Celebrating World Standards Day

Sunday, 14 October is World Standards Day. This is the day when many people celebrate the work of those who strive to level the playing field, and their efforts to create a world with better tools for simplifying and enhancing life.

Standards are good; I don’t need to defend them here. Without standards, no human society can evolve: they form a foundation, or rather, layers of foundations on top of which we make progress. And, much of the time, others make progress as well. Standardization is about sharing a method for doing something useful with more people.

What I’d like to celebrate this year is a particular way of creating standards: on 29 August 2012, W3C, with partners IEEE, IAB, IETF and ISOC, co-signed the OpenStand principles (Modern Paradigm for Standards). OpenStand defines five principles for quality standards development: Cooperation, Adherence to Principles (due process, consensus, transparency, balance, openness), Collective Empowerment, Availability and Voluntary Adoption.

This was not the first time people articulated a set of standardization principles, but it was the first to be endorsed by the organizations that have created most of the standards used for the Internet and the Web.

In other words, these principles have been validated many times over. If you’re reading this blog, unless someone printed it for you on paper, it’s likely that you use some local wifi connection between a computer and a router, made by different companies in different countries (IEEE), an internet connection with a domain name, email, etc. between two hosts that didn’t even know the other existed before your action (IETF) and a browser accessing a file on a server somewhere on Earth that knows nothing about where you are or who you are, let alone which machinery you use to access the net (W3C). In fact, it’s likely that you use dozens or even hundreds of standards coming out of one of these three organizations whenever you access the net.

And it’s remarkable that the relevance of these standards and the organizations that have produced them stands on just these five principles!

How does W3C adhere to these principles? To answer this question, we published today W3C’s OpenStand self-evaluation, in which we indicate our current practices related to each principle. It’s important to note that each of the organizations that has signed the principles already fulfills them, but in different ways. For example, the principle regarding “Availability” offers a range of patent policy options. W3C’s Patent Policy includes an explicit Royalty-Free goal.

One value of publishing the self-evaluation is to illustrate one way of “implementing” the principles. In doing so, we also hope to advance the standards ecosystem through, in some sense, a standardization of methodology. We think that organizations that observe the principles will find it easier to collaborate. This will make it easier and faster to create the quality standards that our highly connected societies will need in the near future. I predict that a result of this collaboration will be greater productivity among these Standards Development Organizations (SDOs); allowing us to publish an order of magnitude more specifications than in the past.

Another proof point for the success of these principles is a recent revision of the EU standardization legislation related to official use of standards by governments for procurement or in policy directives. After several years of negotiations, with strong involvement from W3C staff and active coordination with our partners/members in the ICT industry, the Council of the European Union reached a decision this month. This legislative reform allows civil servants to use and refer to specifications from open standard consortia such as W3C, IETF, IEEE, and OASIS in situations involving public funds. This change will benefit people in many ways, including lower ICT costs (by reducing fragmentation between national standards) and promoting innovation.

Finally, this has been a good year for W3C standards, including strong adoption of the Open Web Platform, including HTML5, CSS, and many other technologies.

A Happy World Standards Day indeed!