The Extensible Web Summit: An Unexpected Journey

Still from Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” credit MGM/New Line Cinema/Wingnut thehobbitblog.com

This past Friday, two remarkable things happened. First, “we” held the first ever Extensible Web Summit in San Francisco, California (I’ll get to the “we” bit). Second, I attended it. While the former is amazing, the later is actually kind of incredible on several levels too – not because it is such an amazing thing to have me (believe me, my self opinion is not that high). Let me explain…

First, on a personal level, you should know that I am actually a hobbit. You see, I don’t do this sort of thing – at all.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I haven’t attended a conference since the late 1990’s, despite requests, demands, and even in one remarkable case where my own software was presented. Hell, I don’t even leave my house to go to work – my employer allows me to telecommute from my hobbit hole in the shire (rural Vermont – thank you for that Apollo Group). Except online or in places where I am employed or very comfortable I’m about a step away from Golem sometimes. It’s not healthy, I know, and recently I’m working on it – but for the past decade or so it’s been the case. So, my attendance is a small personal accomplishment for me. It was such an incredible pleasure to not just meet, but be warmly welcomed by so many of the great friends that I’ve made online that I felt compelled to share this very personal information. You all rock more than words can describe.

More importantly though, because I’m just a developer – and I went. Until very recently I’ve not been a member of anything officially in Web standards – and this meeting included my input. Not just me, but others like me. No one treated us as second class, though not many of us spoke up as much as I’d hoped we would have. It gave us an opportunity to see what’s going on, connect with other developers, standards writers, chairs and – very importantly – implementers to discuss things that are important to me and more fully understand the larger scope of what’s going on.. In other words: To play a role.

“That, my dear Frodo, is where I come in. For quite by chance, and the will of a Wizard, fate decided I would become part of this tale. It began, well, it began as you might expect. In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, full of worms and oozy smells; this was a Hobbit-hole, and that means good food, a warm hearth, and all the comforts of home.

Developer involvement and engagement is tremendously important to the vision we set out in the Extensible Web Manifesto. It’s critically important that we begin to work together to break down, tie together, prioritize and create an environment where we establish a virtuous cycle. To change the way we develop the Platform itself to be adaptable and evolutionary is an enormous effort – it’s not the natural state of existing standards bodies in general.

Your typical Web Standards Discussion…
Bilbo: Good morning.
Gandalf: What do you mean? Do you mean to wish me a good morning, or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or, perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning. Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?

But now, things are changing – and they are changing for the better. Obviously, in general, the manifesto is helping to change things, I believe we are actually approaching an architecture that lends itself to adaptation and evolution… But there is another thing worth noticing here too: Until a year or so ago, the vast majority of developers had never heard of the W3C Technical Architecture Group (TAG) and the general consensus was that they just weren’t that important. But then, developers got involved and helped elect a good group of folks across two elections and the TAG is turning out to be super useful in two ways: First, at helping to look across the working groups and break down the architecture of the platform, see connections and facilitate communication and realignment in working groups where it is necessary. Second, to help carry the voice of “We the developers” to places it was difficult for our voices to previously reach. This summit was actually an example of both. And it’s all out in public now – github, twitter, etc. If you write to TAG, they listen. I call that an incredible win.

You might recall that in the first sentence I said “we” held the first Extensible Web Summit. While the W3C was prominent, and it took place coinciding with a TAG face to face and other W3C meetings, it was not officially a W3C event. I am immensely grateful to Anne van Kesteren (whose TAG term has ended, but continues to be involved directly in the trenches/outreach) for championing this through TAG, and the whole TAG for setting it up and attending despite the fact that it was unofficial – that’s a really nice signal to us developers. And a huge thanks to Adobe for agreeing to provide a substantial location and to implementers and finally – to developers and implementors for laying down cash and budget to allow us to all show up.

