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open standards -- or just open?

Note: this argument has its fair bit of circular logic built in since I am "just talking" about how we find it hard to move quickly beyond the point of "just talking". Also, it's easy for me to say "oh, people should do this and that." Pontification without responsibility for implementation is easy, and that's pretty much what I'm doing. The least I can do is be aware of that, and make clear that if anyone thinks this is worthwhile I'm willing to put my money were my mouth is and help in any way I can.

In the last couple of weeks three discussions have emerged in blogland that go to the core of the future shape of the newly emerging widespread publish/subscribe, decentralized nature of the web. It seems to me that this is, in part, a consequence of the rapid changes happening on the weblog space (that most readily identifies this new "evolution" of the web, but it's not the only example). Google buying blogger, Microsoft and AOL rumored to be about to jump in, and so on. We knew that the current patchwork of loosely compatible implementations for things we use everyday (RSS, Weblog APIs, etc) is not going to be enough to maintain an open environment once the new entrants come in, but now consensus is actually becoming critical. An agreement has to be reached on these things, and fast. Cases in point: the discussion that followed my review of weblog APIs, the recent calls from Dave to create a web-wide "RSS Profile" (with great comments by Ben from SixApart, Sam, and Don), and the latest: another discussion over REST/XML-RPC and SOAP (original posting from Dave here and here, and which of them should or should not be used.

The last item, REST v. XML-RPC/SOAP is less of an issue I think. I am not saying it's not important, I'm saying it's a matter of transport rather than high-level formats or APIs. APIs should be transport-agnostic IMO. However, this is a symptom I think of a larger problem we have: continued discussion with slow resolution of the underlying issues.

So how to get past the point of recognizing the problem and starting to come up with a solution quickly? Everyone agrees, for the most part, that some solution is desirable in all of these cases. This could be done in different ways (for example, Mark Nottingham created a wiki to collect information on the RSS Profile discussion), but mostly it requires, to me, that those creating the tools and/or the originators of the standards "sit down" for a little bit and talk it over. In private. With public input, but in private. Weblogs are great for discussion, but because they're personal it's more difficult to reach consensus IMO, which requires everyone giving in a little; weblogs being personal as they are they make it difficult to give in (it's my weblog after all!).

I've been thinking that's what needed is a sort of "standards group" along the lines of ISO or whatever, but ad-hoc, based on work done and ability to make change happen once some agreement has been reached. The big corporations settled on standards bodies as neutral ground to reach agreements of sorts (not that they always work, but they're better than the alternative). We need something similar.

Dave was saying that this is an inflection point, and I think he's right. The problem is what do we do to move forward in a unified way so that when Microsft, AOL/Time Warner and others come into the space we can present a unified front that will maintain compatibility. They should be welcome as fair competitors, not feared as monopolists, and having stable, widely used standards will help.

Anyway, just an idea. :-) Categories: technology
Posted by diego on May 14 2003 at 1:30 AM

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