Three weeks ago I attended TPAC, the annual meeting of W3C Working Groups. One of the meetings was of the Timed Text Working Group (TT-WG), that has been specifying TTML, the Timed Text Markup Language. It is now proposed that WebVTT be also standardised through the same Working Group.
How did that happen, you may ask, in particular since WebVTT and TTML have in the past been portrayed as rival caption formats? How will the WebVTT spec that is currently under development in the Text Track Community Group (TT-CG) move through a Working Group process?
I’ll explain first why there is a need for WebVTT to become a W3C Recommendation, and then how this is proposed to be part of the Timed Text Working Group deliverables, and finally how I can see this working between the TT-CG and the TT-WG.Advantages of a W3C Recommendation
Because of its Recommendation status, TTML has become the basis for several other caption standards that other SDOs have picked: the SMPTE’s SMPTE-TT format, the EBU’s EBU-TT format, and the DASH Industry Forum’s use of SMPTE-TT. SMPTE-TT has also become the “safe harbour” format for the US legislation on captioning as decided by the FCC. (Note that the FCC requirements for captions on the Web are actually based on a list of features rather than requiring a specific format. But that will be the topic of a different blog post…)
WebVTT is much younger than TTML. TTML was developed as an interchange format among caption authoring systems. WebVTT was built for rendering in Web browsers and with HTML5 in mind. It meets the requirements of the <track> element and supports more than just captions/subtitles. WebVTT is popular with browser developers and has already been implemented in all major browsers (Firefox Nightly is the last to implement it – all others have support already released).
As we can see and as has been proven by the HTML spec and multiple other specs: browsers don’t wait for specifications to have W3C Recommendation status before they implement them. Nor do they really care about the status of a spec – what they care about is whether a spec makes sense for the Web developer and user communities and whether it fits in the Web platform. WebVTT has obviously achieved this status, even with an evolving spec. (Note that the spec tries very hard not to break backwards compatibility, thus all past implementations will at least be compatible with the more basic features of the spec.)
Given that Web browsers don’t need WebVTT to become a W3C standard, why then should we spend effort in moving the spec through the W3C process to become a W3C Recommendation?
The modern Web is now much bigger than just Web browsers. Web specifications are being used in all kinds of devices including TV set-top boxes, phone and tablet apps, and even unexpected devices such as white goods. Videos are increasingly omnipresent thus exposing deaf and hard-of-hearing users to ever-growing challenges in interacting with content on diverse devices. Some of these devices will not use auto-updating software but fixed versions so can’t easily adapt to new features. Thus, caption producers (both commercial and community) need to be able to author captions (and other video accessibility content as defined by the HTML5
element) towards a feature set that is clearly defined to be supported by such non-updating devices.
Understandably, device vendors in this space have a need to build their technology on standardised specifications. SDOs for such device technologies like to reference fixed specifications so the feature set is not continually updating. To reference WebVTT, they could use a snapshot of the specification at any time and reference that, but that’s not how SDOs work. They prefer referencing an officially sanctioned and tested version of a specification – for a W3C specification that means creating a W3C Recommendation of the WebVTT spec.
Taking WebVTT on a W3C recommendation track is actually advantageous for browsers, too, because a test suite will have to be developed that proves that features are implemented in an interoperable manner. In summary, I can see the advantages and personally support the effort to take WebVTT through to a W3C Recommendation.Choice of Working Group
FAIK this is the first time that a specification developed in a Community Group is being moved into the recommendation track. This is something that has been expected when the W3C created CGs, but not something that has an established process yet.
The first question of course is which WG would take it through to Recommendation? Would we create a new Working Group or find an existing one to move the specification through? Since WGs involve a lot of overhead, the preference was to add WebVTT to the charter of an existing WG. The two obvious candidates were the HTML WG and the TT-WG – the first because it’s where WebVTT originated and the latter because it’s the closest thematically.
Adding a deliverable to a WG is a major undertaking. The TT-WG is currently in the process of re-chartering and thus a suggestion was made to add WebVTT to the milestones of this WG. TBH that was not my first choice. Since I’m already an editor in the HTML WG and WebVTT is very closely related to HTML and can be tested extensively as part of HTML, I preferred the HTML WG. However, adding WebVTT to the TT-WG has some advantages, too.
