I posted back in September that I'd been invited to join the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices Group, specifically to work in the Content Transformation (CT) "task force": which is every bit as macho and manly as it sounds.

The document we're writing is coming along (contentious though it may be), but abstract of the document, I've wanted to write a post about the process of working in the group. It's my first experience of being inside a technical standards body, so I've found the processes and tools interesting in and of themselves.

The CT group operates in public, mainly on the public-bpwg-ct mailing list.

Once a week there's a conference call, typically with anything between 3 and 8 attendees, and usually chaired by Francois Daoust. In tandem with the voice call, all participants are in an IRC channel; here, a couple of bots are active. Zakim is the one I tend to notice the most, providing a bridge between the voice call and the channel. So, when a participant dials in or drops off, Zakim recognises them and announces their arrival in the channel. If there's noise on the call coming from one participant, Zakim can tell where it's originating - that kind of thing.

On each call, there's a volunteer scribe; I took on this job myself on the most recent call. The scribe is charged with typing what's said on the call into the channel; another bot records these notes and uses them to create minutes which are published to the mailing list after the call is done.

One interesting little tweak is the use of a bot to substitute for gestures that might be used in face-to-face meetings. By typing

/q+ to say we should point our orbiting lasers at Italy

one places oneself onto the "speakers queue", maintained by one of the bots, with a reminder of what one was about to say. This queue can then be accessed and speakers popped off it as necessary, giving them permission to speak: so in this sense, IRC substitutes for the raising of a hand or eye contact. It's surprising how well this works.

Off-the-record comments and notes can be recorded using the "action" method in IRC:

/me thinks we should hurry up with the goat sacrifice

Another bot tracks the creation of actions and resolutions, such that the group can create tasks to be done and assign them to a member, and record decisions taken and voted upon.

Last Call comments are, in particular, tracked quite exhaustively into a web-based tool. Every one is assigned to a member of the group who is charged with summarising the issue, doing any necessary research, and then recommending a course of action. During the call these comments are discussed; typically this leads to either a resolution or a decision to gather more information (from research carried out by group members into the area being discussed, from other W3C groups, or elsewhere).

It's interesting. There's no monolithic tool handling everything, and there's a vague sense of duct-tape lurking in the background, but it all hangs together rather nicely, in a quirky way, and feels quite human - a bit like the web in general, I guess.