Why do we write standards?

David Brownell david-b at pacbell.net
Thu Nov 11 18:17:43 GMT 1999

"Michael S. Brothers" wrote:
> This thread is fascinating. I liken much of what I have heard to the
> efforts to standardize HDTV, and if you look at that, it's hard to call
> standardization anything else but good for consumers. 

HDTV is actually an interesting example.  Look at the debates over
just what HDTV should be ... square pixels (making life easier for
companies working with digital content already) vs rectangular ones
(making existing analog content provider companies happier), pure
digital (new vendors) vs incremental evolution (installed base), etc.

All the issues there have a strong "this answer is better for me"
vendor tie.  Yet ... exactly which consumers were beating down doors
to get that?  Not many, and the HDTV standards took years to stabilize.
Vendor push was essential; and of course, customer indifference to
most early versions.  There were governmental issues too.

Just because consumers _eventually_ get a benefit doesn't preclude
corporations using standards process to achieve strategic advantage.
That's a very well known aspect of standards strategies; if you play
effectively, the consumer dollars go to _your_ company, not to your
competitors.  The game theoretic result is also visible:  companies
work to water down anything that'd give too much focus.  "Committee
design" specs are a familiar outcome of such a process.

> Standards are not Socialist, nor are they in the best interest of a
> consortia, rather are the key to true consumer freedom. 

I'm not sure where that comes from, but if you are claiming that
corporate interests don't have a strong (and sometimes compelling)
degree of leverage over the standards which get developed, I strongly
suggest that you look more closely at even just the last ten years
of technology development.  "Joe Sixpack" doesn't propose standards,
or even directly fund their evolution.

That fits into the "top down"/"bottom up" ("how") dimension as affecting
motivations ("why").  As the man said, "follow the money ...".

- Dave

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