Monday, November 21, 2005

Making Standards Like Open Source

Friday morning I attended the Annual General Meeting of Standards Australia in Canberra. I represent Australian Computer Society on Standards Australia's Council. Open Source programmers think they invented the idea of people getting together to develop technology and then giving the results away. But standards makers have been doing it for a hundred years. Companies which fiercely compete in the market and countries at war still get their experts together and agree standards to help the world operate efficiently. Like Open Source they results of this work are made freely available.

For those who don't know, Standards Australia is a non profit non-government organization with volunteer members. The standards developed have no legal force, but are often adopted by governments. Even standards not backed by law have a lot of moral force. SA works with other national and international standards bodies. The Australian Computer Society is one of the members of Standards Australia, along with engineers architects and other professional bodies.

Standards Australia and its sister organizations around the world just look after the administrative side of standards development. The actual work of drafting standards is done by expert volunteers sent by their companies, government agencies and universities. The experts are supposed to leave their organization affiliations at the door, to do a standard for the common good and mostly this happens.

Standards development is at an interesting transition time. Global standards are much in vogue to foster international trade. The Internet is forcing changes in the ways standards are created and distributed.

Standards Australia floated its commercial publications operation on the Australian stock market as SAI Global Limited. Stanndards Australia still makes the standards but SA Global sells them.

Standards Australia have sponsored a history "Engine of Change: Standards Australia since 1922: by Winton Higgins. SA are giving away the book and if you ask Ariella Mitchell she might give you a copy. Like the history ACS published some time ago it is not exactly a riveting read, but a useful scholarly work. Higgins is a Research Fellow at UTS and there is a paper from him on the same topic. But his research is flawed in one part of the book claiming OSI communications standards somehow fostered the Internet. In fact OSI and the Internet were bitter rivals. Internet standards were, and still are, made outside the international standards process which Standards Australia is a part of.

IT people are used to making standards online and standards bodies are having to come to grips with providing tools for doing this. Standards Australia has
Consensus Builder as an online web based tool for helping committees to do their work. But most committees still involve face to face meetings and mountains of paperwork.

Standards NZ were at the SA meeting in Canberra. SANZ is a government body, but works much the same as Standards Australia and works on jopint AU/NZ standrads. Standards NZ have brought in a system for selling standards online, mostly by subscription. Perhaps it would be cheaper to get Australian standards via SA NZ? ;-)

Some changes were made to SA's structure at the meeting to streamline the processes. These came from a report from consultants Cameron Ralph. There was much humor over this as the report is still marked "confidential", despite being on the web.

1 comment:

Kai Hendry said...

The "opensource geeks" think we invented standards because:

* we publish our specs

* we implement them too

Seriously I have a major gripe with access once again.

For example I want to implement iso8601 in one of my applications. I go to the library and I am only able to read it from the "Standards Australia" database from the screen of one of over-booked terminals at the State Library.