back to article The W3C steers the way the World Wide Web works. Yet it is reluctant to record crucial meetings – and its minutes are incomplete

Since October 2019, people participating in discussions about the way the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) builds web standards have been unable to decide whether meetings held by the standard's body's various groups should be recorded or not. The chair of the W3C Process Community Group, Apple software standards manager David …

  1. Warm Braw Silver badge

    They need a secretariat

    The meeting minutes never capture nuance, they are all formatted differently

    Having been involved in these types of meetings, the last thing you want is the minutes to be taken by an unwilling victim. Closely followed by a tedious record of every word uttered.

    You need a small technical secretariat who take responsibility not only for minuting the significant content of the meetings but highlighting and tracking the outstanding issues and steering the meeting chair to drive the discussions towards a conclusion. There are actually people who can do that competently and, in the context of the scale of W3C, hiring a couple might make sense.

    1. EvilGardenGnome

      Re: They need a secretariat

      For a professional, organized group with the power they wield, it is very strange they don't have such a group in place. If they're worried about recordings, then hire a few stenographers while they're at it. Record everything by default, redact if there's sensitive information, and make use of in camera sessions.

      You know, like every other responsible body that doesn't want to rule by fiat.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What is this bullshit ?

    You are at the top levels of an organization that defines how the Internet works, and you don't always record the minutes of your meetings ?

    I don't care if you don't make them public, you record your meeting minutes. No questions, no exceptions, and those who don't like it can bow out and be replaced by some who do.

    This is not a precious snowflake, personal privacy situation. This is a required functionality of meetings : the ability to know what was discussed and when and what the decision was.

    If you want to keep those meetings private, that's a different story. But you record the damn minutes.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: What is this bullshit ?

      Indeed. You are the guardians of the world's most important open standards but you don't want to open your meetings? FFS! Any member of the public can go to a meeting of my local Parish Council and stream it live from their smartphone. These "guardians" are too self-oriented to be competent guardians.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "It is important both that people be able to participate, and that they feel comfortable expressing their inputs. Since we have heard from some people that they would not be comfortable participating if they expected audio recordings to be made available"

    That seems to be a cogent argument for making recordings and making them public.

    1. EvilGardenGnome

      Or have an anonymous submission system. Record the content, not the speaker. If you want to lend the weight of your organization to your voice, damn well do it publicly.

  4. Chris G

    Considering what they discuss and decide, in one way or another effectively affects the entire world, they should record all meetings.

    Ultimately, it is us the users who pay for it, where do they think the money comes from that makes their companies and the individuals who are involved a part of W3C?

    Elected or not they ought to be open to scrutiny.

  5. RyokuMas

    Hmmm.... interesting

    "... another Googler, Chrome developer advocate Yoav Weiss, made the case for the benefits of recordings..."

    The immediate snark instinct here is to go with "... and then was promptly fired by Google". But looking a bit deeper:

    - This lack of accurate records potentially could impact the integrity of the W3C

    - Google's representatives are advocating that meetings should be recorded, with a preference for accuracy

    So in this instance, the W3C look bad, but Google look good. The same Google who have a vested interest in controlling what we see on the web and how we see it (insert usual links regarding AMP, ad "blocking", censored browsers for China, etc). The same Google who have always used "user security and convenience" as a cover for adding yet more tracking and profiling.

    I'm willing to bet that Google would love to see the W3C undermined - without a cohesive forum for the creation and ratification of standards, it would be childs play for them to effectively lobby and use their market position in search, browser, mobile OS, video etc. to put themselves in a place where they can dictate the "standards" of the web, and rest of the world would have to bend over and accept it.

    Heck, it's practically happening now: ladies and gentlemen, I give you Chromium-based Edge by Microsoft.

    And having a private company trying to dictate how everything should be done worked soooo well in past. IE6, I'm looking at you...

    1. IceC0ld

      Re: Hmmm.... interesting

      you absolute BEAST you ........... IE6 .......... *shudders*

      1. RyokuMas
        Thumb Up

        Re: Hmmm.... interesting

        Was there. Saw it. Swore at it.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    If you don't want it recorded?

    If you don't want it recorded and released, there's only one reason - you don't want commoners to know what you said.

    If you don't want commoners to know what you said, there's only one reason - it would be detrimental to you and your company.

    This is bullshit. And you can record and release that.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some unwarranted paranoia.

    I'm on a number of working groups, including at least one with the W3C - just got off the call, in fact.

    The meetings may not be recorded but they are always minuted, and in my experience the minutes match the gist of the discussion fairly closely. There's typically a scribe furiously typing in real-time (in the groups I'm in, it's usually an official one - from the "secretariat", as suggested above, but sometimes a volunteer participant) and where errors happen, they're almost always corrected by whoever spoke - because the minutes are public and searchable, everyone has an interest in ensuring the written record of what they said was accurate.

    This point bears repeating. The minutes are public, searchable, with the handle of the commenter and the words they said.. It's about as far from "ooh, they're keeping it secret" as you can get.

    There are obviously slip-ups (when the scribing role has rotated to me, perhaps more than there should have been - some people talk very, very quickly). And this may not apply to all aspects of the W3C - I can only comment on the bits I've interacted with.

