Yesterday, the Deputy CTO of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a press release highlighting the efforts (and success) of the Obama Administration in getting data compiled at public expense into the hands of the private sector for commercial repurposing. The release refers to a McKinsey & Company report that estimates that making such data publicly available “can generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional value in seven key domains of the global economy, including education, transportation, and electricity.”
If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
Sir Isaac Newton, 1676
If the phrase “open innovation” has a familiar ring, that’s not surprising. It’s not only a popular buzz phrase, but it has the type of virtuous ring to it that instinctively inspires a favorable reaction. But like most simple phrases, it intrigues rather than enlightens. For example, is open innovation feasible in all areas of creative, commercial and scientific endeavor? If so, do the rules, challenges and rewards differ from discipline to discipline, and if it’s not universally feasible, why not?
The big news in the standards arena yesterday was a joint announcement by five of the standards setting organizations (SSOs) that have been most essential to the creation of the Internet and the Web: IEEE, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and Internet Society (the last three being closely affiliated entities).
Joint announcements by SSOs are rare, and the subject matter of this announcement was more so: each organization was joining in the endorsement of a set of five principles that they assert support a “new paradigm for standards” development.
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.
The following is the introduction to the Feature Article in the most recent issue of Standards Today, the free "eJournal of News, Ideas and Analysis" that I have been writing for the last seven years. You can read the entire article here, and sign up for a free subscription here.
For more than 100 years, the United States has been the exemplar of the "bottom up" model of standards development. Under this methodology, society relies on the private sector to identify standards-related needs and opportunities in most sectors, and then develops responsive specifications. Government, for its part, retains ultimate control over domains such as health, safety, and environmental protection, but preferentially uses private sector standards in procurement, and also references private sector standards into law when appropriate (e.g., as building codes).
Until recently, government agencies in the United States commonly developed their own standards for procurement purposes. This era of separate but equal standards creation officially came to an end with the passage of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995. With this legislation, Congress directed government agencies to use "voluntary consensus standards" (VCSs) and other private sector specifications wherever practical rather than "government unique standards," and to participate in the development of these standards as well. In 1998, Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119 was amended to provide additional guidance to the Federal agencies on complying with the NTTAA.
The pace of technology is wondrous indeed. No corner of our lives seems safe from digital invasion, from picture frames to pasta makers. For years now, we have been threatened with Internet-enabled refrigerators, and perhaps 2011 will see it so.
Nor is the process likely to stop there. Soon, we are told, our homes will become infested by "mesh networks" of sensors, each one whispering information surreptitiously to its neighbor, in order to render our lives more energy efficient. But in so doing, they will observe our every move and report it to heavens knows whom.
On December 8, the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) issued a public Request for Information on behalf of the recently formed Sub-Committee on Standards of the National Council of Research and Technology. The titular goal of the RFI is to assist the Sub-Committee in assessing the “Effectiveness of Federal Agency Participation in Standardization in Select Technology Sectors.” Although the publication of the RFI gave rise to not a single article in the press, this event was none the less extremely consequential.
Standards cover an awful lot of ground — how big things are; how much they weigh; how fast they go; how much power they consume; how pure they are; how they must be shaped so that they fit together — the list goes on and on. But despite the enormous range of characteristics that standards define, you notice that they all have one thing in common: you can describe them by using the word "how."
In short, standards relate to measurable things. Indeed, the earliest formal standards created in societies everywhere were usually those related to weights and measures. Invariably these were established when trade became more sophisticated than tribal bartering. Ever since, the history of standards has largely been one of establishing ways to define more and more measurable characteristics as they became important and as the scientific ability to test them came along.
There is, however, one exception to this rule. Curiously enough, it involves a standard that is as old as weights and measures themselves. And despite its ancient lineage, nations still can't agree for very long on what measuring stick should be used, or how it should work. This is rather remarkable, given that the standard in question is perhaps the only one that nearly everyone makes use of almost very day of their lives.
That standard, of course, is money — dollars, Euros, renminbi — each one a measure of value.
The last issue of Standards Today focused on XML - the underpinning of ODF and hundreds of other standards - and one of the most important standards ever developed. Here is the editorial from that issue.
