Reviewing the Java Community Process v. 2.6 (JSR-215)
The Java Community Process's stated goal is to produce "high quality specifications in 'Internet time' using an inclusive consensus building approach...Consensus around the form and content of the draft is ... built using an iterative review process that allows an ever-widening audience to review and comment on the document" (JSR-215, 2003). In my own experience and that of several others, the JCP has failed to take advantage of the "ever-widening audience" to produce better specifications. JSR-215 is trying to fix that problem adding more transparency and more feedback.
My experience with commenting on JSRs lines up with that of many other people. We squeezed a review of a public draft into the thirty day window, wrote up and sent in our comments, then... nothing. We received no feedback, and saw no changes in final draft. Reviewing a JSR is a significant investment. Reading a specification may take several days of concentrated effort. Writing up useful comments takes several hours, especially if those comments include cross references and code examples. For an example of comments on a JSR, see Bob McWirter's comments on JSR-94. (I'm using a few references to Bob's web pages. His projects are always fun to watch take shape.)
Not hearing anything back, and not seeing any change from public draft to final has created a perception that the JCP allows industry powers to dictate the standards for the rest of us. The expert group forms, presents a public draft, and then the process is over. That perception may not be fair, but it is prevalent. Several members of the audience expressed it at a special meeting of the NEJug. See Bob McWirter's experience with JSR-94.
JSR-215's public draft for JCP 2.6 encourages more transparency. A new paragraph on page 4 requires a new JSR proposal to include a transparency plan so the public will know what to expect. Another paragraph on page 9 encourages a spec lead to be more open. Pages 10 and 11 promise access for the public to an early draft, no longer only accessible to JCP members. And "Members have a right to receive a response to comments."
According to Doug Lea, JSR-166 is an example of how a more open process should work. The mailing list this project operates has been fantastic. All suggestions are weighed, deliberated and sometimes the expert group changes the spec. If more JSRs are run like this one, JCP 2.6 should fix the problem.
I think the new phrasing in JCP 2.6 goes as far as it can. I doubt Sun's lawyers will let anyone talk to an expert group without signing the JSPA. I don't think the expert groups will be overwhelmed with comments simply because making comments takes time, expertise and effort.
Does JSR-215 go far enough? I hope so. Next time I comment on a JSR, I'll know what to expect back.