The evolution of Web standards and implication for innovation










I am at SIIT Berlin and will try and post a few blogs on this theme.

Recently the evolution of Web standards and their implication for innovation is becoming an important discussion point

Here’s why:

1)    Web standards are evolving to HTML5. Here, the standardization process becomes more complex – for example the need to handle multiple devices such as mobile devices, management of IPR and the interplay between Open source and Open standards.

2)    The Cloud now has a key role to play and that role also impacts all standards including Web standards

3)    New organizations like Open Web Foundation also address web standardization in addition to W3C

4)    Policy makers in individual countries are having to balance the issues of standardization versus innovation

5)    The Web is now deployed on a range of device form factors like Tablets and book readers. These devices have different needs and processes for standardization

6)    The browser now has to contend with new content types (like books and music)

7)    The lines between hardware and software are being blurred and this affects standardization and innovation

Firstly, let us consider what’s at stake:

The Web and the Internet had been one of the most revolutionary innovations over the last decade. We know that the Internet has already transformed our life in the last decade. The question is: How will the Web and the Internet evolve in the next decade?

I explore these questions below with some insights

1)    The Internet, as we know it today, has been possible because of a commercial compromise. In the Next Internet, what is holding it up, the author points out that: Nothing we do on the Internet today would have been conceivable, let alone feasible, had these corporations never decided amongst themselves. Similar negotiations and compromises took place, often involving IPR, between various players of the GSM standard before the standard emerged and with it the economic benefits of an ecosystem

2)    As we stare into the spectre of a double dip recession and the International labour organization predicts massive jobs shortfalls especially in the West, policy makers the world over are looking for ways to create new jobs and new economic growth. The EU holds its first ever event on innovation in December 2011 along the lines of the Digital Agenda and the question of innovation, standardization and IPR are intertwined because the Web is a platform and hence a catalyst for growth. But going forward, as the ‘Web meets telecoms’ and other devices (like sensor networks), it will need to balance IPR and incorporate IPR into standards.

3)    We are also at the cusp of the fifth computing cycle. Mary Meeker says that we are at the cusp of the fifth computing cycle and that mobile devices will surpass PCs and other wireline devices. Many people, including me, have long been discussing this ‘cross over’ and its implications.

4)    Finally, Open source hardware will be a key driver to the next wave of innovation. Chris Anderson even calls it the ‘next industrial revolution’.

So, all of the above makes me feel that we are fighting last decade’s battles and ignoring the opportunities and challenges in front of us.

So, here are my thoughts on where we will evolve to:

1)    The distinction between Web standards, Open source and proprietary platforms is blurred: Web standards could act as tools for generation for multiple platforms including proprietary platforms: This idea sounds radical but not so. Nitobi, the darling of the cross platform community (and I am a fan!) already work this way with phonegap. Phonegap recently announced support for the mango platform in addition to iPhone, Android and others it already supports. Thus, the mobile cross-platform application development framework uses JavaScript APIs to use Windows Phone Mango features like: Access Device Information, Add and search Contacts etc. So, we have here a mix of Web standards(phonegap), Open source(platforms for which it generates code) and proprietary standards(iPhone, Mango etc). All co-exist and developers support the platforms.

2)    When Open source meets Web standards, the results are no longer one dimensional: Both Open source and Open standards are polymorphic phrases. However, whichever way you look at it, their amalgamation is non trivial. Nick Allott wrote an excellent blog in context of webinos, which I summarise here and link to the original blog – Open Source – Sustainable development – a synopsis – which shows that Open source platforms have many motivations and are not necessarily as altruistic as the Web is designed to be i.e. available to all.

3)    Computing is not going away –it’s just hiding behind the Cloud .. (gigaom). Gigaom put forward this idea and I summarise/ extend it as below

a)    The device itself becomes low value and a conduit (soon it may come free in a box of cornflakes as someone in the

industry said ..)

b)    The value lies in connecting the dots

c)    Embedded / transparent connectivity(a profitable pipe) will be the future of operators

d)    Brand/content will focus on the end to end superior experience (Amazon for books – Apple originally for music etc).

In this case, the Cloud changes the game

 4)    Innovation at the core of the web will more complex than innovation at the edge: The Web, as we know has always innovated at the edge. But at some point, it will need to innovate at the core. This is more complex and controversial. Companies like Google have proposed spdy  which changes the nature of http and browser specific optimization ex for Chrome (We will strongly encourage Google developers start off targeting Chrome-only whenever possible as this gives us the best end user experience. ….  ) . Ultimately this will lead to ‘Optimised for Chrome ..’ or ‘works best with Chrome’ – that cannot be a good thing for the Web ..

5)    As hardware meets software, the boundaries are blurred. I propose that this world will get more complex – especially in areas such as hardware optimization of javascript.

To conclude, I started with the question of – How web standards will evolve over the next decade.

I think it was Napoleon who said that all his generals are ready and perfectly suited to fight last year’s war! Implying that next year’s battles will be different from last year’s.

It appears that we are also oriented to fight last decade’s battles for the standardization of the Web. The only conclusion is: the next decade’s battles will be different and more complex than last decade’s as I illustrate above.





  1. This is an excellent summation of standardization as a means of continued innovation. While these two words appear as contrarian terms and concepts, the web’s interconnectedness will expand the emerging demand for API’s (application programming interface) – not just as a means to cleverly mash data within apps and emerging social platforms, but as a means to govern (and commercialize!) “data as a service.”

    The developers of today demand professional API’s that are easy to work with, so they are in fact the market demand that will force most standardization of API’s. As the market to monetize API’s matures over the next decade, these developers will also play a large role in the commercial pricing market for borrowing, buying, trading, and exchanging data from suppliers of Web assets. Commercial innovation is on the horizon of the technical innovation – and standardization – of API’s continues. You will not be a major presence in the digital and mobile space without a robust and global API offering within the next 2-4 years.