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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