The W3C: A Consortium of Sluggish Defenders

by The H.E.A.T. Exchange

Recently, I was told that the W3C is nothing but a collection of companies (Google being mentioned specifically).  This came from a gentleman belonging to an accessibility consultant group that has amongst its members a few individuals who have contributed to W3C’s specifications.

The W3C is not an abstraction of the web.  The W3C is simply a collection of individuals…real people.  Some of these individuals represent companies, corporations, and small businesses.  Some may just be experts in a field of interest important to the overall development of the web.

Most of these individuals are sluggish defenders.

What is a sluggish defender?

Sluggish defenders have been around for ages.  You know who they are, but may have referred to them by different labels.

Sluggish defenders are the folks who will celebrate and support a person or idea when things are going well, but cower in silence when faced with adversaries or opposing views.

Are you familiar with the phrase fair-weather friend?

Wait.  This sounds like something from my high school days?

Exactly.  Sluggish defenders tend to follow the popular crowd even when they know it is wrong.  Wanting to be part of the in-the-know-and-hanging-around-the-water-cooler crowd is very important to a sluggish defender.

They will invest time and effort into a product (for whatever reasons) and promote the product initially with pride and joy.  When enough opponents of the product voice their discontent, the sluggish defender will turn tail and run, often denigrating his own product in the process.

I have witnessed this from people involved in the development of RDFa and JSON-LD. (No need for names because particular individuals are not the point of this post).  I have read comments from folks involved in creating XHTML 1.1 and XML 1.1 turning against their own product when encountering others with differing views.

Ok, so they changed their minds and switched sides. No big deal.

Here is the problem.  A sluggish defender has the effect of making pure gold appear as aluminum foil.  Often, sluggish defenders are attacked not with valid arguments or actual corrections, but en masse by those who simply are hanging with the cool guys.

Fear of losing the status of subject-matter expert is what actually motivates the sluggish defender to switch his stance; not intellectual awareness.

At this point, the sluggish defender, as a representative of his own work, has rendered his product ineffective and invalid.  By choosing to remain silent, or cowering in the midst of opponents to gain popularity, the sluggish defender has defeated his own product before it could even make it out the gates.

Don’t believe me?

I challenge you to take a look at the names on specifications coming out of the W3C’s camp.  Then visit the personal pages of some of the editors and contributors.  Observe how some of them will make mention of their contributions to the W3C, especially if they had some direct input into a specification.  Particularly, look at some of the more controversial recommendations (for example, XML, XHTML, RDF, ARIA, and the like).

Visit the forums these contributors frequent and observe their riding-the-fence approach when addressing opposition (Google Plus is one good place to start).

So, what is the W3C?

In theory, the W3C is a collection of subject-matter experts: highly knowledgeable in their related fields, highly professional in their approach to web development, and non-political when it comes to moving the web forward.

In actuality, the W3C is a collection of sluggish defenders: experts at clever witticism, highly knowledgeable of another person’s shortcomings, very unprofessional in their approach to collaboration, and too political to actually get anything done.

Each sluggish defender represents the W3C as a real, physical entity.  Each person who has contributed to and exploited the resources of the W3C represents that brand.

If the W3C was run by Sun Tzu, the web would be decades ahead of schedule.