I have been partaking in an academic-style event on standards here in Vancouver B.C. this week. So far, the presentations have been strong and the audience participation lively. For a neophyte like myself on this topic overall it has been very educational.
I had to smile to myself this morning though because we spent 2 hours discussion what was “open.” The relative context is very different than the OSS discussions of “open,” but the ultimate goal of a workable definition is the same. Larry Rosen gave a presentation where he did a good job of advocating a licensing-up approach to the problem but that was not received overly well by the group. Standards have a more complicated matrix of issues as you consider the contribution process, consensus-building and decision-making, and then implementation factors. Each may represent a spectrum of specific requriments and thus there is not an easy definition of “open.” Is it only open (on a software standard) if it allows a free software implementation? What if it allows BSD but not GPL? Is that “open?” How about if the contribution is under terms acceptable to an open source definition-compliant view of the world but the IPR policy of the standards body itself is not compatible with that type of licenses? Yet, it is an official international standards body. Is that “open?”
It is important to point out that many standards bodies (International bodies all the way through consortium) have presented their own definitions, but the do not necessarily all align.
Many folks in hallway conversations during the break were lamenting the inaccuracy of the language and the possibly admission that in standards it may not be a) possible or b) beneficial to have such a specific definition that meets the “one-size-fits-all” approach. What was left out of the discussion though was the element of perception and marketing. The nature of modern communications is to encapsulate wildly complex concepts into nice, tight sound bites.
So, for an organization to say that they support “open standards,” or that they implement “open standards,” or that they contribute to “open standards” sounds great. Thus, there will be a constant push by marketing organizations to keep that term going. But that will inevitably be a mischaracterization of things and thus open any such organization up to criticism that may not be warranted.
I looked at the idea of open in an earlier blog – kind of fun to go back and read that after the conversation I sat through today.