This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Coopetition on Web Platform Docs

Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are all on the same page on this one.

Web rivals are getting together with the W3C to develop a unified resource for Web developers, released this week in alpha form.

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The giants of the browser and Web world are all cooperating in launching Web Platform Docs, a new initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium to build a repository of Web developer documentation that is both authoritative and comprehensive. Nine companies, the initial Web Platform Stewards, have contributed content and funding to the alpha release: Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nokia, and Opera. (Their logos appear on the site's front page, minus that of Apple, which may have been a last-minute addition.)

The motivation for developing such a central developers' resource is spelled out in a blog post introducing Web Platform Docs:

For years, Web developers have had to rely on multiple sites to help them learn Web programming or design, each with one piece of the puzzle. Great sites appear, covering one or two subjects, but too often fail to keep up with the rapid pace of changes to the Web platform... Today's web is more than just documents, it's applications and multimedia, and it's changing at a breakneck pace.

One developer put it this way in a tweet about the launch: "HTML5 Web App development is as close to Steampunk as you can get in post-Babbage computer science."

The site has big aspirations. According to the press release, it hopes eventually to be comprehensive enough to inform developers:

The reality so far is more modest. The main documentation site, docs.webplatform.org, is in the form of a wiki that all are invited to improve. The site has forums and an IRC chat section (the latter at the time of writing is having some technical glitches).

Overall the site feels like an alpha effort. The forum software lacks features compared to established sites such as Stack Overflow. There is more breadth than depth in the initial content provided by the stewards. One of the more highly voted questions in the forum asks, "Another MDN, what for?" -- referring to the Mozilla Developers Network. (Of course Opera, Microsoft, and the other stewards all have mature developer resources of their own in place.)

The real challenge, once Web Platform Docs matures, will be keeping all of its information up to date. The site aspires to cover the entire broad and expanding range of Web standards, including Canvas, CSS Flexbox, IndexedDB, SVG, and WebGL, in addition to HTML5 and CSS. Some of these are still changing rapidly.

The W3C may find it needs to turn more over to the community in order to keep up. One of the most highly voted-up forum posts on the alpha site suggests posting the site's code on GitHub -- so that bugs can be fixed by the global community, not merely recorded in the W3C's bug-tracking system for eventual attention, someday, maybe. It is a noble experiment in which the W3C is engaged and I look forward to watching it evolve.