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Is Top-Down a Downer?

Critics see the top-down, personalized structure of the consortium as a problem in policy-making. It may ultimately undermine the consortium itself-by causing members to lose interest.

At the June 1996 meeting of W3C’s General Assembly Advisory Committee, “110 out of 140 members” were present, says Carl Cargill, an independent standards consultant who sits on the consortium’s eight-person advisory board and was formerly Netscape’s representative to W3C. By December, when a meeting was held in England, membership in the W3C had risen to 170, but only 90 showed up. In June of 1997, only 70 out of 180 members showed up for the semiannual meeting held in Japan. At the end of that year, only 70 of 240 member organizations were represented at the meeting in Geneva. Cargill says he thinks companies have stopped sending people to meetings because they realize that the General Assembly’s Advisory Council Committee merely rubber-stamps what Berners-Lee wants to do.

At least one major player has gone further than merely not attending the assemblies. MCI recently withdrew from the consortium altogether, citing the costs in staff time of participating. “Effective participation in the work of W3C required a higher commitment of senior staff time than we could justify,” says Vint Cerf, an MCI senior vice president and one of the architects of today’s Internet.

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