How a W3C group works, Part 2

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.

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How a W3C group works

This is my first post about how the W3C groups work. I am more or less enabled to say what I want about the group and work, but I think it is more interesting to my “readers” to know how it works rather than simply what we said in the group meeting in Boston. What was said at the latest meeting (and during the teleconferences) is generally reflected in the public documents that are released periodically. As an external “user” of the W3C recommendations I have always wondered about how they work.
So here is my insight.

As you might already know, in May 2005 I was asked from Dan Appelquist to consider joining the MWI BPWG. I immediately said I was interested and wanted to know more about the group and the work involved. Being part of a Working Group seemed like a great opportunity to meet many interesting people with very different backgrounds and get to talk about WURFL in “standards body”. I know W3C is NOT a standards body, but basically many of their recommendations are considered so.

Soon I got to work against a little bit of burocracy. Since I don’t work for a company that is member of the W3C (I’m self-employed) I had to ask to join as an “invited expert”. Being part of the W3C is an important thing for many companies and I understand that inviting people to join groups without being members is a little strange. At the same time I think that sometimes it can be useful to the group. “invited expert” means that I am considered an expert of the specific argument the group will talk about and get to join the group without paying to be a member of the W3C. All other expenses are on me (or my company).

The London meeting (late June 2005) happened just a few days after I said I was interested to join. The paperwork wasn’t done yet. I joined the meeting as an “Observer”. An observer is generally someone who is interested in the work of the group and would like to know more to understand what is going on and maybe consider joining the group. In general an observer should not really be part of the working group during the meeting, but may suggest something or ask questions (as far I as understood).

Later in July I got to officially join both the “Best Practices” WG, chaired by Dan and the “Device Description” WG chaired by Rotan Hanrahan. As far as WURFL is concerned, the DDWG sounded more interesting, but I (personally) wanted to also take part to the BPWG. Mobile Web is going to be interested for all mobile and non-mobile (web)site developers!
Joining a group really means a lot of extra work. This is something I want to say from now, because I really was surprised by the amoung of extra work that I got to do. I thought it would have taken 1,2 or 3 extra hours per week, but it is not so.
First of all you have to attend at least 1 teleconference every week which lasts about an hour or a little more. Than you have to read e-mails and possibly reply, when you have something to say. Then you have to read drafts that are not made public, provide your comments and maybe give a rationale for your comments. Then there are periodic face-2-face meetings, such as the one in London, the one in Rome, now in Boston… Following 2 groups is a lot of work. I think of the chairs, the editors or people who follows more than 2 groups. I am sure those are full-time jobs, I mean you really don’t get much time to do anything else.
This was the first surprise, I always thought that members of these groups had a lot of time to do other things, but if you are actively following 3-5 groups, I am sure it takes you almost an entire day.

Ok, this post is already becoming too long, I’ll talk more in the next days. I am still in New York City for my holidays, but I will be back in Italy next week.

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Boston meeting is over

The meeting is now over, today is Saturday.
The Device Indipendence meeting ended yesterday in the early afternoon.
Boston greeted the W3C members with a nice snowstorm!
This is an “action-shot”:

I plan on writing a few articles about how work within the W3C works. If you are curious, check back soon.

W3C MWI meeting in Rome

Today is saturday. Last week has been a really busy week.
I have been in Florence (for my consultancy with DADA), then I woke up EARLY (6:00 AM) and took a train to Rome.
In Rome I had three intense days for the W3C meetings for the two WG’s. We first had a day of BP (Best Practices), then a day of joint meeting with DD (Device Description) and then a final day of DD. In the late evening I left to go back to Florence and do my day at DADA. I came back to milan on late Friday (the train arrived around 8:20).

The first two days of meeting were the most intense. We had many things to talk about and many different members of the group had different ideas. It was hard sometimes, and I remember Dan Appelquist (the chair) having a hard time sometimes.
The good thing is that it seems like most of the attenders were really willing to share their ideas and this will certainly lead to better results.
Many important topics were touched, but the most important thing is that we wanted to get the first public Draft ready. It is not yet ready, so you won’t see it on the MWI’s webpage, but it’s coming. We have agreed many different things and we will expect many comments from the community to go ahead with our work.
I am not an expert of the processes of the W3C’s WG’s, but I expect it to be ready for public review in a few weeks, 2 I would say.

I will not discuss the topics of the meeting and the things that rose most problems (problems meant as hard to decide which way to take) because you will see it in the draft and also I still don’t know how much I can “reveal”.

Anyway it’s really cool to be in a WG, especially as I an invited expert, so my company is not exactly paying to make sure that I’m part of the group, but rather Dan and Rotan (the two chairs) wanted me to be there, which is really great!

If you have visited the BP’s homepage you will have seen that we have a blog. I would like to dedicate some time to write an article, but if you noticed I didn’t even have time for my own, so it’s hard. Also, I would like it to be a good post… We’ll see if I can come up with a good topic to discuss.

Working at late night

Lately I haven’t posted anything interesting. I have been busy with work and real life.

Following the W3C WG’s takes time. You need not only to follow the mailing list and take part to teleconferences (I regularly forget and need someone to ping me!!), but you also have to read the proposed documents and try to make wise suggestions on how to make them better.
While this might have seemed something easy, I have realized that it does take time and since I’m not there just to look at others work, it is taking a good amount of my time (at least more than I had expected).

This made me think of about 1 and half years ago. We were working really hard to complete a project that had been started late and had a well defined dead-line.
The last 3-4 days had been crazy, working until late night (3,4 in the morning).
The very last day we worked until 7am, trying to complete all the features.

While it was REEEALLY stressing, it has also been fun. I really enjoyed that project and the people I worked with.

This is an “action shot” taken that night:

This poor girl was the DBA. She didn’t have much to do, except in case we (Developers) had a problem, but for some reason did not want to leave. She remained until 6am, I think. We were working and didn’t notice that she was sleeping… We wanted to finish everything and were really in a hurry. We were not being quite or anything, but she must have been REALLY tired.
I couldn’t stop myself from taking a couple of pictures.
She had a notepad open and was “writing” a ton of “g”.

She woke up a couple of times, raised her head and then slowly dropped it back down on the keyboard.

We had a few minutes of giggles.