Hixie's Natural Log

2007-06-06 08:21 UTC The CSS working group is irrelevant

Back in March, Google hosted the CSS working group for a three day meeting.

At the time, we were just starting with the HTML working group, and the openness of the WHATWG over the past few years was just starting to be adopted by the HTML working group, after several months of pushing for it in the W3C (mostly in secret, though my own posts on the matter were all public, as were a few others).

One of the things I brought up in the CSS face-to-face meeting was the problem of the CSS working group not being open. Many of the members of the CSS working group have a mentality that view the Web community (such as those who e-mail the www-style mailing list) as a resource, not as potentially equal members of the community. Of the forty or so members of the working group (those subscribed to the secret internal mailing list), only a dozen subscribe to the public list. This actually makes it harder for members of the group to try to be more open — when someone posts a proposal to the public list, there's a good chance that the majority of the members of the working group will miss it. During the meeting, I opined that if the group continued along in this direction, the group ran the risk of becoming irrelevant; two of the other members suggested that the group was already irrelevant. Sadly we were in the minority.

The CSS working group right now is chronically dysfunctional, as most close observers have noticed.

A great example of this is the difference in how the WHATWG got a blog and how the CSS working group set one up. In the WHATWG, the idea was floated for a while, and then one day someone volunteered to run it, and the blog was up and running within hours. Anyone (literally anyone) can post to the WHATWG blog (there's a moderation step that we added to deal with the spammers, but all it takes now is to get onto IRC and ask for the post you wrote to be published). The CSS working group, on the other hand, has been discussing how to set up a blog, and what the first entry should say, and what tool to use, for over two months! Nearly every phone call (the group has weekly teleconferences) for the past nine weeks has had the blog discussed at some point.

The blog was finally made available last week. To post, you have to be a group member. The first post can be summarised as follows: the CSS working group members don't want to bother going out of their way to get feedback on their specs; instead, people should post their comments on CSS to the public CSS mailing list (despite the fact that most CSS working group members aren't subscribed to this list). The blog post then goes on to apologise for the blog's existence, and claims that the blog's aim is to reach the people who won't subscribe to the public mailing list (the working group itself, maybe?). The post doesn't make it clear how the blog is expected to reach this wider audience, since the blog has no comment feature.

Another example of the problems of the CSS group is visible on the W3C's Technical Reports page. The group's primary deliverables are specifications. The last candidate recommendation published by the group was published in 2004. That was the Basic UI module, which was Tantek's baby (he has since left the group). Meanwhile, drafts like the Backgrounds and Borders draft, which has had big parts implemented by Safari for months, and small parts implemented by Mozilla for years, have iterated several times but make no public process (the backgrounds and borders draft was published in 2005, but the internal draft was last modified in February of this year).

Meanwhile, CSS2.1, the working group's most important deliverable, keeps getting tied up, with the group discussing irrelevant details and some members repeatedly reopening old resolved issues. The W3C process doesn't help much here either; the group actually tried taking CSS 2.1 to Candidate Recommendation stage recently, but was blocked by the W3C management over an issue which was already present in CSS2. (In all fairness to Tim, the issue he raised is one which was already raised by several other people, but which the group had dismissed. I actually agree with him that it should be resolved. The group has since resolved to change the spec in a way that continues to leave the issue undefined, but at least it no longer contradicts what Web browsers do.)

The group is also supposed to work on test suites. I had volunteered to work on the CSS 2.1 test suite, but due to lack of time, I bailed on that last year (Google mainly employs me to work on HTML5; any test work that I do is done in my free time, which is mostly spent near aquariums now). Since then basically nothing has happened.

Being public would expose a lot of these problems, forcing the working group to act more responsibly. It would also allow people to contribute — as specification editors, as test suite editors, as reviewers, as community leaders, and in other roles.

But to be honest, the problems go even further than what I've described above.

