PDFs

Adobe has a well earned reputation. They may as well reap the fruits.

Me, I would not spit on them if they were on fire.

In the original article, the link labelled "questioned the model of expert-driven rather than community-driven standards" points to the same page as the one labelled "outsiders understand the mysterious and broken workings of the W3C".

Sorry about that! I've fixed it in the story, and you can find it here.

I really think that the big problem is trying to release these specifications in big major versions. No software supplier does this, so why does the W3C try to?

To my mind the correct way to go is to have a loose target document, that specifies the features that the experts think would be useful, and a second, extremely precise document that is release exactly once per year, (and very importantly actually contains the year in its normal name), which specifies what is available in the majority of browsers, and therefore what _all_ browsers should be capable of by the end of the year.

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