To anyone following my Guild adventures it will not come as a huge surprise that I hope to be elected chairman at our meeting on the 18th of September. Last week, another candidate for chairmanship, Lon Boonen of Q42, entered the fray.
When I read through his ideas, I came across a few points that I absolutely disagree with. Furthermore I believe that the difference between Lon's and my ideas nicely summarises a fundamental decision the web standards movement has to take in the next year or so. I wrote this entry because this is something all standardistas should think about.
Basically, Lon wants to create yet another online community and pressure group—a grassroot movement, in other words. I, on the other hand, want to create a quite different type of organisation.
I believe that grassroot movements (of which the WaSP is the most important and well-known example, but far from the only one) cannot take web standards much further than they have done until now, because they don't reach the large website creation companies, which are crucial to the long-term success of the standards movement.
(Unfortunately for my non-Dutch readers, all relevant documentation is in Dutch. Mijn pagina over de verschillen en over mijn mening; Lons pagina over zijn ideeën.)
When I started to plan the Guild back in March, I did a lot of thinking on the ideal mix of members. I summarised my ideas in my article Evangelizing Outside the Box: Web Standards and Large Companies on A List Apart.
This article studies the difference between large website creation companies on the one hand and small companies, freelancers, and university employees on the other.
Ever since 1998, supporters for the web standards movement have overwhelmingly been drawn from the second group, because members of this group can make a Name for themselves by writing web standards articles and books, and speaking at conferences. They need both web standards and the web standards movement.
Large company employees have less of an incentive to follow that path, because they don't have to make a Name for themselves. They need web standards, but not the web standards movement.
The web standards movement, however, needs the large company employees. Through them, and their management, we can reach the countless web developers who don't work with the standards, or who have never heard of them.
Therefore I wanted large companies to become interested in my initiative, and in order to do so I organised it along different lines than traditional web standards pressure groups.
For instance, my plans require membership dues (probably around € 150 a year), want to create a more-or-less formal certification for front-end programmers, work with offline, physical meetings a lot (in fact, visiting such a meeting is the only way to become a member until after 18 September), and the organisation I want is far more formal than any web standards pressure group's.
All this is aimed squarely at large companies and their employees, who have little interest in online, community-like pressure groups, as has been proven abundantly in the past nine years.
But will the Guild be the exclusive domain of large companies? I always hoped that there would be plenty of interest among small companies and freelancers, too, and fortunately that turns out to be the case.
To give you an idea, here's the make-up of the current 87 Guild members (i.e. persons who attended a Guild meeting and filled out a form):
This is a healthy mix of backgrounds. Large company employees (barely) form the largest group, but they don't have the majority.
Let's now turn to a few of Lon's plans and see how they differ from mine:
In short, Lon's plans amount to nothing more than yet another web standards pressure group, using tools that have been used dozens, if not hundreds, of times before.
Now I'm not saying that these groups do not have a place. Anyone who's followed the WaSP's astounding string of successes, or the CSS Zen Garden's profound impact on web development, will know that pressure groups are quite important in getting the message out.
The old, established pressure groups have convinced individual web developers, small businesses, individual employees of institutions such as universities, as well as a few key players such as the MSIE team and Yahoo! of the need to use the standards. That's an achievement not to be despised.
Nonetheless, I'm wondering if such organisations will bring us much further than we are today. One group is still missing in the list above: large website creation companies. That's because the form of the web standards movement doesn't appeal to them or their employees.
It's interesting to note that the search for a new form has already started. The idea of offline meetings, instead of online ones with their attending flocks of semi-professional shout-boys, is gaining a hold in the web standards community as a whole.
Initiatives like BarCamp, Refresh (no central link) and GeekMeet show that plenty of people are already convinced that offline meetings can offer something that online communities can't.
So standardistas are already looking for new forms. My plans for the Guild offers one more example of such a new form; one that concentrates on reaching the large companies.
I'm not saying that the Guild form (membership dues, certification, offline meetings, formal organisation) is the only way of reaching large companies. However, now that I've experimented with it for a few months I can say that it is extremely effective.
Frankly, I hadn't expected the success the Guild is having with the management of large companies. Sure, I expected individual developers to become enthousiastic. However, I assumed that, after convincing employees, we'd go into a long and occasionally frustrating period of trying to gain the management's ear. My most optimistic plans called for the first signs of management support at the end of this year.
Nothing, I'm glad to say, could be further from the truth. Within a few weeks, the PIBN, an organisation that unites about 40 or so of the largest web companies in Holland, offered the Guild sponsorship for its founding conference.
After that, I've been regularly phoned by managers of other web companies who offered their support for the Guild, either in money or in kind (Eden Design, a large design and web development company, is busy creating our logo and graphic design for free).
Finding hosts for our meeting turns out to be no problem either. Far faster than I expected, web companies started offering us hospitality and threw in a bit of catering and a beamer—out of their own pockets.
I'm still a bit stunned by these sure signs of interest. It seems the Guild has succeeded in reaching the large companies while not alienating the traditional support groups of the web standards movement. Better still, it has achieved all that in the first few months of its existence; an existance that hasn't even been formalised yet.
If we'd follow Lon's plans for a traditional online community, we'd throw away all these achievements and return to the old state of affairs that does not appeal to large companies. Even worse, chances are that this online community would follow the lead of most of its predecessors and lose its impetus within a few months. If that happens, we'd be left with nothing.
That's why I'm opposed to Lon's plans. They don't constitute anything new; they're just a re-hashing of old forms and thoughts that have reached (or maybe even passed) their peak.
Concluding, I feel that it's time for standardistas to leave their comfortable cradle of online communities, like-minded blogs, and other old forms. These forms have served us well—in fact they've had a much greater success than anyone could have hoped for back in 1998. Nonetheless, in the future they will serve us less well because their audience increasingly consists of developers who have already embraced the standards.
I feel that we need a new form of web standard evangelism, and I feel the Guild can become the template for such a form. That's not to say it's the only possibility, but it's definitely one that works.
We're on the brink of entering a new phase in the web standards movement.
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