Anne van Kesteren


Last week the W3C held its yearly TPAC meeting in Santa Clara, California. Most groups the W3C consists of gather at TPAC to meet. HTML, WebApps, CSS, the usual suspects. The groups have individual meetings and sometimes team up to create larger groups. At one point WebApps, CSS, Fonts, and WebAppsSec were all in one room. That was a bit much. In the middle of the week there was the plenary day, another yearly tradition.

The plenary day was great. Where in years before it has been a dull experience (last year some of us decided to explore Lyon instead), this year it was an unconference. Many more topics could be covered in a much more lively manner. Instead of one person trying to entertain three hundred, you have thirty entertaining each other. The plenary day could have been better still, by not having the two hour “monologue” at the start. Nobody really wants that. Nevertheless the plenary day was great, concluding with Tim-Berners Lee suggesting the W3C should be an unorganization.

Hopefully next year the entirety of TPAC is done this way. Contrasted with the plenary day and typical group communication (i.e. IRC and email) the group meetings were sluggish and felt unproductive. The problem is that a single group covers many distinct topics and issues. And while they are connected from a distance, group-wide discussion of specific topics are problematic.

Typically most people in a group meeting are not paying attention. Either because the subject is only understood by a few or because a few people are not making sense, but feel they have to say a lot. A ten minute discussion takes thirty. This is why actual mutual understanding on a specific topic finds place outside the meeting room. However, since that is not facilitated, people interested in the topic — outside the smaller group that holds the discussion — miss out. Group meetings foster backchannel focused meetings.

Unorganize and facilitate topic-based discussion, rather than group-based discussion.