Browsers listening to developers or users requires them to be humble

August 16, 2021

I was recently reading Breaking the web forward (via), which is in part about how Chrome keeps breaking the web because they can. In the process, it says:

Jim Nielsen feels that part of the issue is the lack of representation of web developers in the standardization process. That sounds great but is proven not to work.

One reason that it seems unlikely to work even if you could overcome the issues the article raises is that fundamentally, having meaningful developer representation requires that the browsers actually listen, and that requires browsers (well, their developers) to be individually and collectively humble.

The reality of the modern web is that browsers currently hold all of the power, which practically speaking means that Chrome holds all of the power. What happens is in their hands, and Chrome especially has demonstrated that it will add or remove things regardless of what the standards may or may not say. This will not be changed just by changing who is involved in the standardization process; it will only be changed by Chrome and other browsers deciding to listen and then to change their plans based on what they hear, to do things they didn't plan to do and not do things that they had planned to do.

Listening and changing your plans this way requires humbleness. This humbleness is hard. It means accepting that your carefully developed plans, specifications, and even code shouldn't be shipped, or that things you personally and organizationally think aren't a high enough priority should be worked on anyway, displacing things you care more about. And you need to do this even when you feel that you have solid usage data, great technical reasons, and so on.

Chrome and other browser development teams are many things, but I don't think many people would call them humble. Not in this way. If they were humble in this way, we wouldn't be in the current situation.

(Of course if browsers had been humble in the past they would have wound up implementing any number of bad things and not doing any number of valuable things that some people object vociferously to. And if they did try to be humble, there are any number of groups that would try to take advantage of this; I'm sure the Internet advertising industry would love to put forward some people, for example.)

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Another aspect of this is whether the entities supporting the developers are allowing them to be humble. Even if the developers themselves are humble, they may be stuck in a position that doesn't allow them to act like that.

Even if the Chrome team wanted to change course, I'm not sure the rest of the "Alphabet soup" would let them. There's so much at stake to keep Chrome in the dominant position it's in.

Written on 16 August 2021.
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Last modified: Mon Aug 16 17:34:59 2021
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