Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Consortia and Contracts

I've just been reading the first critical article about Tim Berners-Lee's Contract for The Web. The criticisms are quite valid, but they miss an important point.

There's a conflict of interest at the heart of all this, which explains why the Contract for The Web is the way that it is. Tim Berners-Lee is director of the web standards organization W3C. W3C is a corporate consortium with 446 members. So who are these members and how much cash are they donating to the organization?

It turns out that they're a fairly diverse crowd which include curiosities such as Duck Duck Go and Volvo cars. But among the menagerie are...yes...the monopolist platforms which the article criticizes. Facebook, Google and Amazon are there, though strangely Twitter is absent from the list. If you are a big US company like Google then you'll be paying in $77,000 annually in membership fees. Pocket money for Google, but if you're one of the 63 staff of W3C and consider that there are multiple consortium members paying membership fees at that level then this kind of income is definitely not trivial.

I expect that TBL gets a salary from the university of Oxford, but it's also likely to be the case that part of his income will be coming from the monopoly platforms which are the cause of the web's current problems. So he can't really push the boat out in terms of being overly critical of those companies, otherwise there could be blowback with direct impact upon himself and his staff. Just in case you think companies threatening to stop paying consortium membership fees if they don't get what they want is theoretical hyperbole, this is what happened during the last W3C DRM debacle.

Personally, I don't think Contract for The Web is going to fix anything. It should be taken as being a simple public relations exercise at a time of growing technology skepticism, and nothing any less superficial than that.

Tag: w3c