This the second article about how a W3C group works. It’s been a while since my last post about this topic, but I really did not have time for this.
I know I should be more regular and try to keep my topics focused and so on, but .. basically .. I’m not a pro-blogger!
So here come some more information about how all the magic at the W3C happens.
The group is always in contact, there is always communication among the members and the community outside. While some members are more active and some others are less, there is a good amount of communication, in my opinion.
The preferred medium is the email, of course. Every group has a member-only mailing list. Every member can write an email any time he feels like there’s something to say to the group or a question to ask.
Everything starts from the face-2-face meetings, members get to talk and decide many things. As a consequence, members get some actions assigned. For example I get to write a paragraph about “forms”. When I have the passage ready I write an email to the member-list with the proposed text. The discussion begins. Other members send their comments. Comments can be both about the contents of the passage or about how it is written. Sometimes you get long discussions, some other times people mostly agrees. When the group seems to have reached consensus about the text it gets to the editor. The editors are those members that not only take part to the group, but are also responsible for taking the proposed texts and add them to the main document that will become a recommendation. Editors get A LOT of extra work because they get to review the texts (make sure there are no syntax errors, etc) and also work really hard on the first draft of the document writing down the first index trying to understand what the group meant during the first meetings.
Email is a really good medium, because you get the time to read what other members posted and think about a reply. For example you can take the time to get on internet and search for other resources, go check a book and more. In my case, not being English, it also offers the time to review my own comments slowly to make sure that my idea is explained clearly. No resolutions are taken in emails.
At the first face-2-face meeting of the group (at the end of June 2005 for my groups) members decide when is a good time to meet on the phone on a weekly basis. Telecoferences are 1 hour long, more or less.
Teleconferences are reached dialling a US number (ouch!). An electronic voice answers and asks you to dial the group name, in my case BPWG (2794) or DDWG (3394) and ‘#’. You join the call. Teleconferences have a moderator that may mute some members if needed (it never happened in none of my groups if not because of background noises) and should make sure that the agenda for the meeting is followed. The agenda is the result of the discussion during the week on the mailing lists. Generally the chair of the group is also the moderator. In some rare occasions in which the chair is not available another chair is picked. Teleconferences are really important because actions get assigned to members, issues are open if needed and most of all the group takes resolutions about the topics discussed in the previous days. When a resolution is taken it means that the group has agreed on something and an issue (if any) should be closed or a text is approved to get into the document. Sometimes the group resolves that a new text is needed and a new action is assigned. Resolutions can be complex or very simple, such as rename a paragraph.
During the teleconference is often useful to post a URL or to paste some text that you want to show to the other members. For this there is an IRC channel. Every group has its own channel.
In the channel there is always a bot called Zakim. Zakim has a few nice features, the most interesting is that it’s integrated with the teleconference software. From the IRC you can mute people. For example I am always in a noisy room, I simply write “Zakim, mute me” on the IRC and it mutes me on the phone. Zakim also helps the chair and the members to keep the queue of people who wants to say something.
The chair names the new topic, the first/next on the agenda. He will generally summarize the topic to remind what we are going to talk about and then pass the word to the person who rose the problem or proposed the text. If I want to comment on that I will write on IRC “q+” and Zakim will add me to the queue. At any time members can check who’s on the queue. When you get to speak you are removed from the queue with another command.
There is also another bot that takes care of writing the minutes in an HTML form so that you can read them in a decent way on the web. The minutes, how do they get written? At the beginning of the call the group decides who will be the scribe. The scribe writes what people says on the phone so that it will get registered. Members will later receive a copy of the minutes, this is useful as a reminder and is also useful for members who could not attend the call.
During teleconferences the group decides if, for example the proposed texts were satisfactory and if issues were resolved. There is an automatic system that again, with some keywords such as “ISSUE:” or “ACTION:“, automatically adds informations to the members-only pages. For example if during the call someone raises a topic and I volunteer to write a passage about it for the document, I get an ACTION assigned. There is a tracking system on the W3C’s site where I can check my open actions and issues. Writing an email on the list with a topic that starts with ACTION 69 will associate the text of the email (thus the thread) to that action that you can later visualize on the web.
This is all really nice and often when you get to write a text it’s really useful to be able to go back to the minutes and to the previous emails that were exchanged.
These are more or less the tools that are given to the members of the group.
There is also a public mailing list where anyone can read and write. The group members try to respond to people who writes on the list.
When I was outside of the working groups and wrote to the public lists I always thought that the public mailing list would not be kept so much into consideration. I discovered that the public mailing list gets A LOT of attention and the members always try to find a solution to what people says on the public list. This is always reflected in the drafts and later in the recommendations.