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Brian Kardell
  • Developer Advocate at Igalia
  • Original Co-author/Co-signer of The Extensible Web Manifesto
  • Co-Founder/Chair, W3C Extensible Web CG
  • Member, W3C (OpenJS Foundation)
  • Co-author of HitchJS
  • Blogger
  • Art, Science & History Lover
  • Standards Geek
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Posted on 05/27/2021

Stranger Than Fractions

There's a new Math Working Group in the W3C (and I'm co-chairing). In this post, I'll share some information on that, why I really hope your organizations will join, as well as some personal reflections.

Life is weird. If I could travel back in time and explain my life to a younger me, I couldn't even count of the number of things that younger me would have just absolutely scoffed at in disbelief. Here's another one to add to the list: I'm co-chairing a new W3C Working Group focused on Math on the Web.

I'm not going to offer all of the reasons this would be surprising to a younger me, but suffice to say it's a pretty long list. Even a me of only 2-3 years ago would probably be pretty incredulous. See, I'd never really given math on the web much thought until then. The thing that really brought it to my attention was that a company I knew to be full of some pretty smart people (Igalia, where I now work) were suddenly talking about how to add MathML to Chromium, and why this is a thing we should do. It came up before the W3C Technical Architecture Group and was getting some larger discussion around the interwebs. Particularly, there were connections to Extensible Web Manifesto. I felt kind of compelled to really think about it and write something thoughtful about it myself. So in January 2019 (I didn't work for Igalia then) I wrote Harold Crick and the Web Platform.

Based on this and some other observations that I was having about what an important role I thought Igalia could play in so many fundamentally important issues, I applied there (here). Since then I've tried to help "right the ship" and get math onto the web and on a stable footing that is integrated with the platform. I participated in the CG where we worked out MathML-Core, attempting to do just that. I helped write some tests, open (and resolve!) issues in a number of standards about how we integrate, draft a bit of spec, open implementation bugs (and ship changes in all browsers!), explain why this work is important from a significant number of angles (not the least of which is that it is societally important) in blog posts and talks (I won't link them all because there's already a lot of links here), prioritize work, draft an expainer, work through a TAG review, draft the new Working Group Charter and gain support for it (I'm very pleased to say that every browser vendor supported its creation - and Chrome was even first one, if anyone has doubts).

A few weeks after the charter was approved, I was asked to sign on as a co-chair to lead the MathML-Core portion (the bit that goes in browsers). Last week I was officially added and "approved by the director" as co-chair.

Now for... you know... lots more important work as we try reach a really great state of affairs.

We'll only really hope to do that though with help and good, diverse (from many angles) participation in the Working Group. If you're a W3C member, consider getting involved yourself. If not, still please comment on issues and review things. Importantly: Put aside any math phobias, doubts or pre-conceived notions. Even if your present-self is a little (or even a lot) incredulous at the idea that you can really help. Believe me, I get it. But that's wrong. Help and participation from people with backgrounds across the platform aren't only very welcome, they're necessary: There's a lot to do to ensure that the platform is sensible and consistent as possible. Many discliplines need to coordinate to make sure that things stay on track, make sense and that important aspects don't get left behind.

We'll be starting up the MathML-Core meetings soon (end of June or early July, tdb sooon) and focus on actually moving some of this through the standards process and beginning to work together to answer remaining questions and make sure we're driving toward really good interoperable, well integrated math on the Web.

We can do this.