Ben Laurie blathering

Why Not W3C or IETF?

Ralf Bendrath asks what’s wrong with the W3C and the IETF that the OWF is trying to solve? So, to be very brief…

The W3C is a pay-to-play cartel that increasingly gets nothing done. Open source developers can’t even participate, as a rule. It also has an IPR policy that’s just as crap as everything else we’re trying not to emulate. So, not a realistic alternative.

The IETF is much better, but its main problem is that it has no IPR policy at all, other than “tell us what you know”. In practice this often works out OK, but there have been some notable instances where the outcome was pretty amazingly ungood, such as RSA’s stranglehold over SSL and TLS for years – a position Certicom are now trying to emulate with ECC, also via the IETF.

A more minor objection to the IETF that I hope the OWF will solve similarly to the ASF is that it is actually too inclusive. Anyone is allowed to join a working group and have as much say as anyone else. This means that any fool with time on their hands can completely derail the process for as long as they feel like. In my view, a functional specification working group should give more weight to those that are actually going to implement the specification and those who have a track record of actually being useful, much as the ASF pays more attention to contributors, committers and members, in that order.


  1. Oh yes.

    I can think of at least two IETF working groups that have had specifications significantly delayed or ruined outright by people with big ideas but no implementation experience. It is a pity that the “… and running code” part of the IETF credo has been largely jettisoned – it is a good filter for bad specifications and cranks alike.

    Comment by djm — 27 Jul 2008 @ 13:09

  2. What’s wrong with W3C’s royalty free policy?

    If you want the W3C, though more open, try the WHATWG.

    Comment by Kai Hendry — 27 Jul 2008 @ 20:09

  3. Yeah, I brought up the IETF’s “No Fool Left Behind” participation policy at the Open Web Foundation BOF at OSCON. Brian Behlendorf pointed out that the IETF was successful for many years, and cloning a restart of it might not be a bad idea.

    Comment by Russell Nelson — 30 Jul 2008 @ 16:47

  4. The problem is not idiots, but that when a group exceeds a certain size the group as a whole becomes idiotic.

    The largest sized group that can actually design anything is about three people. The success of linux is largely due to the personal dictatorship of Linus, recently illustrated and demonstrated by the story of Git.

    The “working code” part of the IEEE credo tended to drastically limit the number of contributors, thereby resulting in groups that could actually function.

    Comment by James A. Donald — 1 Aug 2008 @ 10:34

  5. […] Laurie seeks to preempt that question, also raised in the discussion group. Jury is out on the characterization of W3C as […]

    Pingback by Standardizing on a standards body « Random Oracle — 4 Aug 2008 @ 2:42

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