Phil Wilson recently reported on his trip to the XTech 2007 conference. Phil’s report included a bullet point which said that “The W3C are crazy”. In response to my request for clarification Phil said that:

There seemed to be a couple of big fat W3C elephants in the room.

The first was that the w3c are doing stuff for use in five or ten years’ time whereas most of the other talks are about things you can do today or next year, which makes them seem like futurologists.

The other is that they really didn’t seem that happy that HTML5 was going ahead, and what the hell was wrong with XHTML2 anyway?

It must be nice to work in a standards organisation where everything you do meets some Platonic Idea of perfection.

I think it is clear that W3C have had a very purist approach to the development of Web standards. Indeed Chris Lilley admitted in a talk on HTML Reloaded at the WWW 2007 conference that “99.99999% of the Web was invalid HTML. W3C pretended that didn’t exist.

The W3C’s purist position is under pressure from companies such as Mozilla and Google, who feel that it is foolish to ignore that Web environment as it is today and build a new version of XHTML which is incompatible with HTML 4 and XHTML 1. Instead these companies, together with others who wish to build on existing tehcnologies, have been pushing evolutionary development of HTML 4, under the name HTML 5.

Under such pressure, the W3C has been forced to back both camps, with the chartering of a HTML Working Group (which will develop HTML ‘classic’) and a XHTML 2 Working Group.

Despite this concession, I feel that there is a culture at W3C which is uncomfortable will the need to address real world constraints and, as Phil describes it, prefers a world  which conforms to a “Platonic Idea of perfection“.

Are W3C crazy? No, not crazy, I would say, but idealist – and perhaps teasing the user community with a vision of perfection which is unlikely to be realised. And when Phil states they are “doing stuff for use in five or ten years’ time” it would seem he underestimates the timescales, as the WHATWG FAQ states, in response to a question on when HTML 5 will be finished: “Around 15 years or more to reach a W3C recommendation (include estimated schedule)“.