Friday, April 22 2011 @ 09:10 AM CDT
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
It’s very rare for me to write a blog entry directed solely at what someone else has written, but there’s an exception to every rule. This one is directed at a posting by Alex Brown, entitled UK Open Standards *Sigh*.
The short blog entry begins with Alex bemoaning the hard, cruel life of the selfless engineers that create technical standards:
It can be tough, putting effort into standardization activities – particularly if you're not paid to do it by your employer. The tedious meetings, the jet lag, the bureaucratic friction and the engineering compromises can all eat away at the soul.
Poor Alex. It does sound tough, doesn’t it?
Presumably, being involved in standards activities that are highly relevant to the consulting and implementation business of Alex’s firm, Griffin Brown, has no impact on its fortunes at all. And engaging in some other type of community service – say, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or becoming a Boy Scout leader - would avoid all that tedious travel to the excessively dreary locations where SC 34 (the format standard working group) insists on holding its meetings. Places like Tokyo, Stockholm, Paris, Copenhagen, and Prague.
Fortunately, Alex notes that there are off-setting benefits:
But most people participating (particularly, perhaps, those not paid to do it by their employer) are kept going by the thought that, in the end, their contribution might make a difference. That in some small way the world will become a better place because of their efforts.
Sadly, it appears that a problem has come up. The U.K. government, you see, has had the temerity to post an on-line survey, asking for input on which standards it should consider adopting. Governments, as you may recall, increasingly interface with citizens through the Web. Governments are also the servants of the people, and not the other way around. So imagine – a government asking its citizens how they might want to better interact with their government? Or what would make it easier and cheaper for them to do so?
Of course, there’s actually a reasonable explanation why Alex objects so strenuously to the survey:
It is hard to know where to start with this: whether it’s the ignorance of what a “standard” (never mind an “open standard”) is; or the thought that having a check-box survey is an intelligent way to form an assessment of technologies leading into a standards policy.
Of course, the one aspect of an “open standard” upon which all definitions agree – and upon which SC 34, as well as all other ISO/IEC standards efforts are based – is that all of those that are affected by a standard should be able to offer input on that standard.
Except that’s not the way Alex sees it. Here’s how Alex closes his blog entry:
Faced with such clueless fuckwittery it’s tempting simply to ask: what’s the point?
Indeed. So the survey must have something very, very flawed about it. You can decide for yourself, by clicking here. If you do, you’ll find that it’s targeted at serious users of technology (no one else would have a clue on how to answer the questions), collects the type of information needed to form sound conclusions based on the input, and imposes no obligation on the U.K. Government to make direct decisions based upon what it receives.
The problem, it appears, is that Alex thinks that only those that participate in working groups like SC 34 are competent to judge what should be in a standard, or which among competing standards might be superior. Never mind, of course, that legions of formal standards have never been widely adopted at all, or that consortium standards are frequently adopted over formal standards. But forget that. Those who aren’t inside the formal standards process just don’t get what standards are really and truly all about, so why don’t all you ignorant sods just bugger off?
If the name Alex Brown rings a bell, don’t be surprised. Alex was the convenor of the one week OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting held in 2008 - you know, the one that thought that a one week meeting was an intelligent way to resolve over 1,000 comments on an over 6,000 page specification in order to formalize an open standard. During that meeting, Alex made multiple decisions that were later condemned by many. Four countries filed formal appeals. Alex remains serene about that meeting, the decisions made, and the outcome.
Standards, you see, are not to be questioned by those that are expected to use them. They are to be accepted with the deference to which their developers are entitled. We, who are increasingly utterly dependent on what standards allow us to do, or not do, are never, ever to question the judgment of those that create these precious gifts.
Our role is to take what we’re given, and do what we’re told. Anything else would be “clueless fuckwittery.”
My God, Alex. Where is there an end of it?