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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Frog Race: The Desire for Control and How Large Companies Interact

I was told recently that of the 250 or so fast-tracked standards that
Ecma has successfully had accepted by National Bodies at ISO/IEC, only
three of them have failed. I thought it would be interesting to read
up a little more on them... Control of the API: ISO standards are a
very scary proposition for large companies. Many of them are not
comfortable with any position other than dominance and stability. The
control of the API is terribly important to them, and they regard loss
of control of the API as a risk (whereas it can be a circuit-breaker
and new-market enabler.) This is one reason why all the large companies
try to favour the member-based boutique standards bodies: W3C, OASIS,
Ecma, because there is more chance that they can establish a beachhead
and make participation at those bodies unattractive or futile for their
competitors. The need for stability is sometimes stronger than the need
for dominance: when you see calls for 'equilibrium' to be maintained
in a market, you know that is a buzzword for maintaining the status quo.
(And it is not always the market leader: it can be a smaller player in
fear of losing their share just as much.) It goes in cycles. The wheel
turns and sooner or later the big companies are forced to deal with ISO
and national bodies, and they find this lack of control very unpleasant.
Sooner or later they find some reason to split back to more dominatable
bodies, and they jump ship. It is not all venal (or even venial) or
negative though: for example, look at SGML: Sun's Jon Bosak (and many
others) were unhappy with the way and speed that SGML maintenance was
proceeding and we went to W3C as a forum for making a simple profile
and addressing a lot of peripheral issues, and XML in turn became the
foundation for the update of SGML. There is always an interplay between
what the boutique, specialist bodies are interested in, and what the
national-body-based regimes such as ISO are interested in: industry
activity is actually really important, because it clarifies what the
ISO groups should be doing. The downside is that when these large,
usually-US-based multinationals hop over to their boutique bodies,
they have to try to justify their jump by slagging off at ISO/IEC.
This is a predictable behaviour: it has happened in the past, it is
happening now, and it will happen in the future. Some parts of the
complaints are often reasonable, some parts are often merely self-serving,
but it is not a new behaviour... More Information

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