Since TTML is an exchange format, lots of captions that will be created (at least professionally) will be in TTML and TTML-related formats. It makes sense to create a mapping from TTML to WebVTT for rendering in browsers. The expertise of both, TTML and WebVTT experts is required to develop a good mapping – as has been shown when we developed the mapping from CEA608/708 to WebVTT. Also, captioning experts are already in the TT-WG, so it helps to get a second set of eyes onto WebVTT.
A disadvantage of moving a specification out of a CG into a WG is, however, that you potentially lose a lot of the expertise that is already involved in the development of the spec. People don’t easily re-subscribe to additional mailing lists or want the additional complexity of involving another community (see e.g. this email).
So, a good process needs to be developed to allow everyone to contribute to the spec in the best way possible without requiring duplicate work. How can we do that?The forthcoming process
At TPAC the TT-WG discussed for several hours what the next steps are in taking WebVTT through the TT-WG to recommendation status (agenda with slides). I won’t bore you with the different views – if you are keen, you can read the minutes.
What I came away with is the following process:
- Fix a few more bugs in the CG until we’re happy with the feature set in the CG. This should match the feature set that we realistically expect devices to implement for a first version of the WebVTT spec.
- Make a FSA (Final Specification Agreement) in the CG to create a stable reference and a clean IPR position.
- Assuming that the TT-WG’s charter has been approved with WebVTT as a milestone, we would next bring the FSA specification into the TT-WG as FPWD (First Public Working Draft) and immediately do a Last Call which effectively freezes the feature set (this is possible because there has already been wide community review of the WebVTT spec); in parallel, the CG can continue to develop the next version of the WebVTT spec with new features (just like it is happening with the HTML5 and HTML5.1 specifications).
- Develop a test suite and address any issues in the Last Call document (of course, also fix these issues in the CG version of the spec).
- As per W3C process, substantive and minor changes to Last Call documents have to be reported and raised issues addressed before the spec can progress to the next level: Candidate Recommendation status.
- For the next step – Proposed Recommendation status – an implementation report is necessary, and thus the test suite needs to be finalized for the given feature set. The feature set may also be reduced at this stage to just the ones implemented interoperably, leaving any other features for the next version of the spec.
- The final step is Recommendation status, which simply requires sufficient support and endorsement by W3C members.
The first version of the WebVTT spec naturally has a focus on captioning (and subtitling), since this has been the dominant use case that we have focused on this far and it’s the part that is the most compatibly implemented feature set of WebVTT in browsers. It’s my expectation that the next version of WebVTT will have a lot more features related to audio descriptions, chapters and metadata. Thus, this seems a good time for a first version feature freeze.
There are still several obstacles towards progressing WebVTT as a milestone of the TT-WG. Apart from the need to get buy-in from the TT-WG, the TT-CG, and the AC (Adivisory Committee who have to approve the new charter), we’re also looking at the license of the specification document.
The CG specification has an open license that allows creating derivative work as long as there is attribution, while the W3C document license for documents on the recommendation track does not allow the creation of derivative work unless given explicit exceptions. This is an issue that is currently being discussed in the W3C with a proposal for a CC-BY license on the Recommendation track. However, my view is that it’s probably ok to use the different document licenses: the TT-WG will work on WebVTT 1.0 and give it a W3C document license, while the CG starts working on the next WebVTT version under the open CG license. It probably actually makes sense to have a less open license on a frozen spec.Making the best of a complicated world
WebVTT is now proposed as part of the recharter of the TT-WG. I have no idea how complicated the process will become to achieve a W3C WebVTT 1.0 Recommendation, but I am hoping that what is outlined above will be workable in such a way that all of us get to focus on progressing the technology.
At TPAC I got the impression that the TT-WG is committed to progressing WebVTT to Recommendation status. I know that the TT-CG is committed to continue developing WebVTT to its full potential for all kinds of media-time aligned content with new kinds already discussed at FOMS. Let’s enable both groups to achieve their goals. As a consequence, we will allow the two formats to excel where they do: TTML as an interchange format and WebVTT as a browser rendering format.
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I’ve been kind of rubbish about posting life updates over here, so I just thought I should make a note that I’m planning to move to Ballarat by the end of the year. Why? Well, my current housemates are going their separate ways and it was either find two new ones, or get a place by myself. Ballarat has cheap rent (not much more for a full house than it currently costs me for a room in a share house), fast internet, is only an hour or so from Melbourne by public transport (I expect to be back pretty regularly, maybe every week or two), and I can have a proper veggie garden.
