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Web Developer Representation in W3C

During its annual general member meeting on October 19th, the Fronteers board will propose both to become a member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and to hire Rachel Andrew as our representative in that standards body.

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What is Fronteers? Why does it want to become a W3C member? And how can you help? Read on; we’ll start with the second question.

Browser vendors have the greatest say

As we all know, W3C sets the web standards. In practice, browser vendors have the greatest say in W3C. They have the most experience in implementing web standards, and they have so much at stake in the standardization process that they’re willing to allocate budget for their W3C representatives.

All in all, this system works decently. Although all browser vendors have their own priorities and pet features and are willing to push them to the point of implementing them before a formal specification is available, they are all aware that building the web is a communal effort, and that their ideas won’t succeed in the long term without other vendors implementing them as well.

Web developers have little say

Nonetheless, it’s us web developers who are primarily responsible for actually using web standards. We have as much experience as browser vendors in the practical usage of web standards, though our viewpoint is somewhat different.

It’s good when we have the web developers’ viewpoint represented at the W3C table. An example is gutters in CSS Grid. Originally, the specification did not include them, but when Rachel Andrew, as a W3C Invited Expert, was evangelizing the (then) upcoming Grid specification, it turned out web developers wanted them. Since she could prove that web developers working in the wild wanted them, Rachel was able to convince the CSS Working Group (CSS WG) of the need for gutters. Without her volunteering to be in the CSS WG, this might not have happened, or would have happened later, forcing web developers to work around the lack of gutters with hacks.

It’s not that they don’t want our input

W3C is willing, even eager, to listen to web developers. Any web developer willing to enter the W3C discussions is welcomed with open arms—in fact, the role of Invited Expert was created exactly for this reason. Lack of interest by W3C is not the problem.

Instead, the problem is one of time and money. An independent web developer who participates in W3C discussions has to volunteer a lot of time—time that could otherwise be spent earning money. Serious involvement additionally means attending the face-to-face meetings held all across the globe—more time, more money.

The web would be better served by having more professional viewpoints than just the browser makers’. Web developers in general would be served by having a W3C representative.

But it all comes down to money. How do we pay our W3C representative?

Superficially, this is a thorny problem. What we need is an organization of web professionals that has enough income to pay not only the representative’s fee, but also their W3C membership dues and travel costs.

If we don’t do it, nobody else will

This problem disappears once you know such an organization actually exists: Fronteers, the professional association of Dutch front-end developers.

Founded in 2007, Fronteers is best known for its annual Fronteers conference in October, but that’s not all it does. It has been locally active with workshops, meetups, a job board, and other activities for Dutch front-enders. More to the point, some of its activities are pretty profitable, and it has spent far less money than it has made in the past eleven years.

That’s why the Fronteers board decided to take the plunge and propose both to become a W3C member and to hire a representative. The need is clear, we have the money, and if we don’t do it, nobody else will.

Members will vote on this proposal at the annual general meeting on October 19th, and I, for one, fervently hope they’ll vote in favor. If the members agree, Fronteers will apply for W3C membership and contract Rachel Andrew as soon as is feasible.

The choice for Rachel as our representative is an obvious one. Not only is she instrumental in specifying and evangelizing CSS Grid, but she is also well-acquainted with the W3C’s processes, politics, and agenda, having served as an Invited Expert for many years. We couldn’t think of any better candidate to serve as web developers’ first representative in W3C.

But we can’t do it alone

But that’s not all we’re planning. We want the rest of the world to become involved as well.

We see Rachel as the W3C voice of web developers around the world and not just as our private Fronteers representative. Though we are taking the lead for practical reasons (and because we have the funding), we see ourselves as the creators of a framework that web communities in other countries can join—and contribute to financially.

There are two practical problems we cannot solve on our own. First, while new W3C non-profit members pay only 25% of the annual W3C fee for the first two years, beginning with the third year we’ll be on the hook for the full fee. Second, W3C membership gives us the right to appoint four representatives, but that is beyond our means.

Again, it all boils down to money. While we could probably afford the full annual W3C fee, and our budget might conceivably be expanded and restructured enough to hire half of a second representative, that’s about the limit of what we can do without our treasurer being afflicted with a permanent sadface and other stress-induced symptoms.

If we want to continue web developer representation in W3C beyond two years and one representative, we need outside help. We can’t do it on our own.

Here’s how you can help

Ask yourself: do you believe in the idea of having independent web developers’ voices represented in W3C? Do you think that it will make a difference, that it will make your work easier in the future? Do you feel this is something that has to be done?

If so, please consider helping us.

We would love to see other organizations of web professionals similar to Fronteers around the globe, contributing to a general fund to cover the cost of a collective W3C membership and compensating our four representatives for their time.

Yes, that’s a lot of work. But we did it, so it’s possible. Besides, you likely won’t have to do the work all by yourself. If you like the idea, others will as well and will jump in to help. Collaborating for a common cause is something the web community is rather good at.

Will this work? We have no idea. We do know, however, that there’s a limit to what Fronteers can do. While we’re happy to take the lead for two years, we cannot shoulder this burden permanently by ourselves.

You can learn more about our plans at the Fronteers site, where you can also let us know how you can help. Rachel has also written about her work as a W3C Invited Expert over at Smashing Magazine.

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