Web Standards

Several years ago, WebKit began including experimental CSS features in the open source project. Because the features were not officially part of the CSS standard, the developers of WebKit added the prefix -webkit to the experimental stylesheet declarations. This ensured that they did not affect existing or future declarations, but also meant that they worked only in WebKit. Now, years later, the CSS Working Group is trying to reverse the “damage” done to the web by sites that use WebKit-specific features, suggesting that if it does not happen, “it will kill our standardization process.”

I hope it does kill the W3C and CSS Working Group standardization process.

The co-chairman of the CSS Working Group, Daniel Glazman, posted an appeal to his website, titled, “CALL FOR ACTION: THE OPEN WEB NEEDS YOU NOW”:

WebKit, the rendering engine at the heart of Safari and Chrome, living in iPhones, iPads and Android devices, is now the over-dominant browser on the mobile Web and technically, the mobile Web is full of works-only-in-WebKit web sites while other browsers and their users are crying. […]

Without your help, without a strong reaction, this can lead to one thing only and we’re dangerously not far from there: other browsers will start supporting/implementing themselves the -webkit-* prefix, turning one single implementation into a new world-wide standard. It will turn a market share into a de facto standard, a single implementation into a world-wide monopoly. Again. It will kill our standardization process. That’s not a question of if, that’s a question of when. […]

I am also asking the browser vendors behind WebKit, namely Apple and Google, to submit as soon as possible to the CSS Working Group complete technical proposals for the proprietary CSS-like properties they have let the whole world use in iOS and Android devices, harming the Open Web.

The reason the -webkit prefix was necessary is simple: the W3C and the CSS Working Group are ineffective, failed organizations. The web is an evolving, living platform, and it is impossible to effectively define versioned standards separated by 8-10 years of political discussion. That “HTML5” has taken six years to become a “standard recommendation” (it is still not an approved, official W3C standard, and won’t be until at least 2014) is a huge disservice to the evolution of the internet. If the web is going to evolve on par with the rest of the technology industry, the standardization process has to change.

The features WebKit has recently implemented with the -webkit prefix are the biggest enhancements to CSS in a decade, yet the co-chair of the Working Group condescendingly calls them “CSS-like properties”. If the developers of WebKit had waited to define and approve another version of the official CSS standard, it would have taken yet another decade. Without the experimental features in WebKit, the web would be a markedly worse place. I use many WebKit specific css properties on this site, and the Kudos button (to the right of each article title) is constructed almost entirely with CSS animations first defined and built for WebKit.

Glazman’s blog post is a sad side effect of an ineffective, closed organization. It is an admission of failure. Despite having representatives from all of the major browser developers, the Working Group has not been able come up with a solution. What does that say about the organization?

The Future

At some point, and I hope very soon, the way web standards are defined is going to have to change. The ten year gap of bickering and bureaucracy between each official W3C standard is not sustainable. Browser manufacturers, hindered by the lack of progress on standards, are going to progress independently. It will become a serious problem.

The web is not finished. It needs rapid evolution to find itself. The first step is to create a standards body that encourages the rapid innovation that we need.

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