For those not from around here: Ballarat is a small city of ~80,000 people near Melbourne, and was at the centre of the Victorian gold rush and also the site of the Eureka Rebellion of miners and others seeking reform (i.e. voting rights). In US terms it’s a “college town”, in that the local university is one of the biggest features. Although only the size of Boca Raton or Yuma it’s not as conservative as a similar-sized US city would be; it has a Labor (centre-left) member of parliament, a decent portion of Green voters, and workable public transit, albeit on a small scale. UK people may like to compare it in size to Chester, Durham, or Bath.
I lived in Ballarat for a semester in the 1990s, on an internship with Mars Confectionery, whose Asia-Pacific HQ is on the edge of town. I found it pleasant apart from the work — Windows 3.1 and Novell support, which involved a lot of crawling under desks and scraping chocolate off the inside of keyboards. I was one of the few civilians in town to have any Internet access, as I managed to beg a 2400 bps dialup off someone at the uni computer centre. At age 19, it was only my dialup connection and weekend trips to Melbourne that managed to offset the boredom of office colleagues talking about football and lawncare; 20 years later, I don’t have to work in an office, pretty much everyone torrents Game of Thrones, and though I don’t much care about lawns people usually find my veggie-garden talk less weird than my obsession with Linux and cyberpunk SF was back then.
To answer a FAQ: yes, Ballarat is colder by Melbourne by a couple of degrees. I’m pretty sure I’ll cope with it, since I lived 4 years in Canada. Bit of frost? Bring it!
To answer another FAQ: yes, I’ll be expecting friends to visit!
More detail to follow once I actually have a house and stuff.
So... first up, commit to heart the key statements of the Agile Manifesto.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
So - to internalise this, in my own words... it's about putting the people and the product first. The people making the product, the people using the product, the people for whom the product matters. It's about making sure the product meets the needs of those people, and if it needs to change to do that better, more effectively, or more profitably, then yes, change it. But most of all, it's get a working version ready as fast as possible. Not about having ALL THE FEATURES ready for launch, but starting with just the features needed most.
But the "That is..." statement is really important - too often agile is accused of ignoring the things on the right, when that's not at all the case.
I like this. It resonates for me on some kind of useful frequency.
So... again, actually typing it this time instead of just doing a copy and paste ;)
Individuals and interactions
processes and tools
Responding to change
following a plan
Prioritise the former.
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I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I just discovered they have an affiliate program and, well, that’s an excuse to mention it again.
They are basically a drop-in replacement for Google analytics, but run by a company who care more about, you know, analytics than selling ads. Clicky gives me all I need in terms of pretty charts and reports, and I can see where Growstuff’s visitors are coming from and how they’re using the site. Pretty much what you’d expect.
I’ve also paid for a premium account, which gives me two features I really love: “Spy”, which shows me people’s activity in real time (and makes a delightful “DING!” in my browser when we get a new visitor, which can be quite noisy at times, though of course you can turn the sound off if you prefer), and a heatmap overlay for the website that shows where people are actually clicking on the page — great for seeing which parts of your site are getting the most attention.
On top of all that, they’re friendly and responsive and have been really helpful on Twitter when I’ve had questions for them.
Anyway, if you’re looking for an analytics system that’s not run by a kind-of-evil ad company, and you want to support independent software companies and not be a free user, give Clicky a shot. If you use this affiliate link and buy a premium account, it’ll help Growstuff out a little bit, too.
I’ve been an Ubuntu user since about September or October 2004. I bought my first up-to-date laptop hardware in New York City (a Fujitsu Lifebook, still my favourite of my laptops), replacing a Toshiba Libretto I’d bought in late 2002 or early 2003 at more than five years of age and which I’d managed to squeeze Debian onto against its will. In 2004 my husband was working for the company later to be known as Canonical and so I became a beta tester (I think not a highly contributing one) for the distribution soon after revealed to be Ubuntu. And that was pretty great for me, basically Debian with a regular release schedule centered around up-to-date GNOME.
In January this year I appeared on My Linux Rig and you can see I was still an Ubuntu desktop user. I wrote:
I am curious about how Fedora is doing these days, but realistically switching distributions is more work than upgrading Ubuntu so I am likely to stick with the path of least resistance.