The CSS specs show their age; they come from a time where specifications were much vaguer than those of the modern day. Someone really needs to do to CSS what the WHATWG has been doing to HTML, defining everything in detail, explicitly, with strict and clear normative conformance criteria, taking implementations into account, defining things like quirks mode. (The WHATWG community refers to such a hypothetical project as "CSS 5", as a reference to the way the current WHATWG specs define HTML5, XHTML5, and DOM5 HTML.)

The CSS working group also doesn't really have the nimbleness needed to respond to threats to the Web platform like Silverlight. We need things like flowing-to-shapes, automatic declarative transition animations, gradients, filters, styling of form controls, and so on. (The WHATWG is already handling some related, non-presentational, things, like client-side SQL databases, video, and rich controls.) We need these things this year, in enough detail that they can be implemented. An open group can iterate much faster than a closed group. With an open group we can get test implementations, feedback, tests, and discussion straight away, instead of waiting months and then pulling back the curtain and presenting a fait accompli, at which points comments are perceived more as a pain than a help.

One way to address this would be for the WHATWG to start a "subproject" to address CSS, while we wait for the W3C CSS group to learn from the W3C HTML group and become open. The biggest problem would be finding editors who would be willing and capable of doing the incredible work of rewriting CSS from scratch.

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2007-06-01 07:40 UTC The Ties that Bind

So Apple started selling music without DRM the other day. I immediately bought some music. Carey commented that she had bought a lot of music on iTunes in the past and never really understood DRM, so wasn't worried about it.

Later that evening, we were at my flat, where there is no Internet. She wanted to play her music on my Mac Mini, which is basically my entertainment system. She made her MacBook join my wireless network, grabbed the remote and fired up Front Row on the Mini, and (after I fixed the firewall settings) tried playing a song she wanted to listen to.

A concise lesson in why DRM is not a "consumer enablement" technology ensued.

I really don't understand why DRM is legal, let alone why it's legally enforceable in many countries. Right now I think it's mostly just the geeks who understand why DRM is fundamentally stupid, but I hope that as more users get exposed to technology and try to do obvious things like transferring their media from one device to another, they'll come to demand their fair use rights, and the law will swing back from backing the modern organised crime rings (like the MPAA) to backing the ordinary citizen. Question copyright.

Everyone should make sure to learn about fair(y) use.

For the recent long weekend, Carey and I went to Monterey to see the aquarium. We joined and visited the fishies four times that weekend.

Some of the exhibits were more art-like than I expected: For example, the one with two jellyfish swimming in the pure blue water.

We also went down Scenic Highway 1, which has some scenic parts, and where petroleum is even more expensive than in less remote areas.

Before we left we stayed at Carey's, where Max decided to bring me a live bird! What a darling cat. He's so cute.

In other news, I met the TAG for lunch today. It was an interesting experience. I still don't really understand what they're doing. At one point I asked about one of their documents and pointed out that for most specs things have to be defined in terms of document models, not the actual byte streams coming over the wire. For example, for HTML you have to define what happens when an author creates a table element using the DOM APIs and then moves a p element into it — what does that represent. There's no source byte stream, it's all scripted. The members of the TAG seemed to think that was a little more complicated than they wanted to deal with. That was sort of strange to me, since I somewhat consider that to be the only interesting case (in the HTML5 spec, the byte stream, if any, is converted to a DOM before any of the things that they were talking about are examined). Oh well.

June is going to be an interesting month. The HTML working group is supposed to publish something (I suggest the spec); Apple is going to announce their latest stuff, which I'll probably buy; Pixar are releasing Ratatouille (Holy Pixar Day is June 29th); Wilhelm will be in from out of town so we can play World of Warcraft (the board game).

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2007-05-19 06:37 UTC Keeping busy, with cats

I'm sitting in the Green Room of the Lucie Stern theatre in Palo Alto, where I'm volunteering on the stage crew of The Merry Widow. Actually for this performance I'm volunteering as a stage crew substitute for when other crew members can't make it. I didn't want to do a third Opera in a row (I was on the crew of Macbeth and The Queen of Spades earlier this season).

I asked Nadia to entertain me and she gave me two pages, one full of tracking shots and one full of 3000 cats. My friends know me well.

