When you've invented probably the most important technology for fifty years – and then magnanimously given it away – it's hardly surprising if your every move is seized upon. And yet in the case of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's latest wheeze, I've been struck by the paucity of real analysis.
Most commentators have been happy to applaud its obviously laudable intentions. But I wonder whether there might be more to the move than meets the eye.
Sir Tim B-L has decided to set up something called the World Wide Web Foundation:
The World Wide Web Foundation seeks to advance One Web that is free and open, to expand the Web's capability and robustness, and to extend the Web's benefits to all people on the planet.
The Web Foundation brings together business leaders, technology innovators, academia, government, NGOs, and experts in many fields to tackle challenges that, like the Web, are global in scale.
Interesting that this is a foundation, like the Mozilla Foundation, and the GNOME Foundation: clearly this is a meme whose time has come. Interesting, too, that the first stated task of that foundation will be to advance “One Web that is free and open”.
That's obviously great news for free software and open standards, and strikingly similar to the Mozilla Foundation's musings on its own role.
But what really struck me were these answers in the FAQ:
Why did this Foundation emerge from W3C and WSRI and why now?
Those organizations have contributed significantly to the vision of the Web as humanity connected, but still more is required to include more people, in particular in underserved communities. The Foundation seeks to extend the benefits of a Web, improved by further research and technology development to all people.
How will the Foundation relate to W3C and WSRI?
W3C and WSRI remain independent organizations. It is within the scope of the Web Foundation to support the missions of both WSRI and W3C.
The "umbrella" mission of the World Wide Web Foundation will build synergies between Web Science and Web Standards, and work to leverage the talents and results of the W3C and WSRI communities to ensure that the Web benefits all people on the planet.
Why couldn't W3C simply change its scope?
It was preferable not to disturb the W3C ecosystem for building consensus around Web standards.
Obviously, these are all good reasons, but I can't help feeling that there is nonetheless an implicit moving away from the W3C here.
There would be a good reason for that, and it's the same issue that is affecting the ISO: the change in ethos that sees the standards-setting process as just another battlefield for imposing vendor-specific solutions – what Sir Tim euphemistically calls “building consensus” - rather than selflessly working together for the greater good. This has meant that W3C has lost its position as one of the primary drivers of innovation in the online world.
If you want to see a bit of the background to Sir Tim's move, take a look at this fascinating interview with Ian Hickson, who is the editor of HTML 5:
Back when the W3C asked for feedback on the HTML working group charter, in November 2006, I suggested the following timeline, taking into account that work on HTML5 started in late 2003:
First W3C Working Draft in October 2007.
Last Call Working Draft in October 2009.
Call for contributions for the test suite in 2011.
Candidate Recommendation in 2012.
First draft of test suite in 2012.
Second draft of test suite in 2015.
Final version of test suite in 2019.
Reissued Last Call Working Draft in 2020.
Proposed Recommendation in 2022.
Got that? *Nineteen* years to produce a finished standard for HTML5. No wonder Sir Tim wants to try again elsewhere....