But rumblings were changing my mind. Late last year I made a belated upgrade to Ubuntu 12.04 (after I submitted my PhD in May), at which point for reasons I now forget it became impossible to use GNOME 2/Metacity. I wasn’t particularly enamoured of GNOME 2 by that point in any event, but I’d resisted switching because my husband has been using Unity for considerably longer (he is a fan; he may have been dogfooding for Canonical fairly early, although he’s worked for Google since mid-2011 and I am not sure of Unity’s timeline there) and I really struggled with it when I used his machine. Much later it emerged that he doesn’t use workspaces at all in Unity, so that may be responsible for his desktop being a bit Mary-hostile.
I gave Unity and GNOME Shell about two hours each on my desktop and decided that I liked the latter better. GNOME Shell wasn’t ideally supported in Ubuntu 12.04 and 12.10 but it worked well enough to keep me from the pain of re-installing. But then I upgraded to 13.04, and GNOME Shell crashed about every half an hour on my hardware and graphics seemed unstable in general. Unity was rather better, needing a restart “only” a few times a week. But I really missed GNOME Shell. I was tempted to move to a distro that follows mainline GNOME at that point, but the decision was sealed when I began to learn about Canonical’s plans for the desktop stack. I don’t actually have a strongly held opinion on a lot of the issues: the value or otherwise of collaborating with upstream in general or with GNOME or Wayland or Xorg in particular, the relative technical merits of any current proposal, the risks of splitting the Linux desktop and so on. I just have a preference for vanilla GNOME 3 and Canonical’s development direction suggested Ubuntu was increasingly less likely to cater to me as time went on. And less likely looked pretty bad when 13.04 already rendered it nearly unusable.
Well, I guess I do have a preference in a way, I’m using Fedora — rather than any other distro with a good GNOME 3 stack — to support Red Hat (in a small way), in that they are active in developing the software I like at the moment.
In terms of work, I really didn’t want to switch. Reinstalling my machine and setting up my work environment has been exactly as annoying and boring as I expected it would be, I have a whole second post coming with notes on all the gotchas I encountered configuring Fedora. There is nothing fun about installing or configuring Linux, and FedUp better do what it says on the tin and take me to Fedora 20 and so on when the time comes. (Ubuntu’s preferred upgrade path, by the by, hadn’t worked for me for at least five releases, I was therefore still using apt-get dist-upgrade.) It took me a month to get from “I want to switch to Fedora” to actually installing it, and it probably would have been at least another month if Unity hadn’t crashed on me about three times in an hour last week.
So here we are. Initial signs are promising. My install, while boring, went cleanly. GNOME 3 on Fedora is much more stable than GNOME 3 or Unity on Ubuntu 13.04 on my hardware.
Hopefully I won’t be doing this again before 2022.
* Not really, my servers are still Ubuntu LTS and will likely stay Ubuntu LTS or, if there’s some Unity-equivalent disruption in the Ubuntu server experience, which I can’t imagine, Debian.
I don’t collect stamps, but I do always have them on my person.
It started back in 2001, when I first received Youth Allowance as a university student. Youth Allowance requires fortnightly income reporting, and this couldn’t be done online until 2004 or so, so for some time I was used to walking to Centrelink with my form and waiting in line for up to 45 minutes with everyone else dropping off their form and/or asking questions about their payments. After a few months, I realised that it would be better to invest in a book of stamps and post it to them instead, even though this put me out 45c or so and resulted in the payment being a day later.
Ever since then I’ve still found myself posting just enough things that I still buy a new book of 20 stamps every time I run out. It’s admittedly a little bit self-perpetrating; I usually prefer email, but already owning stamps and envelopes occasionally means that it’s easier to post something than to scan and track down an email address, and it’s always easier to post than to fax.
So over the years I’ve had and farewelled numerous Australian stamps. There was a tropical fish one around for a long long time that I was quite fond of. However, in the last year or so I’ve wondered if Australian stamps are undergoing a boringness challenge or something. It started a year or 18 months ago with Tourist Precints of Australia, featuring pictures of The Rocks in Sydney and South Bank in Brisbane and such. I think I went through two or three books of that before it finally vanished from sale. That was followed fairly recently by Agricultural Products of Australia, which had the benefit of nice simple colours (oranges for example, or the creamy merino staring out of the stamp) and I used to preferentially send my parents, who farm beef cattle, cattle stamps, but otherwise didn’t do much for me.
But I think it’s reached a new low, frankly. I’m down to my last few oranges and merinos and popped in to get a new book the other day. This year, if you get mail from me, watch out for Government Houses of Australia. You’re welcome.