Standards Through Interoperability? Really?


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A polemic which critiques current orthodox thinking on open standards. Presented at the "Thinking the Unthinable" strand of the CETIS 2006 conference.
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Standards Through Interoperability? Really?

  1. 1. Thinking The Unthinkable Interoperability Through Open Standards! Really? Brian Kelly UKOLN University of Bath Bath Email [email_address] UKOLN is supported by: Acceptable Use Policy Recording/broadcasting of this talk, taking photographs, discussing the content using Blogs, IM, SMS, etc. is permitted providing distractions to others is minimised. This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 licence (but note caveat) Resources related to this talk are bookmarked in using the ‘ cetis-2006-conference-unthinkable ' tag
  2. 2. Contents <ul><ul><li>Why do we need standards? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But standards don’t always work! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What are open standards anyway? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Examples of the problems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Alternatives to open standards </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>So what should we do? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Questions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Group discussion </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Why Do We Need Standards? Open Standards Standards Application- Independence Device Independence Avoidance of vendor lock-in Minimise costs Interoperability Long-term preservation Architectural integrity
  4. 4. Open Standards Are Great  … <ul><li>JISC's development programmes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Traditionally based on use of open standards to: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Support interoperability </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Maximise accessibility </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Avoid vendor lock-in </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Provide architectural integrity </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Help ensure long-term preservation </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>History in UK HE development work: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>eLib Standards document (v1 – 1996, v2 – 1998) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>DNER Standards document (2001) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>which influenced: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NOF-digi Technical Standards </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>.. </li></ul></ul>Open Standards
  5. 5. … But Don't Always Work  <ul><li>There's a need for flexibility: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning the lesson from OSI networking protocols </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Today: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is the Web (for example) becoming over-complex </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;Web service considered harmful&quot; </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The lowercase semantic web / Microformats </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lighter-weight alternatives being developed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Responses from the commercial world </li></ul></ul>Open Standards <ul><li>Other key issues </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What is an open standard? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What are the resource implications of using them? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sometimes proprietary solutions work (and users like them). Is it politically incorrect to mention this!? </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Open Standards: an EU View <ul><li>European Interoperability Framework for pan-European eGovernment Services defines open standards as: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The intellectual property of the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No constraints on the re-use of the standard. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Taken from W3C’s Technologies and e-Government talk by Ivan Herman at Workshop on E-Government, Edinburgh, May 2006 </li></ul>Open Standards
  7. 7. What is an Open Standard? <ul><li>Which of the following are open standards? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>XHTML 1  PDF  Flash </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Java  MS Word  RSS (1.0/2.0) </li></ul></ul>Open Standards <ul><li>UKOLN's &quot; What Are Open Standards? &quot; briefing paper refers to characteristics of open standards: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Neutral organisation which 'owns' standard & responsible for roadmap </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Open involvement in standards-making process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Access to standard freely available </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>… </li></ul></ul>Note these characteristics do not apply equally to all standards bodies e.g. costs of BSI standards; W3C membership requirements; …
  8. 8. Compliance Issues <ul><li>What does must mean? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You must comply with HTML standards </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What if I don't? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What if nobody does? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What if I use PDF? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You must clear rights on all resources you digitise </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You must provide properly audited accounts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What if I don't? </li></ul></ul></ul>There is a need to clarify the meaning of must and for an understandable, realistic and reasonable compliance regime Compliance JISC 5/99 programme ~80% of project home pages were not HTML compliant
  9. 9. Is RSS An Open Standard? <ul><li>Is RSS an open standard (&quot;are RSSs open standards&quot;)? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS 1.0 (RDF Site Summary) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>XML application using RDF model </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Developed by Aaron Schwarz </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS 2.0 (Really Simple Syndication) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>XML application using simpler model </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Developed by Davey Winer </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Note that RSS is a widely used and popular application; with usage growing through its key role in Podcasts </li></ul><ul><li>Issues: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Are these open standards? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are they reliable and robust enough to build mission-critical services on? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is there a clear roadmap for the future? </li></ul></ul>RSS Example
