Everyone’s talking: standards reform

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I’m a relative newbie when it comes to standards, only being involved for the last 12 or 13 years. I’ve never before seen the amount of attention that is being brought to the idea of standards reform by so many groups of people at various levels of organization. Rather than write a long essay on this, here are some points that people are discussing:

  • The new spirit in Washington brought about by the election of Barack Obama is encouraging people to think of new possibilities around the value of standards to governments as well as government’s role in the creation, implementation, use, and protection of standards.
  • The effective use of standards and open source technologies in the Obama campaign to connect and marshal voters might well be used in the same way with citizens.
  • That said, the potential use of standards to aid in the coming economic recovery and growth is worldwide and at many levels of government. The US has an opportunity to lead, but it is one of many countries that can do so.
  • There is increasing pressure on governments to not just recognize “certified” organizations like ISO but also groups like W3C, OASIS, and OMG. Nobody gets a free pass, but the days of saying something is an “international” standard no longer implies quality or global adoption, at least in IT, in my opinion.
  • There is much work to do in the area of intellectual property and standards, as I’ve spoken about here before, especially as it relates to open source. As I said at LinuxWorld, it’s time for a Creative Commons-like approach where we have 8 – 10 model intellectual property licenses that cover the range of software, hardware, and services standards.
  • Many people working in the area of Internet and Web standards tend to forget that there are many areas of standardization where royalty-free licensing is not common, or at least not automatic. Some of these areas seem to be on their way to royalty-free, though there are powerful, conservative forces trying desperately to slow down the movement in this direction.
  • In the non-RF areas, there is more and more pressure to have ex ante disclosures of patents and/or licensing terms before a standard effort starts or at least gets too far along. A patent might become much more profitable if a critical standard gets created that uses the patent. What is the government’s role concerning intellectual property and standards? What government are we talking about? Should it tackle the problems with standards and patent trolls?
  • Measuring the quality of standards is difficult. I’ve previously spoken about what quality might mean, and suggested that having a “Michelin Guide” for standards would be a big help to users.
  • However, the first question I usually get when I suggest this is “who gets to create the guide and why should we care what they say?”. Well, there could be multiple guides and over time the “winner” might become clear. There might be different winners in different areas of standardization.
  • Various people to whom I’ve spoken about this have convinced me that this approach is too formal, too stuffy, and too resource intensive.
  • Therefore I’m now trying to talk up the idea that there could be a “standards review” website hosted by some trusted and neutral party where “standardized” basic information about standards is collected, modern tagging and categorization is used, and the rankings and reviews for standards along various dimensions comes from the community. Rather than being a massive, dull cataloging effort, it needs to be organic and as automatic as possible, using Web 2.0 technologies where beneficial.
  • This would need to follow something like the Amazon product rating scheme, where the reviews themselves are rated, at least thumbs up or down, by other readers.
  • Over time, the best and most trusted reviewers would become clear. This would also serve to connect communities of current and potential standards users and implementers around the world.
  • Participants would need to “be themselves,” state their employers and other appropriate affiliations, and the set of reviewers would need to be kept in balance. Problematic situations: all or most reviewers come from a single company and its business partners; and reviewers come from the staff of the organizations that created the standards.
  • Generally, we need to look more at community-based methods and efforts to help improve the standards world rather than traditional approaches.

Keep talking. Pragmatism welcome, cynicism not so much. The ideas are coming in fast and furiously from many people, including many of the above. Join the conversation.


  1. I’m sure I have pointed to this before, but the approach you’re proposing now seems to be exactly what OFE and others have created in “Certified Open”[1] – maybe IBM could get behind that initiative? IBM in EMEA is invovled with OFE so it’s no huge leap.

    [1] http://www.certifiedopen.com/

  2. @Simon, sorry, I don’t think so. Certified Open is for products, not standards. Also, what I’m proposing would free and community driven.

  3. It gets sticky fast.

    Company A receives a PAS standard for a platform with licensable plugins. Company A then requires all companies submitting the information for applying for the license to include relevant standards used to create the plugin. Company B submits required information including the fact that the plugin is based on standards approved by the same standards organization that provided the PAS. Company A rejects the license application renewal for an application that was approved one year prior minus the information about the standard used by the plugin citing that the plugin implements a technology that is competitive with Company A’s technology in the same market.

    One year earlier, that was Ok. One year later with the additional information, it is not.

    That’s cynical. It won’t happen.

    It just did. Should ISO withdraw the PAS because all of the standards are ISO standards?

    Before the power and credibility of the White House is dragged into the internal marketing politics of these companies, policies will have to be a lot clearer as to what can be claimed by those getting a PAS or any other certification and what recourses third parties have in the face of such exclusionary actions.

  4. Hi Bob,

    Thank you for this summary — it’s most useful! In my study of Digital-Disability Divide, I’ve been looking at research comparing Web Content Analysis Software (quantitative) and application. Open Source appears to be the most adaptable to such software and method when addressing different research questions across disciplines. The University of Zurich are developing COSA (Software Framework for Content Analysis) – http://www.researchportal.ch/unizh/p9803.htm – that imports and appears to identify divides and dimensions, such as in their study of supply side electoral politics: http://www.ipz.uzh.ch/forschung/lsforschung/npw.html. In terms of Web construct, research such as this contributes to adapting research methods, software, and life on and off the Web which raises questions about ethics and standards.

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