One of the many intriguing concepts mooted by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest with polymathic insights (his academic explorations range from paleontology to the meaning of the Cosmos) is the "noosphere." In de Chardin's vision, the reality of the world encompassed not just the geosphere (inanimate matter) and biosphere (all forms of life), but an ever expanding nimbus of knowledge representing the fusion of the minds and knowledge of all humans.
In a short while, an important vote will be taken in downtown Denver, Colorado. If as expected that vote is in the affirmative, a unique and important public-private partnership will spring into being. It will also have an extremely ambitious goal: to assess, assemble, explain and promote the complex and evolving web of standards that will be needed to make the vision of a Smart Grid in the United States a reality. It will also mark the end of the first chapter in a journey that began with the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
What is a Smart Grid, compared to what we have now? Today, we have centralized production of electricity, with distribution of that power being handled by somewhat interconnected, regional networks to commercial and home users. We also have burgeoning green house gas emissions, growing dependence on foreign oil, both as a result of our need to keep increasing our generating capacity in order to meet whatever the peak national electrical need may be.
Quote of the Day
“Should the provision of a hyperlink leading to a work or other subject matter protected under copyright?”
NIST Special Publication Expands Government Authentication Options NIST NIST Techbeat December 19, 2013 - A newly revised publication from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) expands the options for government agencies that need to verify the identity of users of their Web-based services. Electronic Authentication Guideline (NIST Special Publication 800-63-1) is an extensive revision and update of the original document, released in 2006, and it recognizes that times, and technologies, have changed.
“Changes made to the document reflect changes in the state of the art,” explains NIST computer security expert Tim Polk, Cryptographic Technology Group manager at NIST. “There are new techniques and tools available to government agencies, and this provides them more flexibility in choosing the best authentication methods for their individual needs, without sacrificing security.”... ...Full Story
Government expands private sector cyber security partnerships in NCSS drive ComputerWeekly.com December 19, 2013 - The UK government plans to concentrate on expanding partnerships around cyber security with the private sector in 2014 as part of the National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS).
This includes introducing a cyber security kitemark for firms that do business with the government, to help boost UK cyber exports and a cyber security baseline standard....
The NCSS is supported by £860m funding from the National Cyber Security Programme for delivering projects as part of the government’s response to growing threats in cyberspace.... ...Full Story
Standardization Priorities for Smart and Sustainable Cities Discussed at ANSI Workshop ANSI Weekly December 19, 2013 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) convened a workshop on November 21, 2013, in Washington, DC, to examine the role of standardization in achieving the promise of smart and sustainable cities. The full workshop report is available online.
The inspiration for both the workshop and the larger smart cities movement is the ongoing growth of urban communities, particularly in developing countries, along with the proliferation of information and communications technologies (ICTs), such as sensors, smart phones, intelligent transport systems, building energy management systems, etc., that can assist cities in making their operations more efficient, more sustainable, and more resilient. Countries in Europe and Asia, with support from their national governments, have undertaken strategic initiatives to explore this area. Likewise, a number of new standardization roadmapping activities have emerged at the national, regional, and international levels to assess what standards and conformance programs already exist and what additional activity may be needed....
The workshop identified a number of priority areas where standardization can contribute to smart and sustainable cities. These included:
- a standardized set of definitions/lexicon for smart cities applicable across sectors
- interoperability for systems of systems, including common data formats and communication protocols to enable sharing of data between systems
- key performance indicators so that measurements are consistent and comparable
- a baseline guidance document which can be adapted to address the specific needs of sectors
- resiliency for disaster preparedness and recovery
As a result of the workshop, ANSI will develop a proposal for a collaborative to further define standardization needs, particularly through outreach and engagement of public-sector stakeholders.... ...Full Story
EU challenges US hegemony in global internet governance Cécile Barbière EurActiv December 18, 2013 - French lawmakers, supported by the EU's Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, are pressing the European Union to stand up more firmly against American domination in cyberspace....“The European Union is not present enough in the different international fora on Internet governance although the future of the Internet is a significant challenge,” said Catherine Morin-Desailly, vice-president of the EU Affairs Committee in the French Senate....
“Only the EU has the necessary power to influence this new cyberspace where the USA dominates,” she added.
