Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Standards Whack A Mole

The Standards Game as Instrument of Competition and Regulation is the whack-a-mole of the web culture. Rick Jeliffe takes issue with it and Rick has plenty of experience with all sides of this game.

The status of the document as a legal or regulatory instrument and the status or provenance of the body which creates it can be usefully separated. A document can be regulatory given the context of its citation. For example, a standard cited in a contract has a legal basis for regulating the conduct of actions performed under the contract.

Provenance (typically, the history of the ownership of a document) is a murky term in this context but I don't have a better one to describe the committee that controls the creation and history of the document handling (its history). I am equally horrified by self-selection as the sole means of determining who can contribute to a document that may be citable in a regulatory context. Standards editors need reasonable credentials.

Volunteerism is a good force but not always an adequate credential.

Now are the economists are telling us to ignore the technical and understand the economic?

Ok. Weirder and weirder.

1. A VC wants a four for one punch on their ‘contribution’. That means barriers to competition (patents or press) or a pyramid scheme (faux economy and press). Is that economic or technical?

2. A standard works best if there are multiple implementations prior to standardization. IBM says we need to accept SecondLife as a standard for 3D on The Web because it needs standards. Raph Koster announces a new company with himself as the President developing a new product to be a standard for 3D on the Web RSN. There is an existing ISO standard for 3D On The Web with 17 existing implementations and diverse applications. The aforementioned have one: social networks, but the first one has subscribers and the second one has 'an expert who has done interesting work'. Who should be the standard editor? Is this technical or economic?

This is classic "money rules" rules. The deal is to make as big a splash initially as possible, call it a standard, flip it up, take the cash and leave the shell behind. If we accept that for product standards, we are creating carnage. It is well and good to compete on product features that improve the fundamentals of some technology. Races are won at Grand Prix by figuring out a better implementation for weight to power and fuel consumption (fire air fuel). If it works, it makes it into a generation of muscle cars AND hybrids for eco-sensitive implementations. That's standard. That might improve sales for some manufacturer. That's economic.

But legislation to pick a technology by fiat without substantial credible improvements in the performance of the technology, that's piracy by government fiat. Economists become the pirate in the crow's nest surveying the horizon for the next victim.

Sun execs need to take a hard look at their business model and their own executive suite. Standards games didn't give them a profitable quarter for the first time in years. Improvements in hardware performance did. If they don't get that, they need to replace Schwartz and anyone he hired. IBM will do as it has been: make money on services and if a technology comes along to improve the performance of those services, they switch. Investments in standards are chump change in that model.

Microsoft will continue to push its own technology to perform better and build bridges to any technology with a customer base large enough to justify the investment. That's economics.


John Cowan said...

You wouldn't want to see ol' Timmy going ploamph into the mud, would you?

len said...

No certainly not. Tim is a friend and a colleague. Where we differ, we make no bones about that but none of each other either.

I'm tired of the way of the skull and crossbones no matter how well dressed or dapper. We've gotten too good at using the web megaphone. Rick took a drubbing personally and professionally for taking a gig any of us might have liked to have about now.

Plurality is better than sub-optimum minima. The churn is part of the ecosystem health. We accept it with the rest of the noise because it drives the evolution. Economics is another way of saying "my money" and standards is a way of saying "our mutual health".

Hey, last week a bot on someone's server accused me of being a racist. In the last six months of pretty heavy events in my life, that gave me the best laugh I've had.

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