An Investigation Into Standards and Innovation Part 6 of 6: XML: Shift Happens

Home/Publications/CIDM eNews/Information Management News 05.10/An Investigation Into Standards and Innovation Part 6 of 6: XML: Shift Happens

Laurent Liscia, OASIS

Inspired by the Open Source revolution, Jon Bosak from Sun Microsystems and others invented XML, a subset of SGML meant solely for this amazing World-Wide-Web. The browser was neat and spectacular, but what if databases could be accessed from the browser in a standardized way? XML could do just that. It could serve as a universal data translator. If one database refers to a car as a passenger automobile, and another as a sedan, XML could describe a general “car” category that either database might understand. Thanks to XML any kind of data could now be queried, and pass from one proprietary system to another.

The Web, Open Source and XML all converged to radically transform the way standards were created.

The Web demonstrated that innovation never stops, and that standards can’t afford to be at the tail end of the comet. The Open Source community declared that free is good, and this made intellectual property modes such as RAND debatable in the software world. XML made it possible to develop standards in record time. And of this conjunction, OASIS was born in its current iteration, as a continuing experiment in openness and transparency. More often than not, in this configuration, a software standard IS the innovation, not the result of innovations that must be standardized. For instance, we have a set of technical committees that focus on ways to make the power grid smarter—the so-called Smart Grid effort. The participants have a good idea of what they want to do, but what they want to do does not exist yet—and will change as they realize their collective vision, through public comments, open contributions, and ballots. What a sea of change from the traditional way of doing standards!

This model, in which standards drive innovation, has expanded to hardware. One magnificent example is the 802.11, or wireless family of standards in IEEE. I suspect that the companies that came together in 802.11 had only a faint idea of what might come out of their deliberations before they began.

In many ways the process is imperfect and even counter-intuitive: at OASIS, as in many other organizations, members must pay to do the standards work. Many people in the Open Source community, who are used to giving away their work, don’t understand why there should be a fee for them to do the heavy lifting. The reason is simple: in order for a standard to be open and transparent, there needs to be an open and transparent model with clear work rules, a collaboration system, and guardians of the process who make sure no one is “gaming the system”.

These are the staff of the standards body, including yours truly, and they need to pay their bills.

What precedes also explains why ICT standards are different, and more important than ever. If you don’t want to miss the boat of innovation, you must participate in the standards process. It’s a matter of survival for software companies; a matter of control for end users if they want the standards to reflect their requirements and needs; and a matter of policy for governments in order to accompany change in a proactive manner.

Click here to read Part 1 of Laurent’s six part series.
Click here to read Part 2 of Laurent’s six part series.
Click here to read Part 3 of Laurent’s six part series.
Click here to read Part 4 of Laurent’s six part series.
Click here to read Part 5 of Laurent’s six part series.

Take a tour of OASIS at: http://www.oasis-open.org/home/tour.php

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