The MPs’ concerns stem largely from the massive and illegal wiretapping done by the Americans which were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
... ...Full Story
One European copyright law-to-rule-them-all? EU launches review OUT-LAW,com The Register December 18, 2013 - The European Commission is seeking industry views on whether to completely harmonise copyright laws across the EU....Respondents are being asked for views on matters ranging from the accessibility of digital content across the trading bloc, limitations and exceptions to copyright protection and remuneration for rights holders.
However, it is also consulting on whether to set copyright rules that apply consistently across the whole of the EU...."Some see this as the only manner in which a truly Single Market for content protected by copyright can be ensured,"...The Commission has also asked whether the act of linking to copyrighted material should require the permission of rights-holders.... ...Full Story
Switch to open source successfully completed, city of Munich says PCWorld December 17, 2013 - Munich’s switch to open-source software has been successfully completed, with the vast majority of the public administration’s users now running its own version of Linux, city officials said Thursday.
In one of the premier open-source software deployments in Europe, the city migrated from Windows NT to LiMux, its own Linux distribution. LiMux incorporates a fully open-source desktop infrastructure. The city also decided to use the Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard, instead of proprietary options....As of November last year, the city saved more than €11.7 million (US$16.1 million) because of the switch. More recent figures were not immediately available, but cost savings were not the only goal of the operation. It was also done to be less dependent on manufacturers, product cycles and proprietary OSes, the council said Thursday.... ...Full Story
Christmas comes early for the Open Document Faithful (ODF) Mark Ballard Public Sector IT December 16, 2013 - The UK government has spruced its open document policy up for Christmas.
The Cabinet Office began a public consultation on open document formats this week, three and a half years after it came to power promising they would be one of the first things it delivered....The Cabinet Office Open Standards Board issued a "challenge" for public comment on a proposal this week that government documents be published in a format that anyone can read....[Meanwhile,]
The European Commission is meanwhile coming to the latest break point in contracts that have made Microsoft the sole supplier of desktop office and operating software for more than 20 years. The Commission had been aspiring to find an open format alternative to Microsoft standards even when it signed the first contract to buy Microsoft Office in 1992.... ...Full Story
Consortium Advances Spatial Computing Standard Tiffany Trader HPCWire December 13, 2013 - A new programming standard, called the Open Spatial Programming Language (or OpenSPL), debuted today “to enable the next generation of high performance parallel spatial computers.”
The open standard was developed by the Open Spatial Programming Language (OpenSPL) consortium, which formed to promote the use of spatial computing among a wide set of users and to standardize the OpenSPL language. The overarching goal of the consortium is for spatial computing to become the industry standard for mission critical computations.... ...Full Story
XML Everywhere Perhaps the most versatile and underappreciated standard in the world is XML, the all purpose foundation for describing just about anything, from human resources data to advertising copy treatment to the presentation of chemical formulae to you name it - hundreds of domain specific schema in all. Here's another.
Etihad Cargo implements XML standard Trade Arabia December 13, 2013 - Etihad Cargo, a part of UAE's flag carrier Etihad Airways, has implemented Cargo-XML, the International Air Transport Association’s (Iata) new technology standard for air cargo communications.
Developed collaboratively with industry stakeholders, Cargo-XML removes the requirement for cargo paper documentation, otherwise known as an Air Waybill, said Iata in a statement.
The technology is now used by a growing number of airlines and other air cargo supply chain stakeholders, including shippers, freight forwarders, ground-handling agents, regulators as well as customs and security agencies, it stated.... ...Full Story
Where Did ODF Disappear to? (And How to Fix it) Glyn Moody ComputerWorld.uk December 12, 2013 - Readers with good memories may remember various key fights over the years that were largely about ODF and OOXML. The first round culminated in the extraordinarily shoddy fast-tracking of OOXML through the ISO standards process. Then we had a big battle over open standards in general, which also involved ODF and OOXML, where the UK government performed a dizzying series of U-turns.
That was over two years ago, and it struck me that after years of sound and fury, and all the work the open source community put into supporting ODF and open standards, we have recently heard nothing about the use of ODF by the UK government. That is, OOXML seems to have won be default....But now, it seems, we are to have another chance to persuade the UK government to provide a level playing field for open standards, open source and ODF:... ...Full Story