[whatwg] The political and legal status of WHATWG

Shannon shannon at arc.net.au
Fri Dec 14 19:24:23 PST 2007

Ian, thank you for your answers re: video codecs. I agree with you now 
that everything that needs to said has been said regarding the change 
itself and I think most parties have made it clear how they feel and 
what they hope will resolve it.

It's clear the opinions of all parties cannot be reconciled. The current 
text has not reconciled the views, nor did the previous, nor can a 
future one. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this will not 
end well. I am quite certain the issue at stake here cannot be solved at 
the technical or legal level at all. This is truly a political/financial 
matter. Which brings us to the hard questions at the crux of the matter:

1.) When a browser vendor acts clearly outside of the public interest in 
the making of a public standard should that vendors desires still be 
considered relevant to the specification?
2.) When an issue is divided between a vendor (or group of) and 'the 
public' (or part of), what relative weight can be assigned to each?
3.) When a vendor makes false or misleading statements to guide an 
outcome should there be a form of 'censure' that does not involve a 
public flame war?
4.) If the purpose of the group is to build interoperability should a 
vendor be 'censured' for holding interoperability to ransom without 
sufficient technical or legal grounds?
5.) What methods exists to define a disruptive member and remove them 
from further consideration?
6.) Should a standards body make a ruling even though some members claim 
they won't obey it?
7.) Should a standards body bow to entrenched interests to keep the peace?
8.) Does the WHATWG consider itself to be a formal standards body?
9.) Should HTML5 be put back under direct control of the w3c now that 
they have expressed interest in developing it?
10.) Is is appropriate for members to have discussions outside of this 
list, via IM, IRC or physical means not available or practical to the 
11.) Does the group consider HTML5 to be a 'public standard' or a 
'gentlemen's agreement' between vendors?
12.) Is it even legal for the majority of commercial browsers to form 
any agreement that could (directly or indirectly) result in higher costs 
for end-users? How do you prevent a 'working group' from becoming a cartel?

These are not questions that anybody can easily answer. Some have 
probably been answered in this list but not, at least to my reading of 
it, in the charter, the wiki or the FAQ (none appear legally binding in 
any case). It is possible the lack of clear answers in an obvious place 
may threaten the impartiality and purpose of this group, damage your 
public image and inflame debate. I believe the reason for much of the 
'heat' over the video codec is due to all parties (including 
non-members) coming up with their own answers in the absence of a formal 
position. That and a lot of mistrust regarding members corporate priorities.

I've read the charter but it doesn't define many rules. The w3c has 
rules but my understanding is that WHATWG is not a formal part of w3c 
(even if some members are).

Public acceptance of the standard may not, in practical terms, be as 
important as vendor acceptance (to vendors at least) but since the 
public is, in many ways, doing much of the vendors work for them it 
would beneficial to have a clearer statement of how these contributions 
are weighed. To cite a theoretical example: if some altruistic 
billionairre was to write the 'missing codec' that exceeded h.264 in 
compression, used 64k of ram, ran on a 386 using 50 lines of code and he 
or she paid off all the trolls and indemnified vendors - what actions, 
if any, would WHATWG members take to ensure it was accepted by members 
with vested interests?

If that last theoretical question cannot be answered then what hope have 
we for a baseline video format?

If answers to the above questions exist then please don't just answer 
them here. Anything short of a formal document on the WHATWG can't 
possibly represent the group as a whole and is just going to be raised 
again anyway. In other words the mailling list is not the best place to 
archive these answers (if any are forthcoming).


More information about the whatwg mailing list