OASIS and W3C - Report from Jon Bosak

From owner-xml-dev@ic.ac.uk Mon May 25 18:20:33 1998
Date: Mon, 25 May 1998 16:09:43 -0700
From: Jon.Bosak@eng.Sun.COM (Jon Bosak)
Subject: Followup: OASIS and W3C

About a month ago, I responded to a thread on the xml-dev list about ways in which independent developers could get access to the W3C process by suggesting that people interested in participating in an industry consortium related to XML should instead investigate OASIS, the industry consortium for companies committed to product-independent document and data interchange. Several responses to my suggestion expressed the belief that xml-dev participants could gain access to the W3C Member Area through devices such as the formation of non-profit W3C member organizations, and one in particular asked about the status of OASIS as a W3C member organization. I said that I would try to find out what I could about these questions and report back what I discovered.

In the time since then, I have reviewed what the W3C itself has said about its membership policy and have discussed these matters with both OASIS and with one representative non-profit organization that has joined the W3C in an attempt to gain access for individuals. This report summarizes what I have been able to learn.

As far as I can tell, there simply is no way for individuals to gain access to the W3C process as individuals. A handout prepared by the W3C that I picked up at the WWW7 Conference in Brisbane says:

W3C is unable to accommodate individuals as members. Our processes are designed for organizational participation, and we do not have the support structure to handle large numbers of individual members.

It is possible to form a non-profit organization and join W3C (the HTML User's Group is possibly the clearest example). But access to the W3C Member Area is given only to specified staff members of the organization, not to the membership of the organization itself:

Membership is open to other "membership organizations", but in this case the benefits of W3C membership only extend to the staff and officers of those organizations, and do not flow through to their own members.

Obviously it's possible to push the boundaries of this requirement, but my guess is that you would hit a limit at somewhere around a dozen people. I don't know how W3C would react to applications from a number of non-profits that just happened to consist entirely of a dozen staff members apiece, but I suspect that additional processes would be put into place to prevent this from happening.

The bottom line, in other words, is that W3C conceives of itself as an industry consortium in the classic sense, not a user forum like the IETF, and the impression that I'm left with is that it will resist attempts to get around its basic mission to represent the interests of major WWW industry players. There is nothing unusual or surprising about this. (Try joining the Air Transport Association on the grounds that you have a personal interest in aircraft design.)

So while I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from trying whatever clever or devious way they can think of for getting access for individuals to the W3C process -- in fact, I wish them luck -- I don't come away from my investigations with a very hopeful estimation of the odds.

On the other hand, I am more convinced than ever that OASIS is the right consortium for those xml-dev participants who intend to make products or market services someday (whatever their licensing and distribution strategy might be). Here's why:

  1. OASIS is the only industry consortium in the world whose charter is to promote open document and data interchange in general (both on the internet and off it).

  2. OASIS is specifically organized to satisfy the marketing and technical needs of commercial enterprises (even individual consultants) whose business case is based on the interoperability of structured information -- in particular, of XML, SGML, and HTML applications.

It's true that OASIS is open only to companies, not individuals, but a "company" can simply be a sole proprietorship (for example, a single-person consultancy). In other words, you don't have to be incorporated, you just have to join under a business name. If your company is small -- five people or less -- then you can join as an "associate contributor" for $800 US per year or an "associate participant" for only $400 US per year. The difference is basically how much marketing support you want.

If you join as an "associate participant" then you and your employees (if any) get to participate in the technical work of the consortium, which is primarily focused on interoperability issues. Two important interoperability issues that will be getting a lot of attention in OASIS are DTD/schema/namespace registration and XML compliance (OASIS is collaborating on this with NIST, the U.S. Government agency responsible for commercial and scientific standards, and I think that it could benefit from the active participation of some members of the xml-dev list). Besides access to all of the technical work, you also get the right, even at this lowest level of membership, to vote for the OASIS Board of Directors, guaranteeing a minimum level of accountability of the organization to its members.

If you join as an "associate contributor" then you also get, for a very reasonable price, some essential basic marketing support -- inclusion by name in consortium press releases and public relations materials; press releases from your company and descriptions of your company and its products or services on the OASIS web site; use of the OASIS logo (branding your company as a supporter of interoperability); the ability to submit, review, and distribute OASIS white papers and educational materials; access to OASIS mailing lists; and most importantly, the opportunity to participate in OASIS seminars, conference panels, and exhibits at carefully targeted industry events throughout the year. OASIS maintains a presence at these events that can represent your services and products even when you can't be there in person.

At the September Seybold Publishing Conference in San Francisco, for example, OASIS will have a prominently located booth that can not only distribute your product or service descriptions but can also rent workstation demo space for the conference. OASIS also runs panels at selected events (Documation, for example) and even holds its own "XML Open for Business" expos to promote XML and related standards and to showcase the offerings of its members. In the coming year there will be two "XML Open for Business" shows in Europe (the first one is scheduled for the Netherlands in November) and two in North America (including New York City in July). While the most interesting speakers available are selected for these events in order to maximize attendance, speaking priority is given to OASIS members and tabletop space for members in the expo area rents for as little $200. Finally, OASIS is co-chairing most of the big GCA XML events (such as the just-ended XML/SGML Europe '98 conference in Paris), which gives them considerable influence over program selection.

Now, W3C representation through OASIS is an interesting question. I raised this at the OASIS meeting following the XML/SGML Europe conference last week and was told that OASIS has applied for W3C membership as a non-profit. Assuming that the application is granted, OASIS will presumably fall under the rules already alluded to and be granted Advisory Committee representation by one person (probably a member of the OASIS Board) with access to W3C member forums limited to members of the OASIS staff as in the case of other non-profit W3C member organizations.

Clearly there will have to be processes put in place for certifying interested OASIS members as representatives to W3C working groups. Board approval would seem to be the simplest and most direct way to do this, but no one is sure at this point what the actual process will be; my impression is that there just haven't been that many requests from individuals who can support the rather stiff resource demands for W3C WG participation to make this an issue yet. But in any case, I think it's fair to say that any qualified member with the means to participate in a W3C Working Group that was still accepting participants would find it relatively easy to become the OASIS representative to that working group.

It's possible that the people on the xml-dev list who have indicated their intention to form shell organizations to gain W3C representation will find a better solution, but until this is demonstrated, I still believe that the best way for xml-dev subscribers who really want to participate in W3C working groups is through OASIS. It's cheap, any qualified consultant can join, you get lots of side benefits, and once the processes for working with W3C are in place, it looks to me like this will be the best avenue for people with the resources to meet W3C participation requirements to get into W3C working groups.

Contact recruit@oasis-open.org for further details if you want more information.


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