The New Generation of Standardistas? The Open Web Foundation

The standards world is sometimes viewed as a bunch of old men sitting together for an eternity in esoteric (but warm) locations for years and years without contact with the outside world. Finally, in the summer of 2008 we saw the creation of The Open Web Foundation, a “new generation” effort which wants to attract individuals from the Open Source and Internet entrepreneur communities who care about open specifications. Announced at OSCON 2008, its mandate is still a bit unclear: will they develop specifications on their own, or just incubate ideas until they can be shipped to W3C or OASIS?

The Open Web Foundation is a new grassroots Open Specifications effort. In their own words:

The Open Web Foundation is an independent non-profit dedicated to the development and protection of open, non-proprietary specifications for web technologies.

The Open Web Foundation is made up of individuals who believe that the open web is built on technologies that are created in the open by a diversity of contributors, and which free to be used and improved upon without restriction.

OWF is not a standards body. Rather it helps communities to develop open specifications which can later be contributed to standards bodies like the IETF, OASIS, or W3C. OWF helps to ensure that an open specfication gains adoption and has clean IPR so that it can be worked on by a standards body.(FAQ).

They are likely to be most concerned with Web 2.0 type specifications such as Open ID, Portable contacts API etc. It is unlikely that they will seek partnership with traditional software or hardware vendors, nor that they would want to be subsumed under W3C, IETF or OASIS - or any other organization, for that matter. In fact, they seem to view these as “old school”.

What resources do they have? They list 8 people as “official reps” although one may assume part time and unpaid, true Open Source fashion. Who knows?

Who are they? My analysis is that they are a “new generation” effort which want to attract individuals from the Open Source and Internet entrepreneur communities who care about open specifications:

[the reason why we created our organization]

is mostly about the emphasis and barriers to entry that these pre-existing groups have. It may also be about the DNA, culture and people involved

We're simply applying the open source model of seeing a common pain point and trying to patch the system by creating an "organizational library (Chris Messina, official rep in a reply).

As such they may potentially do important work (if the organization takes off), and complement blogosphere activities. Whether they will ever submit specifications or actually develop specifications themselves is more doubtful, but it could happen. Their emerging “guiding principles” do talk about “specification work” and about not being a policy forum:

the work should be technical specifications (ie not advocacy, policy, or other specifications that aren’t implementable in code) (see here).

On the other hand, they do talk about “incubation”:

We're not focused on press coverage (in fact have been stressing to reporters that the really cool day will be when we have the first project going through the incubation process, David Recordon says in a comment).

The Open Web Foundation is an interesting new initiative which shows that a new generation is interested in standards. They have different needs. They are willing to create something new. Alternatively, they have lost faith in the traditional players like national standards bodies (certainly) as well as players of the 1990s' Internet age, such as Oasis and W3C.

David Recordon (see his blog) who is one of the key players behind Open Web Foundation, is also among the pioneers behind the Open ID initative. Additionally, The Open Web Foundation claims to be supported by a number of individuals and companies, such as Google, BBC, Facebook, MySpace, O'Reilly, Plaxo, Six Apart, Sourceforge, and Yahoo!.

There is, of course, the question about how official this support is. All I know is that a full, official endorsement from all these organizations would take years. But that is another story. And maybe it misses the point. This is a new age initiative, so new rules apply. I conclude, the Open Web Foundation is an exciting initiative, but obviously has a lot to prove. Sixty something standards professionals with thick beards are watching you. Best of luck!

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Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile

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