W3C has announced they are beta testing a W3C Community Process that allows groups to develop specifications and other useful documents under the W3C umbrella, but using a more lightweight process than the one used to create formal Recommendations.
This means that jumpstarting potential new Web standards is becoming easier and faster at the W3C and that anyone, including non W3C members, will be able to participate. As Microsoft’s representative to the W3C Advisory Committee and an elected member of the Advisory Board, I’ve been involved in planning this for more than a year now. We think that W3C is the right organization to host this new venue for collaboration on Web challenges, because they have experience in helping communities build real consensus and have a strong reputation as the most credible source of guidance on Web specifications.
At Microsoft we, like many others, have been struggling with a challenge that has motivated us to participate in these planning discussions. Take the scenario where a group of web developers wish to get together to propose a new API that solves a particular problem they’re facing, but isn’t handled by Web standards today. They work for different companies, large, and small, and whose employers participate in different standards organizations (or none at all). They know there are a bunch of legal details that might come back to haunt them, but don’t have the time or legal resources to identify them or craft a legal framework for the collaboration. What can they do?
None of the options available right now are probably all that great for the group:
- They could collaborate informally or via some established mailing list …. But this ignores questions such as “what happens if this idea takes off and one of us patents the ideas, or copyrights the document?”
- They could work in an existing organization with a clear IPR policy for such matters… But these often charge membership dues, and / or make it difficult for non-members to participate.
- Those who work for W3C members could start a group to address the problem and get the non-members “invited expert” status … but this is a time consuming process, and is overkill for just brainstorming possible approaches to a problem as opposed to standardizing a well-understood solution.
The W3C Community Process adds a new option for W3C members and non-members to work together to brainstorm specifications that could eventually become open web standards. An earlier W3C blog post explains how:
A Community Group is an open forum for developing specifications, holding discussions, developing test suites, and otherwise building communities around innovation. There are no fees, no charters, no end dates, and a lightweight set of participation agreements to make them fast to launch and open to all. Some Community Groups may produce results that are subsequently carried forward on the standards track, but others may not. That will be for the communities themselves to decide ...
So, here’s how the process will work: to start a Community Group, you will pick a topic, write a short scope statement (for communications purposes), and get four other parties to support the creation of the group. Once you have enough support, the system we plan to have in place at launch will create the tooling (wiki, spam-controlled mailing lists, microblog, and other infrastructure) to support the group's activities.
Community Groups will operate under a simple legal agreement intended to balance the concerns of implementers and potential IPR holders, and designed to provide a smooth transition to the W3C Patent Policy if a group ultimately decides to go in that direction.
So, in summary, we are excited about this innovation and the opportunities it brings – both for us and for you. Jumpstarting potential new Web standards is becoming easier and faster at the W3C and all interested parties, including non W3C members, will now be able to participate. We are also excited about the opportunity this brings to start working with you to propose new ideas in W3C Communities.
Michael Champion, Senior Program Manager, Interoperability Strategy Team