Standards make the web go ’round. I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that Mozilla cares a lot about standards, or that a significant percentage of the community, myself included, participate in active standards groups, be they W3C, WHATWG, industry consortia, or other.
They are often, to be honest, a slog. Anything important enough to be standardized is important enough to attract a variety of interests and motivations, and being in the middle of multiple, divergent forces can be just as fun as it sounds. They are usually noble slogs, though. An open web needs a set of linguas franca. As it matures, people invent new creoles to express new ideas, and so our standards need to constantly evolve and add that new wealth to the growing lexicon of awesome.
A little while ago though, the W3C decided to try something sort of odd. They formed up a working group to look at standardizing security UI.
To anyone who has designed a user interface, that sort of feels like standardizing art. Not that we are quite so full of hubris as to imagine ourselves Caravaggios, but UI design is a complex interplay of functionality, ergonomics, and subjective experience. There are general principles, sure, but it’s a very different beast from, say, CSS2 margin properties, where everyone can at least agree that there ought to be a single correct result, even if they disagree about what that result should be or how to obtain it.
Nevertheless, boldly forth they have gone and established the Web Security Context working group with a pretty broad charter. Capturing current best practice is certainly fair game, but it is equally permissible for the group to try to move the state of the art forward. We’re active members, as are Opera and Konqueror (though not Apple or MS), but like most standards bodies, the group includes folks from academia, from other companies, and from various interested groups as well.
This workgroup has put out its First Public Working Draft (FPWD), which means I have two things to ask you, or maybe ask of you. In marketing, I believe they call this the Call to Action, so if you were looking for it, here it is!
The first thing I would ask, if you are at all interested, is that you to read it and remark upon it. The group needs public comment, and you fabulous people are ably placed to provide it.
This first draft was kept deliberately inclusive, to make sure that the majority of recommendation proposals got public airings. So if your main criticism is just “too much,” that is unsurprising, but still welcome, feedback.
The second thing is harder.
But this draft is also defining new UIs, new interactions, new metaphors for online browsing. The academics in the group have offered to gather usability data on several proposed recommendations, but at a fundamental level, I have asked the group a couple times whether it’s right to use a standard to do this kind of work at all. I think several of the proposed requirements sound like interesting, probably fruitful UI experiments. But that’s not the same as “Standards-compliant user agents MUST …”
My second question is this: as members of the Mozilla community, is this an effort that you want me (or people like me) participating in, and helping drive to final publication?
I’m still engaged on the calls and the mailing list – I still see good things coming out of the group, and I have my own opinions about how to best contribute. But as an employee of Mozilla, I feel an obligation to steward my own resources responsibly, and to expend them on things that the community finds valuable, so it’s important for me to hear how people feel about the value of this work.
Opinions? Suggestions? Funny anecdotes?