Back in November I wrote the following in an email to a mailing list as part of a discussion about The Web Standards Project, reading some of the fallout on the web over the last few days reminded me of that discussion, which seems more relevant now than before,
“When WaSP was at its most effective, we all knew who the “bad guy” was. We had a common mission, our goals were easily articulated and everyone involved was passionate about them. When you can say “X is bad Y is good” it’s pretty
easy […] Things are not so black and white now, and not only are we trying to cover a vast landscape of different issues – and a huge range of abilities and understandings within the designer/developer community, but we don’t all agree on what the big problems are. Ask a group of WaSP members what they think about HTML5 (for example) and you’ll get totally opposing opinions. WaSP members have never spoken for WaSP – we speak for ourselves as members of WaSP – but in the past you could have been sure that 95% of the group were behind you. That isn’t the case now.”
When Drew McLellan and I were asked to join WaSP we did so to form the Dreamweaver Task Force. We had already both been vocal about our support for web standards within the Dreamweaver community, and were part of the group of developers that Macromedia invited onto their Beta programs. With WaSP backing we went through the Beta of Dreamweaver pointing out the things that didn’t validate and logging them as bugs. To their credit Macromedia were receptive and fixed a lot of those problems and continued improving Dreamweaver to the point where it could produce standards compliant code “out of the box”.
However, it was pretty easy back then. The great work WaSP had already done meant that companies were starting to get it, were starting to realise that this was ultimately going to be important for their bottom line and there was plenty of low hanging fruit. We were just going down a list of things that were obviously incorrect and asking for them to be fixed – no argument there, there wasn’t another point of view – the only issue was whether there was a feasible way to fix something in that version of the product. The relationship between WaSP members and Macromedia was open and understood by both parties – they never attempted to use our involvement as an endorsement of their product and we honoured their NDA during Beta and in what we discussed once the new product was launched.
For Zeldman (a person I greatly respect and who invited Drew and myself onto WaSP all those years ago) to call out Drew and compare the current issue to the work that we did with Dreamweaver under his leadership, is unfair. Although the work we did for Macromedia was under NDA, other people in WaSP were also asked to be under NDA and we had a member of the main steering group (Dori Smith) working with us. So if we started to do anything contrary to the spirit of WaSP we had a more senior member there to pull us up about it. When we posted any announcement about the product we would get approval of the content first. No-one told us we had to do that, it just seemed like the right thing to do if something was to be put out as an announcement on the WaSP website.
In contrast the announcement made on ALA was done without even passing the eyes of the steering committee meaning that WaSP members who didn’t agree could only post to their own blogs to disclaim responsibility. It is not the case (as far as I know) that people refused to sign NDAs. What reason would anyone have for doing that? Most of us sign numerous NDAs in a year in the course of business. No-one is “running away from a broken window shouting ‘I didn’t do it’”, we just don’t want people who are now feeling very let down by WaSP for seeming to endorse this proposal thinking that WaSP as a whole think its a great idea.
Personally I think WaSP have been played by Microsoft. I don’t know whether the non-invitation by Microsoft to co-leads was a deliberate thing, it has certainly worked in Microsoft’s favour. It doesn’t wash with me that the pending announcement could not have been shared with more WaSP members in the few days prior to it being made. A List Apart had it in their hands at that point, why not WaSP? I feel that ALA could have presented the issue in a more even-handed way, perhaps also posting an article from someone who disagreed with the proposal and could argue their case in a coherent way. I believe that approach would have engendered more useful discussion.
So what happens now? Today there are many issues that WaSP could and should be involved in. However I don’t believe it will ever be the grand campaigning movement of times past because times have changed. The ideas pushed by WaSP in the early days have become part of the mainstream view. That isn’t to say that every web developer is committed to or cares about “web standards”, but in terms of authoring tools, platforms and browsers there is generally a goal to attain standards support – along with lots of excuses why we didn’t quite make it! WaSP members are still doing great work with Adobe, within education and in other areas, however we seem to have lost that cohesive drive to get visible things done, which leads to apathy, and I’m as much at fault there as anyone.
So, a question. If there was one thing you would want to see WaSP tackling, what is it and why? Is it simply more education within the developer community? A particular issue within browsers or authoring tools? If WaSP members are supposed to represent the web standards community in some way (and I’ve always felt that to be my remit – I’m just a web developer, no ivory towers here) then I’d like to know what the community feels are the hot topics right now. Perhaps we can find consensus from the wider web standards movement, and use all the passion generated in the last few days to really get things moving again.