  10. 10. RSS – Governance Issues <ul><li>Governance Issues: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS 1.0 specification maintained by Aaron Schwartz: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>&quot; Aaron Swartz is a teenage writer, hacker, and activist. He was a finalist for the ArsDigita Prize for excellence in building non-commercial web sites at the age of 13. At 14 he co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification, now used by thousands of sites to notify their readers of updates. &quot; </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS 2.0 specification developed by Dave Winer: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>&quot; Winer is known as one of the more polarizing figures in the blogging community. … However .. there are many people and organizations who seem unable to maintain a good working relationship with Dave. &quot; </li></ul></ul></ul>RSS Example
  11. 11. RSS 1.0 – Roadmap Issues <ul><li>RSS 1.1: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In Jan 2005 RSS 1.1 draft released: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;[we] expressed our mutual frustrations with 1.0 …, we decided that rather than lauch (sic) ... another … diatribe against the quality of the RSS 1.0 spec, … [we would] simply write a new specification ourselves. &quot; </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>But it is no longer being developed: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Draft technically good (addressed ambiguities & interoperability flaws) but political reaction apathetic </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS 2.0 has (a) better acronym and (b) momentum (through Podcasting) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>And RSS 2.0 sounds newer </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS 3.0 (joke?) proposal has caused confusion and arguments on Slashdot and elsewhere </li></ul></ul>RSS Example
  12. 12. RSS 2.0 – Roadmap Issues <ul><li>RSS 2.0: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Spec published by Harvard Law School with a Creative Commons licence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS-Board YahooGroups used for governance body </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many arguments (most recently on proposal to expand board in April 2006): </li></ul></ul>Note Wikipedia has useful links to the history and politics of RSS &quot;Winer has now decided that the board doesn't exist and never had authority over the RSS specification, even though it has published six revisions from July 2003 to the present. I don't agree, but now that the board's fully public, we're in a position to make his wish a reality.&quot; RSS Example
  13. 13. Podcasting <ul><li>Lots of interest (recording lecturers; student created Podcasts; marketing; …) </li></ul><ul><li>A simple enhancement to RSS 2.0 (syndication sound/movie file, and not just text) </li></ul><itunes:author>Henry Rzepa</itunes:author> <description>Wiki Workshop</description> … <itunes:category text=&quot;Education&quot;> <itunes:category text=&quot;Higher Education&quot;/> </itunes:category> <itunes:keywords>Chemistry, … </itunes:keywords> <itunes:explicit>no</itunes:explicit> <ul><li>But: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Syndicates MP3 (Ogg, who cares?) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Proprietary Apple extensions </li></ul></ul>RSS Example
  14. 14. RSS – Summary <ul><li>What can be learnt: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We thought RSS was a great lightweight syndication technology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It was – but competing alternatives were developed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No clear winner (RSS 1.0's extensibility & W3C's support versus RSS 2.0's simplicity and take-up in Podcasting, iTunes, etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Conclusions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Life can be complex, even with simple standards </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Technical merit is never enough – market acceptance can change things </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RSS can still be useful, and interoperability can be provided by RSS libraries supporting multiple formats </li></ul></ul>RSS Example
  15. 15. Isn’t Slideshare Good Enough? <ul><li> is a good example of a digital repository for slides, which is easy-to-use and supports community discussion, folksonomies, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>How does this compare with the traditional JISC approach (see Andy Powell’s Blog ). </li></ul> <ul><li>Note: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The slides can be embedded </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>PowerPoint & ODF supported - but not XML or PDF! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>NB looking for other slides about “standards” finds Stephen Downes critique of standards </li></ul> workshops/webmaster-2006/talks/metcalfe/
  16. 16. VRVS vs Skype <ul><li>Oct 2004 – Andy Powell’s Ariadne article on benefits of VRVS. </li></ul><ul><li>Same time Brian Kelly uses Skype at events, with colleagues, .. </li></ul>AP : You should use/promote VRVS: its standards-based, Access Grid, JISC-approved BK : Terrible Interface; users love Skype; … 24 Oct 2006: “At the time, Brian Kelly at UKOLN asked me why I was promoting a tool with such a poor user-interface.  Looking back, he was absolutely right”
  17. 17. IT Development vs IT as a Commodity <ul><li>Web 2.0 is bringing IT as a commodity: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Amazon provide disk storage, CPU, applications, … </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Google & Yahoo provide many application services </li></ul></ul><ul><li>If IT becomes a commodity, who cares about the production processes? </li></ul><ul><li>Open standards = ethical electricity? </li></ul> … Note that uses Amazon CPUs – see the URL when uploading
  18. 18. Standardistas – Good or Bad? <ul><li>If standards are great: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why are ‘standardistas’ getting a bad name? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why are there so many Blogs about conflicts in W3C? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>… </li></ul></ul> how-to-sniff-out-a-rotten-standardista/ Are standards like New Labour? We thought it was all great in 1997, but we’re now disillusioned – although we sometimes recognise it’s better than the alternative!
  19. 19. Issues For Discussion <ul><li>Some possible areas to discuss: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is there a limited scope in which open standards are critical (cf. “open source is best for e-science; IBM took MS on in the office environment and lost”) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Standardisation is often an intensively political process – so is it surprising if open standards can be so flawed? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>User-focussed or standards-based development: how do we respond if they’re in conflict? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why are development projects deliverables often perceived as inferior? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Interoperability through open standards” Is this the correct message to give? If not, what should we say? </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Questions? <ul><li>Any questions </li></ul>What Next?