The W3C acts, essentially, as the organization which creates the tools I work with to do my job as a web designer. They create the specifications I’m supposed to code to, determine the direction future versions of these specs will take, decide what issues are important to address, and generally tell me how to do my job.
But there’s just one problem: not a single one of them are working web designers or developers, from what I can tell. Why should I take them seriously?
I just read the bios of all 66 W3 team members. Here’s what I did and didn’t find:
- I didn’t find a single name I recognize as a top web designer or developer.
- I didn’t find a single person who has ever worked as a web designer.
- I found one person — of out 66 — who has worked as a web developer (but, seemingly, doesn’t do so any longer).
- I found a ton of people in computer science and IT. This representation is certainly useful and important — but should it really make up the vast majority of the W3C?
- I found a lot of accessibility experts. Again: important to have, but aren’t other things, as well?
While I am generally committed to web standards, I’m even more committed to getting my work done in a way that is elegant, efficient, and pleases my clients. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to view the W3C as an organization that is capable of producing effective design tools. CSS 2 was released in 1998. At that time, the W3C starting working on CSS 3. It is still under development today. About a month ago, CSS 2.1 was elevated from draft to recommendation status. In other words, it’s taken almost a decade for the W3C to go from CSS 2 to 2.1.
In the same time, a competing product, Adobe’s Flash, has had seven major revisions. When CSS 2 was released, Flash was at version two, as well. Today, it’s at version nine. What’s more, Adobe has a proven track record of creating great products for designers — probably in large part due to the fact that they employ designers, whereas the W3C (apparently) doesn’t.
I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t consider a one-tenth increase in version number to be very significant progress in the course of a decade. Consider any piece of software you use on a regular basis, and ask yourself what you would do if it showed the same speed of growth. At the time of CSS 2’s release, Mac OS 8 was available. Would you be satisfied if the latest version of Mac OS available today was 8.1? What if we were still on Photoshop 5.5? I’m quite certain that I would have kicked any software product that moved this slowly straight to the proverbial curb by now. Wouldn’t you?
Jeffrey Zeldman loves him some glacial pace. I don’t. The W3C is just not getting the job done when it comes to design tools, and I can’t help but imagine it’s at least partially due to the fact that they have no designers on their team roster. More and more designers seem to be turning to Flash for certain aspects of their job that web standards simply have no comparable answer for (see video, animation, and visual design tools for examples). If the W3C and web standards in general want to stay relevant to designers, they need to pick up the pace on design tool development — and that probably means hiring some designers who actually do real work in this field.
Seriously — there are no web designers and one (former) web developer on the committee that writes our specs. Does that make any sense at all?
Update: Jeffrey Zeldman, in a comment over at his site, writes what he knows about the W3C and its efforts to work with real-world designers and developers. As I suspected — it’s not entirely the fault of the W3C that there is almost no representation from these groups on their team. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who has noticed this, and that the W#C is trying to change it. Here is Zeldman’s comment:
The W3C has at times worked with people who design, code, or direct websites for a living. Jeffrey Veen, Todd Fahrner, and David Siegel were consulted in the early days of CSS.
But the specs have largely developed without representation from people who actually make websites, and that is a problem many of us have called to the W3C’s attention over the years.
The W3C is trying to change this, but it doesn’t always work out, partly because the number of hours a person must commit to participate in a W3C committee grossly exceeds what any normally employed person can provide; and partly due to human screw-ups.
Last year Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, invited me to participate in a key W3C working group. Unfortunately, he invited me on the last day the W3C was accepting new members to that group. To “qualify,” I would have had to fill out paperwork and muster recommendations from third parties. If I had had no work in hand, and if those third parties had also had no work in hand, I just might have been able to pull it off. Here on planet earth, I didn’t even have time to respond to Tim’s invitation in a proper manner.
For a short while I wondered if the last-minute invitation was a dis, but high-level W3C sources informed it was all about disorganization and not at all about disrespect. Still, that kind of disorganization hardly provides an incentive or opportunity for busy designers or other web professionals to participate. And thus the problem continues.
Who can participate under those conditions? People who are on someone else’s payroll and whose job description permits them to spend most of their time building and maintaining their expert status. Sometimes people who are on their own payroll make the sacrifice, but few of them can afford to keep going.
Everyone agrees that the specifications would benefit from the input of real-world designers, developers, IAs, usability specialists, and so on; but nobody knows how to get more of us involved.
Some people see splinter groups like WHATWG as a partial solution to the “crisis” of W3C inertia; others see such groups as fomenting a “crisis” of fragmentation. I don’t see the W3C’s inertia as a crisis; I can keep working with the specs they’ve already created. I don’t see WHATWG as a crisis; they’ll be able to get HTML moving faster, and they have buy-in from browser makers because they are browser makers. They’re coordinating with the W3C. What more could you want?