The development of CSS is being held back by a "lack of developer interaction", members of the CSS Working Group (part of standards body the W3C), told an audience at SXSWi.
"A lot of people write their feedback on their blog and they never tell us," said Elika Etemad, a longtime contributor to the Mozilla Project. "They're upset that, you know, this feature isn't working or the syntax is wrong, or whatever it is - but we don't know they exist."
"Specs need to stew a little while," she explained. "They need to sit for a while on the heat before implementation. There should be time for collecting feedback. If there isn’t a lot of feedback, then it needs to sit a little longer."
"There's an image that the CSS Working Group is an exclusive group in an ivory tower," said Opera's Molly Holzschlag, at the panel entitled 'CSS: drawing back the curtains on implementation'. "But we're actually an open group that's very interested in your feedback and support. Minutes go out online every day, so please keep up with what we’re doing and provide input."
David Baron of Mozilla told the audience that developments in the CSS spec currently fall into two main categories: new features, and features that make what you can already do easier. "We get more feedback about the latter," he revealed.
However, Tab Atkins Jr of Google Chrome emphasised that anyone can provide feedback, and it doesn't have to be through complex official channels. "If you have questions or problems on your blog, then ping some of us and make sure we see it," he urged. "We're all on Twitter in some capacity, or tweet the CSS Working group @csswg."
The overwhelming message was that standards bodies should be seen as groups of peers, not an elite. "I only learned HTML five years ago," Atkins Jr pointed out. "We really want people to get involved in the process."
The panellists also discussed with candour what they thought had been the most damaging mistakes made by the CSS Working Group. Sylvain Galineau, program manager, Microsoft, said that floats were "baffling" to him. "Why not just position it like everything else? They are very fragile in actual use." Etemad chose "making the width property not include border/padding" as her number one gripe and felt the current box model was "not the best way".
Baron felt the group had in the past made things more complicated than necessary when it "hid some specs away too deeply in a document". This led to them being interpreted "in a way that led to complexity, and browsers interpreting things incorrectly". Atkins Jr went back to the beginning, regretting with the benefit of hindsight that "CSS was a document language, not for layout". However, he admitted that, even among all of today's programming languages, "it’s hard to do layout in a way that is easy to use".
Visit http://www.w3.org/blog/CSS/ for more details of the CSS Working Group.