A debate on standards and the evolution of standards: Why is it needed now?


Was it Napoleon who said that All my generals are ready and prepared to fight the LAST battle – i.e. they are ready to face the situations they have encountered previously – but that logic may not apply in the NEXT battle.

Based on that view, a debate on standards and the evolution of standards is needed today considering that we are focused on the existing scenario – but the future of standards and innovation may be very different.

Hence, we need to innovate standards but not standardise innovation .. and worse avoid ‘standardising standards’ i.e. think that standards are ‘one size fits all’

I have covered the evolution of standards before on the Open Gardens blog , and I have been invited to contribute to the Talkstandards forum and speak at their first conference in Brussels.

I am also an early member of the Open Web Foundation besides also project managing the initial analysis of the OMTP Bondi project – OMTP Bondi has gained much kudos since for it’s pragmatic approach to standards evolution.

So, this subject has been close to my heart and possibly a subject for a future book on the future of Open standards and some more thoughts below

The evolution of Web standards and its impact on innovation

We all accept that standards provide some benefits to society. For instance, the simple case of using different power adapters in different countries is a nuisance.

Considering the emphasis on Web standards, there are three facets to the Web:

a) As an Internet of people(person to person communication mechanism)

b) As an Internet of Content and

c) As an Internet of services(Cloud computing)

So far, the Web has largely been about the (a) Internet of people and (b) Internet of Content. The future will be also largely dominated by the Internet of services(c) i.e. Cloud computing

Standardization – at the communications/network layer and standardization at the application layer

There is a big difference between standardization at the communication/ network layer and standardization at the application(web) layer. For instance, the Internet protocols like http need to be simple, global and standardised since they pertain to the communications paradigm. However, at the higher layers – we see a more complex scenario which is primarily not communication based. For instance – we see market uptake of Flash(and its adoption for YouTube) and the iPhone. Both of which are primarily not communication platforms(For instance, the iPhone is primarily oriented on providing the best user experience). Thus, already we are seeing an acceptance of non standard initiatives

Going forward ..

The Cloud(the Internet of services) is a major paradigm shift since we are now seeing an emphasis on service(in addition to communication and content).

In doing so,

a) The Internet of services spans multiple devices and encapsulates the Web and the Mobile domains

b) The Internet of services changes the emphasis to the ‘service’ and the ‘service level agreement’ and away from conventional web standards, open source etc

c) In pragmatic terms, The Internet of services will mean that process level interoperability will not be achieved i.e. Amazon’s Cloud services being able to invoke Google’s Cloud services. So, the emphasis of Open will shift to data portability.

Impact on innovation

This shift has the potential to affect innovation. For instance, today many startups can avail of Amazon’s cloud services such as raw storage capability, Reliability, Cost effectiveness ex pay as you go, Localised versions(European hosting), Load balancing etc. While the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud may not be ‘Open’ in the conventional sense as we know it – it is the future of services and grassroots innovation from the many startups that will avail its flexible architecture to create innovative services.

Hence, it’s a debate worth having .. Comments welcome