Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom

I’m in Beijing, presenting at the WWW2008 conference.  Last night, we attended a banquet at the Great Hall of the People, which (ironically) is hard for most Chinese people to get into.  On the long bus ride there, I was rather surprised to see a young man driving a trailer-bike with an anarchy flag flying from a pole.

I’d have loved to grab a picture of this, but we were warned that the security wouldn’t let us in with any camera bigger than a mobile phone.  Foolishly, I took them at their word; others brought in SLRs, so it’s clear it wasn’t that serious a matter.  One of my colleagues refused to attend, even though he had a ticket, because he didn’t approve of the security screening; I admire his principles.

The banquet was great, with good food and several performances by singers, dancers, musicians, and even a truncated opera.  Tim Berners-Lee gave the keynote, and he spoke about the size and rate of growth of the Internet, comparing it in size to the number of neurons and connections in the human brain.  He also opined about social networks, urging them to adopt privacy policies that respect the users, with the expectation that that would lead to open systems with open data.  He discussed challenges and opportunities in the standards process, pointing out that the very factors that build cohesion and camaraderie in groups serve as bricks in the wall that divides that group from the larger community.  Finally, when asked to speculate about how the world would change because of the Web, he was quick to point out that the Web was built by people, by the larger community, and that this distributed effort will allow humanity to experiment with new models of economy, of cooperation, of government, and with science itself; that we could “let a thousand flowers bloom”, and pick the best path forward in all our endeavors.

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.

SVG On Acid?

ACID3, that is. Most of you will have heard of the ACID tests put together by the Web Standards Project in order to promote interoperability among browsers. Microsoft recently made a hit in the blogosphere by announcing that the next version of their browser, IE8, passed the ACID2 test, showing their commitment to Web standards.

Ian Hickson, who wrote the second ACID test, is now working on ACID3. He recently started a contest to get contributions from the community on what features they want tested.

SVG has had a huge surge of popularity in the past few years; it’s now used on Wikipedia and Google Maps, and largely implemented in 3 of the 4 major browsers (it works in Opera, Safari, and Firefox). There are a few inconsistencies between implementations, so we thought ACID3 would be a great chance for a push for SVG interoperability. The SVG Working Group, most notably Erik Dahlstrom of Opera and Invited Expert Cameron McCormack, devised a few tests that we hope will be included in ACID3.

You can read the explanations for the tests, and see the tests themselves, in Erik’s email. Let us know what you think, and if you support the inclusion of SVG in ACID3 (and let Ian Hickson know, too). Maybe by the release of IE8, it will pass ACID3 –and any SVG tests– too.

[originally published on the W3C Questions and Answers blog]

Update (25-01-2008): Just so you know, our efforts paid off.  Hixie accepted our tests, and SVG will be in slots  70-74 (or 75) of the Acid3 test.  I think this will be a great win for interoperability, and nice acknowledgment that SVG is a first-class citizen of Web architecture.  Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the tests and to the conversation, and to Ian Hickson for putting the tests in (and for driving Acid3 in general).


I just signed the contract! I’m now officially part of the W3C Team, in the role of staff contact for the SVG, CDF, and WebAPI Working Groups. Basically, I’ll be writing and editing technical specs (and tests and tutorials and sundry other periphiana), promoting the implementation and use of open standards, doing grunt work for group members, aiding in liaisons between groups and organizations, organizing international meetings, and getting people to play nice together. And coding… I think it’s important to eat my own cooking (not literally, though… I’m not much of a cook).

The contract is actually retroactive to June 1st, since I unofficially started on the job while waiting for the paperwork to go through (though I’ve been keeping it relatively quiet, in case things went pear-shaped; I have to thank Chris Lilley for his heroic efforts in making it all work out). The position is funded through the Keio University W3C host office in Japan, and I’m excited about visiting there (and hopefully staying there for a time). For now, I’m working from home or on the road.

I wasn’t really a great fit at 6th Sense (my last job), though I think they’re all good folks, and I wish them well with what is truly an innovative service. Frankly, though, I was more passionately involved in my Standards work, and I don’t think that a start-up like that really has a strong need for a pet standards geek (they’re using standards, but not implementing them). Obviously, sometimes you have to sacrifice some of your passion for quotidian practicalities (I have a mortgage after all), but in this case, I was lucky enough to have a safety net: an open position at W3C, with a job description practically tailored to me. I’ve been actively involved with SVG for years, and as part of the WG for a year and a half; I’ve been in on WebAPI since it’s inception, and even presented at the Compound Documents Workshop where the idea was conceived. The pay is not nearly as good as I was getting before, but I think I will find it more fulfulling. Open standards gives me hope for the future.

But I’m not a believer in open standards because I’m an employee of W3C; I’m an employee of W3C because I’m a believer in open standards. I feel strongly that they are the only thing that allows the Web to flourish, and I have grave misgivings about proprietary formats (like Flash and Silverlight). This is an opportunity for me to devote myself to keeping the Web open and to move it forward. The W3C has had a bit of a rough couple of years, PR-wise, with criticism of its methodology, but I think that it is the best hope we have for a free Web. I’m honored to be a part of it.

Climbing the Alps

I’ve spent the last week here in Zurich, Switzerland, for an SVG F2F. I’m staying with Andreas Neumann (GIS PhD student, SVG pioneer, and organizer of the SVG Open conference series) and his wife J. (also a cartographer); they’ve been gracious hosts to Erik Dahlstrom and me, providing room and board in their spacious and elegant apartment nestled in a small village outside of Zurich. The weather has been nice, and several times we dined out on their patio, including Friday night when they had the whole Working Group over for dinner. The view is of the Alps is lovely, though Andreas says it’s even better when the sky is clear… they can see higher peaks further away. Yesterday, the four of us took a gloriously scenic train ride down to Lucano, on the shores of Lake Lugano in the Italian part of Switzerland. We hiked up a small mountain and had lunch at a restaurant at the peak. It was somewhat cloudy and rained a bit while we were eating (good timing), but the view was still lovely, and we all had a good time.

Speaking of climbing the Alps, the SVG F2F was a lot like that. We have all been channeling the bulk of our energies for the last several weeks (and to a lesser extent, months) toward preparing for the SVG Tiny 1.2 Test Fest. It’s been like climbing a mountain, with long tedious preparation before the event, culminating in a burst of exertion. Concentrating on the testing, we didn’t have the opportunity to cover as wide a variety of issues as we have in past F2Fs, though we did spend Friday afternoon discussing administrivia, some unresolved issues with the microDOM, and the other specs we’re working on, including Print and Filters.

Read on past the fold if you care for a little more detail about the technical stuff…
Continue reading “Climbing the Alps”

W3C 2.0

I’m here in Banff, Canada for the 2007 W3C AC (Advisory Council) meeting. The AC is essentially the company reps to the W3C. I played a small part in one of the panel discussions yesterday.

It was the last presentation of the 2-day conference, and the theme was Web2.0: what it is, and how the W3C is adapting to and enabling it. I gave an overview of what Web2.0ey things WAF and WebAPI WGs are doing. It went well… I made a short SVG slideshow with some geeky in-jokes, and it got some laughs. It may have been slightly overshadowed, however, by the conversation between 2 of the other panelists: Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the Web) and Tim O’Reilly (a prominent tech publisher who coined the term Web2.0). Tough act to follow.

The conference was a lot of fun, as usual, and I got to meet and talk with a lot of technical luminaries, including Dave Raggett, who’s generously letting Chaals and I crash in his hotel room.