It wasn’t perfect, don’t misunderstand. But no first attempt is. It was too short. The topics competed in not great ways such that we couldn’t get necessary people into all of them. There wasn’t enough setup/groundwork for more significant engagement so some sessions kind of jumped off the rails before they could really get started. Personally, I got much progress through side conversations in hallways and before/after – maybe as much I did in sessions themselves – but these are all things we can learn from and improve. It was good, but we can do better and I’m confident we will. If you were less than thrilled, provide some feedback and give it another chance. I’ll try to write about that in another post perhaps, or more likely to the TAG mailing list – but there were many, many positive aspects and I consider it a substantial step.

thcc_bilbo_01

Galadriel: Why the Halfling?
Gandalf: I do not know. Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…


All of this really stresses the importance of more direct developer involvement and finding ways to open the doors to the W3C/standards without creating total chaos. If this sounds good to you too, keep watching as my next post will be about an incredible opportunity arising there – which, as many of my posts – involves an election and requires your help. Stay tuned.

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Tagging in a new partner…

At the beginning of this year, we helped make Web history…

But there is a fork in the road ahead… 

For the unfamilliar, the W3C Technical Architecture Group is a kind of steering commitee for the direction of the Web and its architecture and how that relates to Web Standards.  It is composed of 9 members chaired by Sir Tim Berners-Lee , a few appointees and 5 elected members. Since its inception, this has been a closed process and, although it maintained a public mailing list, the simple fact is that few people were even aware of it. How could such an important group be largely unknown? Surely we should be well-aware of its works, right? As it turns out, not really – but we have felt effects. What’s more, only a small percentage of eligible representatives even cast their vote in these elections.

Until now…

This year we changed that by taking the case to the public that we would like to change all that. We got reform candidates to blog about their vision: what they would envision and advocate and where they thought TAG and W3C itself needed some improvement. We tweeted and blogged and shared and made public opinion clear and lobbied representatives to exercise their right and vote with us. What resulted was the most participatory election in W3C history and every open seat filled by one of our candidates.

We delivered a mandate for significant change…

In the few months since then, things have shaped up nicely.

  • We have seen unprecedented coordination and consultation with ECMA, the group in charge of JavaScript standards.
  • We have seen great advice on improving APIs and coordination across Working Groups.  Excellent new things like Promises/Futures being introduced across the spectrum.
  • TAG, as a group, is more known and visible than ever: things are moving to github, you can follow it on Twitter, they have even had a Meet the TAG event.
  • TAG members are out there in public – developers know who they are, they know the sorts of things they stand for and they are interested.
  • All 4 of our candidates and both new TAG co-chairs helped author and/or signed the Extensible Web Manifesto, laying out a new, more open vision for architecture and process surrounding standards.
  • Work to replace WebIDL in standards descriptions has begun.
  • When it was time for Tim Berners-Lee to appoint a co-chair, he  appointed from among our reformers (we had more candidates than seats available).

The TAG is listening to everyday developers – and delivering…

But another thing happened, one of our elected representatives switched employers and because this would leave the TAG with two members from the same organization, it means he is no longer eligible to serve. As such, there is a special election happening to fill his spot.

Reaffirm the mandate
There are only two nominees to fill this seat:  Frederick Hirsch from Nokia and Sergey Konstantinov from Yandex.

Frederick is a pretty traditional sort of TAG nominee – he has lots of W3C experience under his belt and credential projects like XKMS, SAML, WS-I Security and a bunch of other stuff.

Sergey is pretty new to the official Web Standards game – Yandex has only been a member of W3C for about a year.  He comes from the trenches – most recently in charge of Yandex Maps.  He does a lot of working with developers directly, he has written two public posts explaining some of the reasons that he is running.  I have spoken to him myself and I believe that electing him will reaffirm the mandate that we sent at the beginning of the year.

If you supported reform candidates in the last TAG election,  please join me in spreading the word – share via whatever means you like – and let AC reps know:

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