Even the Return of [time] Is a Painful Process

Last Monday I wrote about some recent changes to the WHATWG HTML5 draft spec (HTML5 kills [time], Resurrects [u]), which then lead to my post discussing how the process to adjust the HTML5 spec only serves to confuse developers (End of <time> Is Not Helping the Case for HTML5). Then we all heard that our voices as developers were effective in restoring an element we valued to the W3C version of the spec (Well, It’s about <time>).

And that wrapped up a nice little story about how, even with a convoluted process within and between WHATWG and W3C, change was affected.

As I started writing this post, <time> had not yet been reinstated. Though the direction from the HTML Working Group chairs was to restore the element […] no later than the end of day on Tuesday 8th of November, that only happened within the last hour or so (probably around 12:30 EST on November 11).

This day-and-a-half delay isn’t much at all. When measured against the whole of the life of the HTML5 specification (which is still ongoing) and considering nobody ran out and dropped <time> from their projects, it seems hardly worth mentioning.

Except it isn’t a minor issue when you consider whether this is the normal process that the HTML5 specification will continue to follow.

Steve Faulkner, involved in the discussions from the start, sent an email the day after the promised revert date asking for an update and received this response:

The Chairs are working on this situation. Please be patient.

No expectation management of timing or any detail on what is happening, just a request to be patient. In my office, this is an unacceptable response. To see it come from the W3C and have no recourse to walk down the hall and set someone straight on expectation management is infuriating. Steve Faulkner’s statement in the original email rings true with me:

I suggest the appearance of intransigence in resolving this issue only serves to undermine community faith in the W3C’s stewardship of HTML.

It is my understanding that Ian Hickson (Hixie) has been silent on this topic, declining interviews, until this post from .net Magazine, Ian Hickson responds over HTML5 getting ‘time’ element back. This is an interesting statement from that article:

When we reported on the latter [the W3C decision to restore the <time> element], Hickson wasn’t available for comment, but he’s since kindly decided to answer our questions on the original backlash and the element’s reinstatement.

In the interview Hickson makes his case and states the <time> element will be restored and will also take into account some of the new use cases from the recent debate. He also suggests other elements like <geo> or <scalar>, which could handle other highly specific data formats that the proposed <data> element might be too generic to tackle.

People are so fired up that even what I consider an off-hand comment about future HTML development resulted in a series of tweets and even an email to the W3C public mailing list with the suggestion to replace the HTML5 editor, by which the writer means Hickson.

Meanwhile, unrelated to that message, the WHATWG blog (Please leave your sense of logic at the door, thanks!) was updated with this week’s news describing the return of <time>. The better news, however, is the return of <time> to the W3C version of the HTML5 specification.

The even better news is that with both WHATWG and W3C restoring <time> (or at least promising to) is that we are now not at immediate risk of seeing the HTML5 specification for into two similar, yet competing, standards managed by two different bodies with two different processes. It’s bad enough we have ISO HTML, and look how well that’s been adopted.

Seeing this chaos over just the <time> element has eroded my confidence in the process within and between WHATWG and W3C. To be fair, this may be the only process that works for them, but my distaste for it makes me question that. While I may be better off not paying attention to every detail, I am not so confident that doing so will result in a specification that will addresses my needs.

Update: November 17, 2011

The conversation you see in the comments below shifted over to Google+ as the week started. If you are curious, then you can read Ian Hickson’s post (and its accompanying comments) and then read Steve Faulkner’s response.



I wasn't declining interviews (I'm always happy to reply to any questions by e-mail), I was busy with some family and work matters. The same matters that prevented me from actually doing the revert in the two business days that the chairs so kindly demanded that I do the revert in. By the time I was able to get back online and do what the chairs asked me to do, they had decided to go over my head and revert the spec themselves, leading to the CVS conflicts that are now going to cost us a few hours to fix. (I haven't had the time to deal with those yet, since there's some actually important spec feedback to deal with first, which is a higher priority than dealing with the make-work that the chairs just created for no good reason.)

This really was a weird case. What could have been a purely pleasant technical discussion grounded in use cases and resolved in a few days has instead turned into a political fiasco with hours of wasted technical work, entirely because of the chairs' unwillingness to cooperate with the person actually editing the spec at the W3C.


This was only one of many different acts by Hixie that demonstrates his disdain for the W3C and the HTML WG within the W3C.

That's what led to me suggestion that the only hope for the W3C to stabilize HTML5 is to replace Hixie as editor. He does not play well with others.

Even his comment to your story…it would have been a simple matter for the editor to drop a note to the W3C that he can't make the change now, will do so in a few days. After all, if he had time to drop in on the WHATWG IRC channel, he had time to send a quick note to the HTML WG email list.

Even then, he wasn't willing to revert the dropping of time–he was only going to add time back after making several modifications to it that weren't discussed in the HTML WG.

I'm not happy at the W3C's willingness to continue putting up with Hixie's nonsense–which just shows how ludicrous his complaint is about "the chairs' unwillingness to cooperate with the person actually editing the spec at the W3C".

The spec should have multiple editors. We cannot afford to have HTML owned by one man.


Hixie is spinning.

Hixie was at TPAC on the 3rd of November. He was in the room when most people voted to put time back in the spec, (as was I) I am pretty sure he was there later in the day when the chairs sent the revert request – http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2011Nov/0011.html after the revert request was made he carried out 2 mods to the spec on the 3rd and 2 further on the Friday (4th) ( http://html5.org/tools/web-apps-tracker?from=6810&to=6811). So he had ample opportunity to make the revert. And if he could not he was at TPAC again on Friday (as was I) All he needed to have done is mention to the chairs that he could not make the revert by the requested date crisis averted.


The W3C could have given a more reasonable time-frame for the revert and Hixie could have sent a "v busy, will revert l8r LOL" text. It doesn't really matter.

Let's all just get back to work on HTML5 because the longer we dwell on the time debacle, the harder it is for the people who really use HTML5 to justify it to men in suits who pay the bills.

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