Importance of Standards

January 17th, 2008

Before long I’m going to try to take the comments to my last post about standards and weave the comments together. But first I want to respond to the comment worrying whether this discussion about standards reflects a change (or coming change) in Mozilla’s interest in web standards. The answer is no.

The goal of is the discussion is to think about whether we can improve the setting. It’s because this is so important that I want to focus on it.

For example, can we encourage more openness and transparency in the creation of web standards? We’ve proved that openness and transparency work well for code: they encourage discussions to focus on technical merit; they allow everyone who is interested to understand the details; they encourage participation. Why not do this with the creation of web standards?

Similarly, can we create a good means of input for both the “implementors” (in our case, the browser and other software vendors) and the web developers in the standards creation process? Browser makers and web developers are two sides of the same coin — both are needed to have a high quality, interoperable web. And each group can make life miserable for the other.

Are there ways we can improve communication between browser makers and web developers during the creation of a web standard? Not afterward, when the standard is done. Communication at that time makes web developers “consumers” of the standard, not participants in its development.

The earlier post and perhaps a few more are intended to develop a context for this sort of discussion and then action. We can jump into the discussion immediately, but it’s often useful to have shared vocabulary and framework.

4 comments for “Importance of Standards”

  1. 1

    Daniel Glazman said on January 17th, 2008 at 2:30 pm:

    Designing a standard is not like writing code. When you write code, you can see rapidly if it works or not. When you write a standard like a web standard, you have to think about implementability, process, priorities, time to market, and so many things that most “external” contributors cannot in fact really contribute without a tight control. Because a spec is a document – and not code -, some people think it’s only a matter of giving ideas and writing text. It’s not. It’s FAR more complex than that and the learning curve is steeper than most people think.
    The place where a standard is designed – call that a standards body even if the process is informal – is a battlefield. Always. Some people don’t get it, will never get it.
    The openess of standardization is a dangerous process, and I perfectly measure the importance of the words I am using. From my perspective, and because of the problems exposed above, the standardization of HTML5 for instance is not a success.
    Technical knowledge is not the only factor turning a skilled programmer into a standard designer. Diplomacy is also needed. Innovation is also needed. Product process knowledge is also needed. Knowledge of the industry is needed.
    Feedback is one thing ; contribution is another one. I have tons of examples where “web developers” don’t understand at all what it means to standardize HTML or CSS. Their feedback or “contribution” was then counter-productive.
    I also know this because when I joined myself IETF mailing-lists and later W3C, I was myself young, impatient and rough. Took me a while to understand the “rules” of standardization, how difficult the gestation of a process is. Mea culpa, for sure.

  2. 2

    Ant Bryan said on January 18th, 2008 at 2:40 pm:

    I’d like to invite Mozilla and anyone else interested to participate in the continual development of the Metalink standard at . Metalink isn’t specifically a web standard, but is more concerned with downloads in general, describing them, automating download processes which were manual, and making transfers more reliable and fault tolerant. Most download managers, and some Web browsers, FTP, & P2P clients already support Metalink. Please, come join the fun!

  3. 3

    Iang (How to improve the Standards Processs.) said on January 20th, 2008 at 4:43 am:

    Tough question. The starting point is the economics of standards, which is prisoner’s dilemma, which leads to how to break the payoffs. More on the blog.

  4. 4

    pd said on January 22nd, 2008 at 4:57 pm:

    I think it’s high time to go over Microsoft’s head, legal style. As indirectly suggested at JustBrowsing, it’s time for web standards to be destroyed in that for some unknown reason web standards are a non-law unto themselves.

    Unlike every other industry out there, why are web standards incredibly insular?

    To take the web further, it’s time to make web standardisation legally binding.

    Take HTML5 to the International Standards Organisation. Get it approved in whatever form is necessary – who cares if it’s decrepit? The process is the important thing. Establish an ISO standard and vendors will be legally obliged to conform. Once this modus operandi is established and accepted, iterate the ISO standard towards something technically pure.

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