Over on the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list Ian Hickson gave a reply to Danny Ayers on the roles of the W3C and WHATWG and their history with respect to the ongoing development of HTML. As I thought it might be interesting to a wider audience, part of the email is quoted below (including the segments written by Danny Ayers), augmented with links provided by Karl Dubost and minor editorial changes by me.
While it's hard to judge the perception at large, it's not hard to get the impression that the W3C's development of HTML was subverted by the WHATWG, with XHTML 2.0 going out of the window and the focus moving to Hixie's vision and plan for HTML5, the W3C being dragged along, sometimes seemingly reluctantly.
What happened is that despite begging for the W3C to let us develop HTML at the W3C, the W3C said no, so we created a mailing list outside the W3C and did it there, and then a few years later the W3C asked if they could work with us, so we said yes, and now the spec is co-developed. (Though it often feels like the W3C staff would feel happier if they were the sole responsible party instead of cooperating with another.)
(Also, I wish that HTML was moving to my visions for the Web. Unfortunately for my ego, reality doesn't agree with a lot of my opinions, and the spec is written for reality. For example, I'd have done away with the
<div>, with the doctype, with the inane complexities around
<script>parsing, etc. But we can't, because we're following the HTML design principles that the W3C published, and others in similar vein, to focus on pragmatism and interoperability.)
Beyond HTML5 the WHATWG ("Maintaining and evolving HTML since 2004") appear to be unilaterally asserting their role as the centre of HTML development with their 'living' standard.
For the record, the WHATWG has no desire to compete with the W3C, and desires only to cooperate. To that end, every chair of the HTML working group has been invited to join the WHATWG (though so far only those who were members of the WHATWG list before becoming HTMLWG chairs have ever been on the WHATWG list), and the WHATWG tries to always list both the W3C and the WHATWG specs when linking to specs, and tries to always mention the W3C when making blog posts, etc. Unfortunately, the same courtesies have not been extended to the WHATWG; indeed, it took over a year to even convince the W3C to allow us to mention that WHATWG spec is under a more liberal license under the copyright notice in the W3C spec, for instance, and W3C messaging on HTML never mentions the WHATWG, despite the W3C now apparently even benefiting financially from the work we have done over the past few years.
I would welcome the W3C moving to the "living standard" model so innate to the way the Web works for all of its Web specifications. It's already effectively been using it for CSS and XML for the past ten years, and for HTML for the past four. The WHATWG has no interest in monopolising this model; we're using it because we honestly believe it's the best way of improving the Web, not to lay claim to the center of HTML development.
The relevant subthread can be found here if you wish to read more: Re: Please explain the role of the W3C in the continuing development of HTML.