Third Time’s the Charm

I’m here in Sydney to attend the SVG Working Group F2F. This marks the third time I’ve done this trip. When I first joined the SVG WG, I flew here for my first face-to-face meeting, and SVG 1.2 Tiny was in the can, no new features, only such changes as required by Last Call comments; this was a bit frustrating for someone who set out to represent authors, since I really felt some new functionality was needed. But it had already been too long between versions, and SVG 1.2 Tiny just needed to be published before new work could be started, so I took one for the team. I was assured that it would be published and done within months.

Well, the best-laid plans… I was here last January again, and the same situation applied. We’d received an avalanche of Last Call comments, from typos to tweaks to time-wasters to trip-wires. It amounted to a sort of Denial of Specification attack. Many of the comments were valid criticisms (though a few of those couldn’t be helped due to legacy or other dependencies), but an equal number were ideological. But all of them had to be dealt with. This had occupied the past year, and looked to occupy the foreseeable future, but we soldiered on. The biggest chunk of work was dealing with errata for SVG 1.1, and with the test suite and implementor feedback (which is the point of “CR”, the Candidate Recommendation stage of becoming a W3C Recommendation). We also split out some functionality into the WebAPI WG, so it could be more generally used by other Web technologies besides SVG. So last year, it looked like one step up and two steps back.

And now another year has passed. In this last year, I came to work for W3C directly, and the SVG WG has two new Chairs, one each from a desktop and a mobile implementor (Opera and BitFlash). SVG 1.1 is better specified, due to errata, and better implemented, due to good, interoperable native implementations in Opera, Safari/WebKit, and Firefox. SVG 1.2 Tiny is widely deployed on mobile phones (more widely than Flash Lite), due to excellent implementation by BitFlash and Ikivo, and has a good test suite that’s still growing (and will keep growing even after it’s published… can’t have too many tests). We’ve cleaned up the SVG 1.2 Tiny spec, and made progress on ancillary specifications. We’ve pared down what needs doing in order to move forward to the next stage on the Recommendation Track. We’ve learned from past mistakes, and we’re working more openly with implementors and the general public.

And we’re talking about new features. We spent a day this F2F planning several small modules for the next year or so that will add capability to SVG, and make it easier to author compelling content in this iPhone age. SVG was a bit ahead of its time (especially as regards uptake in desktop browsers), but with the delays of the past couple of years, competing technologies are pulling ahead. We’ve got an aggressive plan that includes bringing in more direct feedback from designers and developers, and targeted feature additions.

When I joined the Working Group three years ago, SVG was struggling and morale was low. But now we’re really excited by all the recent progress and the momentum behind SVG. This looks like a good year for SVG.