The W3C is a restaurant

A fantasy lives in the head of a large number of people about the role of the W3C in the web ecosystem. This fantasy is that the W3C would decide what gets in the web platform and what doesn’t, or even that the W3C would set a vision for the web. This is completely false.

History of an API

XMLHttpRequest, am I right? If you think it’s an innovation from the W3C, you’re wrong and should read up its history. XMLHttpRequest was shipped in IE5 in March 1999 (accessible via ActiveX, but whatever). Mozilla mimicked the interface via a global XMLHttpRequest object and worked on it from December 2000 and June 2002.

The W3C comes into play by publishing a first draft as late as April 5th 2006. The W3C played its sole and only role which is setting up a table for implementors to discuss what goes in the spec based on what has been implemented and what websites rely on to work. This is the history of the vast majority of the APIs we have now on the web (and one of the reason they suck).

Necessary side note

Having had this discussions dozens of time, at this point, I know what a lot of readers think “this is dirty! The web would be much better if the W3C decided of the APIs upfront and implementors arrived later in the game.”. But this is not how things work. This is not how the web work. Get over it, otherwise we’re all wasting time discussing a fantasy world.

The reason the W3C has no decision power is that it has no mechanism to prevent implementors from doing whatever they want. Implementors decide, the W3C is looking at the side.

A bunch of tables

The W3C does not make a single decision when it comes to the web. They tried to push XML, implementors had no interest, so the W3C failed and XML use on the web is now largely anecdotal and absent of modern front-end developer practices.

The W3C is a restaurant. It has a lot of tables, it has a bunch of people paying to be here and discuss at the tables. The W3C at occasions moderates discussions, but that’s its only impact on the web platform. The people around the tables make the decisions, not the restaurant.

Sentence wording

“The W3C supports DRMs and is WRONG!!!!1!!1!ยง”. If a restaurant happens to have racist customers, does it support racism? Not really. Should a table be refused to those with different opinions than us? We’ve seen in the history that having discriminatory policies on who to accept in restaurant never ended well.
The W3C agreed to set a table for people who want to talk about protected content, but never forget the implementors around the table make the decisions, not the W3C. If the W3C didn’t set a table, chances are implementors would happily find another restaurant…