Yale Open Standards Symposium

Monday, 2007-February-05 at 08:00

John Palfrey, of Harvard, was there.

He has some interesting things in his notes:

We should separate two issues: 1) the process of setting standards, which includes whether the process is “open” or not; from 2) the outcomes that we seek to accomplish through whatever means are used to affect the development of software, applications, and so forth.

Two very different, yet closely-related, issues. Although the professor did not say these things, his notes naturally lead me to conclude the following: We need to watch and see that the process is open and inclusive of the stakeholders (including individual end-users and citizens as representatives for a “class” of similarly-situated individuals). We should ensure that the end result is desired and desirable. We might need to reject a standard if the process used to develop and approve it is not open enough. Similarly, we probably should reject a standard that reinforced a single vendor monopoly, or which was restricted in who could implement it.

I really like the ideas he’s listed concerning the open process. In the past, secretive committees have proposed and approved standards or rubber-stamped a major vendor’s standard proposal. The impact on individuals (as consumers and citizens) was not considered, nor was it important, to standards groups. We can see that in the way that ANSI-INCITS ignored the voices of thousands of Americans from all walks of life and chose not to object to fast-track consideration of ECMA 376 (OOXML) as an ISO standard.

By way of contrast, ODF’s design process involved any interested vendors, plus several interested individuals. As the approval process progressed, more and more individuals got involved. This was especially true after Massachusetts said that they wanted open standard office file formats, as that stirred up interest from coast to coast.

How is interoperability, or generativity, or a democratic culture, best accomplished? Possible approaches could be open standards; non-open standards processes; innovation within a single firm; innovation within multiple firms who work together, through joint venture or otherwise; through classic regulation, which might include antitrust/competition law, intellectual property law, and so forth.

Generativity is a term coined by professor Jonathan Zittrain (known as “JZ” to GrokLaw regulars), referring to the ability for individuals and groups to generate uses (primarily by creating programming code and distributing it to others) for their computers and software that were not planned or expected by the original designers. I am certain that this explanation does not catch his full meaning, so you should read his materials linked from the Harvard Law page.

Sam Hiser was also there. He has his impressions up also.

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