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Social Web Incubator Community Group - face-to-face meeting at TPAC 2023

The Social Web CG meeting featured old faces and new. I hadn't looked at the agenda beforehand, and Evan seemed keen to focus on practical things and make it a working meeting. I think it's tricky to balance this at TPAC, where many curious observers without necessarily deep background sit in, and it's harder for the usual community members to attend (remote is an option, and technically anyone could just dial in, but it's theoretically gated behind a registration, which again, has an option to ask for the fee to be waived, but does imply that most people should have a paid ticket). It turned out that the audio in the room was not great too, so remote participants had trouble taking part. I minuted it here.

Some of the interactions gave me a tight-chested panicky feeling, a throwback to five or more years ago when I was deeply involved in this space, emotionally invested, and having a hard time dealing with all of the conflict. Time constraints aside, I'm hesitant to get more than peripherally involved again for this reason, though I do want to see the work progress. Thoughts about rechartering the Social WG have been floating around for a while, and we had the first minuted conversation about it. There is a lot of enthusiasm for it from the W3C side - it would be a shame to lose the momentum currently in the fediverse, when we could use it to fix up at least the ActivityPub standard. Meanwhile there's a diversity of projects and spinoffs in a community that's so large I can't keep up, and people there are naturally worried about being excluded. I think this is a combination of people who weren't around for the first time, and see it as an exclusive group that only reps of large companies can be involved with, along with people who were there for the first time round and had some bad experiences with the difficult group dynamics, and are not keen to see that repeated.

Personally, I'm not opposed to a WG rechartering, but I'm not strongly advocating for it either. I carry the concern of the latter group, and take seriously the worries about exclusion. W3C process can be completely opaque to most people, and even when they are inclusive on paper (eg. Invited Experts don't need to be part of a W3C member company) this opaqueness as well as tribal knowledge and strongly held assumptions by "insiders" can similarly cause exclusion.

To mitigate this, I think it's safe to charter a continuation of the Social Web WG when we have:

  • A tightly scoped charter, focussed on "maintenance" of (errata and clarifications) the ActivityPub and ActivityStreams 2.0 specifications alone.
  • A set of criteria for selection of two or three co-chairs of the group (see eg. this self-review draft from csarven). The W3C Team ultimately nominates chairs, but we can make recommendations to them, and I'd advocate for their decision making process and rationale to be completely transparent.
  • A set of criteria which Invited Experts should meet. We should enable people who have stewarded communities and moderated instances in the fediverse or similar to participate, as well as current implementers, and implementers who plan to integrate AP into exisiting software in future. We should make the criteria as open and inclusive as possible so we have a meaningfully diverse set of voices in the group; and it will also help us to transparently justify every group participant, and help others understand the perspective each person brings.
  • A clear process for individuals to self-nominate as IEs. Ultmiately the chair(s) decide who can join as an IE, and it's always a worry that they approve people they know and reject people they don't. If we have a clear set of criteria, then people who are not known to someone on the "inside" can apply on solid ground and feel secure that their application is considered on its own merits.
  • A clear participation process. We should know when a meeting is "quorate", how we make decisions (in more detail than "consensus"), and enable async participation in decision-making as much as possible.
  • A clear, documented line of communication/coordination between the WG and the CG. There will certainly be membership overlap, but someone(s) explicitly responsible for feeding information in each direction will be important.

It typically takes ages to get a WG chartered, although I think there's a sense in W3C that this could happen (relatively) quickly for the Social Web, as it's a continuation of an existing group. The biggest impediment are the hangups in the community, old and new, and the emotional reactions people have when they're in disagreement. I get it - I've been there, and still have the scars - but ultimately a majority of potential participants are striving for the same goal, and I really hope there's enough unity in that. Many of us have been burnt, or burned out, but it's a different world now than it was in 2016-2018. We can do things differently.

The disagreements are broadly between people who are doing work as well, who all have opinions and experiences that should be weighted heavily. I understanding wanting to just get stuff done but the price of this shouldn't be ignoring people with a different perspective. I understand having serious concerns, but these can and should be a constructive way of improving the situation for everyone, not stop-energy or a weapon. I hope we can slow down just enough to hear each other, but not so much that we spin our wheels forever. It's a tricky line to walk.

I don't know how involved I'll be. I've already borne witness to public and private blowups about this in the week since the meeting and I don't have a place for that energy in my life. On the other hand, if we can get some more cooperative and inclusive dynamics in place, I'd be more inclined to spend some time.

🏷 web standards activitystreams activitypub indieweb decentralisation social web socialcg w3ctpac w3c tpac2023

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