Speaking of Cats, and friends, Brian, Lisa, her parents, Carey, and myself went to see the Moscow Cats Theatre at the Palace of Fine Arts in the city. I was wearing my cat socks and my "CAT PERSON" t-shirt, and Carey and I were sitting front row centre. As you might imagine, I ended up on stage for one of the tricks; a cat jumped back and forth on my back! It was awesome.

Everyone should watch Richard Feynman's interview with the Horizon programme. And then read the book Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!. He's one of my heroes. (Bernard from Yes, Minister being the main other one, but he's fictional.)

In completely other news, the W3C HTML working group (join) agreed to using the WHATWG specs! We've come a long way since 2004 (see the end of the post immediately before the announcement for a chuckle). Although it's a little weird; the group decided to use HTML 5, and then Dan immediately stopped anyone from discussion anything, and nothing has happened in the week since. Well, nothing at the W3C. The WHATWG has continued working on the HTML 5 spec, which is now also an official W3C editor's draft. Just check out the list of changes for last week.

By the way, the WHATWG site (and this Web log, and lots of other sites I use) are all now carbon neutral, hosted by DreamHost. Nice guys. I'd recommend them.

Talking about HTML, Tantek has started pushing for a new acronym for me to add to my list of acronyms that don't mean anything new: now, in addition to DHTML, REST, and AJAX, he is adding POSH. Plain Old Semantic HTML. It's actually a pretty good thing to be pushing for. I encourage everyone to publish POSH.

2007-03-20 10:19 UTC Wolff has ruined my life

I've been playing a lot of Little Green Guys With Guns recently, a highly addictive graphical play-by-e-mail turn based strategy game.

For that last few games, my score has been oscillating:

It went up first, but then dropped a bit, and despite occasional peaks, continues to remain around the middle of the range.

To make my score go up higher, I need more inexperienced players to beat (because the experienced ones are too freaking good). So. Go join up! Play challenges I put out!

2007-03-08 20:32 UTC How YOU can join the W3C HTML5 Working Group in six easy steps

So the W3C announced that they are restarting an HTML specification effort.

Anyone can actually join the W3C HTML Working Group. I encourage everyone interested in the development of HTML5 to take part. If you don't take part, and the language develops in a way you don't like, then you have but yourself to blame.

Taking part in the group is not a big commitment. You can spend as much or as little time contributing; you don't need to read every e-mail on subjects you don't care about, you don't need to call in or attend face-to-face meetings. In fact, the W3C has stated in the group's charter that no binding decisions will be made at meetings; you are guaranteed equal say whether you are present or not.

To join, you have to go through the following steps.

  1. Fill in the Public Access Request Form; in the "Reason" field, put: "To apply for participation in the HTML Working Group as an Invited Expert."
  2. Within about five minutes you'll receive a confirmation code by e-mail. Follow the instructions in that e-mail.
  3. You should get a reply back from that within two days, giving you a username and password. Fill in the W3C Invited Expert Application form. Under "Financial Support", if you're not going to attend any meetings or if you're going to attend meetings on your own dime, just put "Self-supported". Under "Possible W3C Membership", if you're employed but your employer doesn't know you're doing this, or doesn't care, just pick "My employer does not intend to join".
  4. E-mail Dan Connolly and Karl Dubost (connolly@w3.org, karl@w3.org) asking for approval. (Just say "Hi, I'd like to join the HTML working group. Thanks.")
  5. You should get a reply back within about ten days, at which point you can fill in the Joining the HTML Working Group form.
  6. You will get a reply back from that within about five minutes, at which point you're a bone fide HTML working group member!

Note: if you work for a W3C member company, the steps above don't apply to you. Instead, you have to follow these instructions.

I would encourage everyone interested in working with the HTML working group to go through these steps as soon as possible, so that you will be a member of the group before the work starts.

While you're at it, you can also join the WHATWG effort. We've been working on HTML5 since 2004, and have an active community with IRC channels, a help mailing list, forums, an open blog, and so forth. To join all you have to do is take part in one of those, or join our main specification development mailing list. All input is welcome.

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