    But overall I am very impressed by the process, and I've been able to piece together conversations from years ago to help my work. By comparison, some of the other committees I'm on (ISO ones), where the meetings are recorded, but private to within the working group and typically unminuted. These are next to useless for finding anything, and in my opinion this is a major problem - contributions become limited to a very small group, and this contributes to the "cathedral" aspect of ISO specs, as opposed to the "bazaar" aspect of W3C ones.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Some unwarranted paranoia.

      I'm glad to hear that. As I understand it, according to you, everything is written down, everything is done in a standard way, public, and the only downside is that sometimes people talk too fast for the minutes to be correct. So, if everything's public, and the meeting is over audio, what is the problem recording the audio and using it to help the people taking dictation? Or, you know, releasing it? If you and your colleagues have no problem having everything transcribed, what problem do you have with it being recorded instead? If you don't have any problem with it being recorded, then may I suggest that possibly the people who do are not on the group you're on and therefore that you don't know what they may be doing, legitimate or not? And if that is the case, your description of the trustworthiness is not very useful, is it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Some unwarranted paranoia.

        First, not every meeting is audio. Some - more than normal at the moment, thanks to COVID - are video too. Some switch from audio to video when a whiteboard is required.

        Florian made a number of points on the original discussion as to why recordings may hinder discussion. I agree with all of them. Read the original discussion if you want to, it's all public and linked to from the article. Frankly the chances of a large group of people, ranging from 1-person consultancies (there are more than you might think), through small companies to mega-corps (many of which are in competition) agreeing on a conspiracy are pretty slim. If anything, the heated nature of some of the debates is as a good reason not to record as any.

        Ultimately you get to make your own decision on whether to trust my description of the trustworthiness of the process. But it's a losing battle. Someone will cry "conspiracy", the internet nut-jobs will furiously point fingers (exhibit A, some of the earlier comments in this thread) and all the engineers involved in the working groups will be rather glad their every word isn't being recorded and scrutinised by strangers with an axe to grind. The distrust cuts both ways. All I can say is, in the few years I've been involved, in the specific working-groups I'm in, I haven't seen anything other than a bunch of engineers from a large number of countries, companies and with many special-interests, all more-or-less cooperating. If there's a conspiracy, I'm not in on it.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Some unwarranted paranoia.

          "all the engineers involved in the working groups will be rather glad their every word isn't being recorded and scrutinised by strangers with an axe to grind"

          According to your description, I can already scrutinize any words I want because the minutes are being recorded. You mentioned some alterations during fast discussion, not cutting out. Given that that's your primary reason, it seems like your objection isn't valid. You are worried that people will do something they are already capable of doing. The only way people couldn't already do this is if minutes aren't accurate, public, or comprehensive. You have claimed that they are all of these things.

          I don't believe there are massive conspiracies they need to keep hidden. Nor do I really care about whether recordings or minutes are released. They don't mind publicly announcing standards that were obviously created by corporate interests and not considered by much else, so I don't think there's very much they might want to hide. However, despite this, your claims don't seem to make sense. You claim that recording isn't necessary because text minutes are kept, that audio or video recording would lead to unneeded scrutiny of every word while claiming that nearly every word is written down and made public, that publicity of data is potentially harmful and that in the interest of publicity minutes have been standardized and organized. In each case, the claims appear to contradict.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Some unwarranted paranoia.

            Briefly, because I do actually have work to do - my primary claim is that the engineers involved are entitled to their privacy as well. Discussions on technical matters must be, and are, minuted and everyone involved has a strong self interest to ensure it's accurate. The side channel discussions (there are very few, but they do exist) about dates, times, places for meetings, contact details, personal issues - those can and should be kept private.

            I joined the W3C because their process were open, public and (as I determined after several years lurking) effective at producing a well designed spec and documenting the decisions that led to it. I believe the process continues to meet those requirements, and if that changed I would speak up. Again, I can only speak for the small aspects I'm involved in, and I doubt it's perfect, but in 30 years of this game it's the best I've seen, which is why I'm posting at all. The source for this article seems mostly interested in making a name for himself as a privacy crusader, which doesn't interest me in the slightest. Nor do the politics.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open discussion or public record: choose one

    The W3C Committee of which I was a member was fractious and factional, as three groups (two rival factions of technologists and the High Priests Of Tim) fought for a single spec to favour THEIR approach. The High Priests of Tim had the big advantage that if the eventual standard didn't match the Great Prophet Tim's marketing diagram that he drew before a conference keynote one day, they could bring the whole process down, collapsing the standard and restarting with a Committee more favourable to them.

    After significant horse trading, we eventually got a Recommendation out that pleased nobody but was tolerable to everybody, by specifying three different flavours of the standard and very reluctantly accepting one key restriction from the High Priests of Tim. It worked well enough to be used and, eventually, replaced with a better Version 2. Other Recommendations have since been built on top of its provisions.

    Had we had a requirement to release full recordings of those meetings, that Recommendation would never have been completed, and the work on top of it would never have happened. The inability to resolve infighting would have pulled it down. The sanitised records process provided by agreed, partial minutes saved it.

    (And if you don't understand why I'm posting anonymously, you've not been involved in this stuff!)

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