Twenty Years of W3C Mailing List Archives

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test again!

If you get this, delete it. - sorry. 

That message, with an id of 9110281334.AA06863@, is the oldest e-mail in the W3C archive. Sent twenty years ago by TimBL at .

The e-mail is obviously not important in itself, but it's a prime example of some of the core principles of the W3C:

The mail archive is not 100% complete (some of the '93-'94 archive is missing, sadly) but it is remarkable what you can find with very little effort. For example, something Web users are familiar with today is that forms sometimes include the ability to upload files (you may have uploaded an image from your phone recently?). In September 1994 Paul Ramsey saw good reason to argue against this feature being included in HTML 4.

The day before, Steve Majewski had asked whether the browsers' behaviour of ignoring tags and attributes they didn't understand was likely to persist and whether the Working Group considered that it was the "RIGHT THING to do."

Those are just two examples of things that we take for granted now but that were not at all obvious originally. They came about through discussions, held in public, to which anyone could contribute and the fact that those discussions are archived means that you can go back and probably find out why a particular feature is or isn't included in your favourite standard.

The same is true for the standards themselves as well. Want to find the first draft of HTML4? Start at the final HTML4.01 Recommendation from Christmas Eve 1999 and follow the 'previous version' links. Eventually you get all the way back to its first draft from 8 July 1997.

The URLs of the standards and the e-mails that record the discussion are guaranteed to persist for as far into the future as anyone can sensibly predict.

An example of using the mailing lists that sticks in my mind is from June 2006. Dan Brickley was advising the XG I was chairing on an aspect of RDF semantics (one that would lead to us having to define an extension to those semantics in POWDER). Dan's way of making sure that his notes were publicly archived and discoverable by Google? Just send it to a W3C mailing list.

The older lists are now inactive and closed (you can't reply to Tim's test e-mail of 20 years ago any more). But you can join in any discussion on any active mailing list and your voice will be heard!

It's that spirit of openness that defines W3C. All our work is driven by consensus. To achieve consensus, discussions have to be open and the Working Groups have to be accountable for the decisions they take as a result of those discussions. It's all there in the archives today and I have every confidence that every link in this blog post will still work in another 20 years' time.