That Old-Skool Smell, Part 2
The last post covered a few of the ways that the W3C isn't effective facilitating the discussions that lead to new standards work and, more generally, how trying to participate feels as though you are being transported back to a slower, more mediated era.
Which brings up a couple of things I've noticed across the W3C and which can likely be fixed more quickly. But some background first: due to W3C rules, it's hard to schedule meetings (usually conference calls) quickly. You often need 2 weeks notice for it to happen under a W3C-condoned WG, but canceling meetings is, as we all know, much easier. As a result, many groups set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings but, in practice, meet much less frequently. This lightens the burden for those participating heavily in one or two topics, but leaves occasional participants and those trying to engage from non-majority time-zones at a serious dis-advantage because the notice of meeting cancellation is near-universally handled via mailing list messages.
Yes, you read that right, the W3C uses mailing lists to manage meeting notices. In 2013. And there is no uniformity across groups.
Thanks to Peter Linss, the TAG is doing better: there's an ical feed for all of our upcoming meetings that anyone can subscribe to. Yes, notices are still sent to the list, but you no longer need to dig through email to attempt to find out if the regularly-scheduled meeting is going to happen. Wonder of wonders, I can just look at my calendar...at least when it comes to the TAG.
That this is new says, to my mind, everything you need to know about how the current structure of the W3C's spending on technical infrastructure and staff has gone unchallenged for far, far too long. The TAG is likewise starting to make a move from CVS to Git...and once again it finds itself at the vanguard of organizational practice. That here has been no organization-wide attempt to get WGs to move to more productive tools is, to me, an indicator of how many in positions of authority (if not power) at the WG and on the Staff think things are going. That this state of affairs isn't prima-facia evidence of the need for urgent change and modernization says volumes. As usual, it's not about the tools, but about the way the tools help the organization meet (or fail to meet) its goals. Right now, "better" looks like what nearly every member organization's software teams are already doing. Modernizing in this environment will be a relief, not a burden.
It's also sort of shocking to find that there are no dashboards. Anywhere. For anything -- at least not ones that I can find.
No progress or status dashboard to give the organization a sense for what's currently happening, no dashboard to show charter and publication milestones across groups, no visible indicators about which groups are highly active and which are fading away.
If the W3C has an optics problem -- and I submit that it does -- it's not doing itself any favors by burying the evidence of its overall trajectory and in arcane mailing lists.
There is, at base, a question raised by this and many other aspects of W3C practice: how can the organization be seen to be a good steward of member time, attention, and resources when it does not seem to pay much mind to the state of the workshop. I'd be delighted to see W3C staff liasons for WGs working to make products visible, easy to engage with, and efficient to contribute to as their primary objective. As it is, I don't sense that's their role.
And that's just not great customer service.. I hope I'm wrong, or I hope that changes.