The Software, Standards and Society in 2020 Series: 6. What if?

Assuming there were forces who joined up to change the current situation where the formal standardization system is hopelessly outdated, what would they be doing? Let's take a look at some alternatives that would please the software sector:

1. Influence governments to re-build the credibility and efficiency of the existing formal standards process.

2. Create new formal organizations with global reach. For example, one could create a new ISO with companies present, with a different business model, where standards are free, and the IPR policy is simple, and where online participation and voting is welcomed and effective. One would have two options, in fact, create a competitor to ISO, or simply shut it down and start over.

3. Endorse and financially support certain consortia not others. Contribute to a shake-out by picking winners and losers. The example of this might have been IBM's Standards for Standards initiative. IBM made a promise to pull out of places where they do not agree or are able to change the rules. A good principle, let's see about the results.

4. Someone simplified the template for what constitutes a standards organization and a standards process. There were easily accessible, clear, simple and consistent intellectual property policies for standards organizations, thereby enabling standards developers and implementers to make informed technical and business decisions.

5. Governments started shaking up the formal standardization system. For instance, BSI would not automatically receive its £6 million a year from the British government's DIUS. Moreover, fora/consortia like W3C and OASIS (and others outside the IT space) would be recognized as contributing to standards, since the policy would be that the government picks up any standard, from any origin, insofar as it is fully open and widely available and implemented.

6. Major players agreed to consolidate the number of fora/consortia from 500 to 50 in the interest of efficiency and wide implementation, pooling their resources together.

7. One put in place a tier-system for standards organizations, in order to avoid the binary approach (formal/informal) and provide a path towards gradual recognition (or not). The categories could be the following: (1) Formally recognized, (2) To watch and emerging, (3) Hopeless, unless major changes in governance structure are announced, (4) New initiatives that have yet to prove their worth, but could be innovative. The criteria could mirror those of the WTO criteria, supplied with the CAMSS criteria, and governed by an online voting system where governments, multinationals, SME associations, and user and consumer organizations had a voting quota each.

8. National Standards Organizations stopped issuing standards and instead became competence environments, funding agencies for standards participants in global organizations, and venues for local chapters that worked on specific problems within a global standard.

9. Standardization reform followed the path of ICT, so openness and self-regulation became the norm (realizing that this is not the best time to argue self-regulation across sectors).

10. Standards were sexy? Not sure what that might entail, but some aspects of sexiness include highly appealing or interesting; attractive. What I find enlightening is a piece advice from an old manual of sex tips for geeks: Even a single good feature can make you attractive enough to be a sexual success. That might be realistic, too.

11. All companies begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.

Will our children's children recognize today's Internet? Probably not. The reason is that much of it is ephemeral. It will go away, change faster than previous generations' impressions in books and popular culture. Governments, and Google as well, do try to archive historical pages, and they will be available to some extent for historians. However, Internet as we know it today, is likely to only last for a few more years.

Standardization is a tool to grapple with globalization. It yields more than £, $ or €—it yields freedom. Standards create and define networks. When these standards are used by many, network effects abound. Mostly, these network effects are benign, but in the case of quasi standards which sometimes are not standards at all, chaos erupts. In the beginning of this blog series, I said let's' consider network effects a given, and proceed. This was a wrong assumption. There is a world beyond network effects, but it is not pleasant. It is cumbersome, expensive, and risky. Moreover, not all network effects are created equal.


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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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