Design development industry Standards

Let me hear your standards body talk

Jeremy Keith’s “Year Zero” beautifully explains why the W3C needs our backs, not our bullets.

Jeremy Keith’s “Year Zero” beautifully explains why the W3C needs our backs, not our bullets.

The W3C is maddeningly opaque and its lieutenants will sometimes march madly into the sea, but it is all that stands between us and the whirlwind.

Slow the W3C will always be. Slow comes with the territory. If you glimpse even a hint of the level of detail required to craft usable standards, you’ll understand the slowness and maybe even be grateful for it—as you’d be grateful for a surgeon who takes his time while operating on your pancreas.

But the secrecy (which makes us read bad things into the slowness) must and will change. To my knowledge, the W3C has been working on its transparency problems for at least two years and making real change—just very slowly (there’s that word again) and incrementally and hence not at all obviously.

Key decision makers within the W3C intend to do much more, but they need to get their colleagues on board, and consensus-building is a bitch. A slow bitch.

If designers and developers are more aware of the problems than of the fact that the W3C is working to solve them, it’s because the W3C is not great at outreach. If they were great at outreach, we wouldn’t have needed a Web Standards Project to persuade browser makers to implement the specs and designers and developers to use them.

Designers sometimes compare the slow pace of standards with the fast pace of, say, Flash. But it is like comparing the output of the United Nations to the laws passed by a small benevolent dictatorship. When a company owns a technology, it can move fast. When a hundred companies that mistrust each other need to agree to every detail of a technology that only exists insofar as their phones and browsers support it, surprise, surprise, the pace is quite slow.

The W3C is working on its speed issues, too. It’s been forced to work on them by outside groups and by the success of microformats. But detailed interoperability of profound technologies no company owns is never going to happen half as fast as we’d like.

You want instant gratification, buy an iPod. You want standards that work, help. Or at least stop shouting.

[tags]w3c, standards, webstandards[/tags]

By Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek.

Designer at Automattic, Inc. Co-Founder, An Event Apart. Publisher, A List Apart & A Book Apart. Author. Father. He/him.