Finding the W3C was like finding a new friend. The work was meaningful and interesting The people were smart, kind, and idealistic. The W3C had a remarkable spirit, a strong culture, a storied history, and an important mission. But today the W3C is facing many challenges—financial, organizational, political. We need more voices, and a broader range of voices, to bring the web to its full potential. I think I can help.
I have been involved in standards since 2008 while building digital publications at Wiley. Publishing is the business of sharing information, whether it be a scientific paper, a novel, or a textbook. We bring knowledge to the masses. But users of publications have a certain set of expectations. Today, everything is online—scholars and their research, students and their assignments. However, we have yet to provide the foundational publishing experiences and expectations to Web users. Consequently, my work has included topics ranging from user authorization, to Linked Data in STEM content (show me all the info on THAT compound), to adding accessibility metadata to schema.org. I believe that publishers need the Web, a Web built from standards.
I have been an active member of the W3C for 5 years. I have chaired the Digital Publishing Interest Group (DPUB) and now the Publishing Working Group for most of that time. I became involved in the ARIA WG through my publishing work, and continue to moonlight there as well as other WAI activities. In trying to find creative solutions for some authorization issues, I got involved in Verifiable Claims. When I encountered a code of conduct issue as a chair, I became involved in the Positive Work Environment Task Force and contributed to some work on best practices. That work overlapped with the Working Group Effectiveness Task Force. I found people who wanted to solve the same problems I did, so I joined the efforts.
I had my doubts when colleagues approached me about running for the AB. After reviewing the 2018 AB priorities and recent discussions on the ac-forum, I realized that these are issues I care about, the issues I’ve been hoping to solve. I’ve had discussions about diversity in the W3C (and before that in the IDPF) since the day I joined. I recall a round of introductions at the first TPAC I attended. I said, “I’m Tzviya Siegman, and I’m the only woman in the room.” That’s still too often the case. The faces are still almost all white; almost all working for large corporations; almost all from Europe, North America, and East Asia. Too many people have tried to get involved, and left bewildered by a million details no one explains to them.. I have done my best to make my groups less overwhelming and more welcoming.
I no longer think that this is an issue that is simply embarrassing or problematic for the people in the room. I now believe our exclusive club is probably creating biased standards (see Technically Wrong). We have all heard about the health app that forgot about menstruation and the facial recognition system that tagged black men as gorillas. What biases are we putting into our use cases, and thus into our specs? What are we going to do about it?
I know the AB has already recognized this problem and poured resources into the issue. I would like to address the financial side of the problem as well. If we do not support invited experts from around the world as well as provide some resources for those for whom the cost of travel might be prohibitive, I don’t believe the W3C will see the diversity it hopes to achieve. Membership dues scarcely cover costs. We need to look into scholarship, donor, and sponsorship models that will encourage more people of all types to participate at all levels. We must recognize that the cost of participation is not just a dollar amount. People commit a huge amount of time to working for the W3C. For individuals who run their own businesses or work for smaller organizations, this generally means giving up billable hours and paying for travel out of pocket. It is unlikely that we will see the wished for diversity in the AB and TAG if we do not provide some assistance with travel for people with less generous budgets or relax the travel requirements.
We might consider coordinating with organizations like the Apache Software Foundation or the JS Foundation. We could look into their models of membership-driven open sourcing and funding and assess whether a model like this is viable and profitable for the W3C. We have reached a point at which many organizations have embraced open source and open standards and are coming to terms with the fact that there is a cost. “Open” is a buzzword. Let’s embrace the buzz. We must consider approaching this moment of openness and try to capitalize on it. How is it that the Linux Foundation can afford to offer childcare at every conference, but the W3C skipped coffee at TPAC?
I would like to help the W3C refocus on a web for all. I have heard it said that standards are written by the people that show up. We need to make it easier to show up. Now it seems that it’s for technical employees of the largest companies to show up. One company, for example, has twenty-two people in the CSS working group. But it’s much harder for many others. Membership fees, travel expenses, demanding day jobs, and personal commitments prevent many people from even large corporations from participating. So many voices are missing—entire industries, entire continents, entire cultures, entire classes. We need these voices to make the web better, to make the web work for everyone. I will do my best to focus on bringing a greater and more vibrant diversity to the W3C. I will work on exploring funding options to aid in that effort.
In summary, as an AB member I plan to:
- Explore membership dues and funding models of the W3C. This is likely to lead to an exploration of the current structure of the W3C. There are many creative ways that we could bring in money that have not been explored.
- Focus on diversity in membership. Diversity can mean a mix of companies, genders, nationalities, ages, races. It is not easy work, and we have to make sure that we are not simply paying it lip service.
- Work on care and feeding of new and existing members, especially those who seem hesitant to participate. Not everyone with a valuable opinion is comfortable speaking in a room or virtual room full of experts. We still need to hear their thoughts. This is often especially true for people for whom English is not their first language and for whom standards work is new.
I look forward to representing you on the AB. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at tsiegman at wiley dot com.
Thanks to Laura Brady, Dave Cramer, and Benjamin Young for their editorial wisdom. Thanks to Zheng Xu for translating to Chinese.
If you would like to offer to translate this into a language that you know well, please contact me, and I will open the repository to you.