Alternatives to the W3C

Eric Bohlman ebohlman at
Fri Jan 21 10:48:47 GMT 2000

On Thu, 20 Jan 2000, Lee Anne Phillips wrote:
> If you look at the history of tools, *real* innovations and improvements in 
> productivity have followed quickly on standardization. When SAE (and 
> metric) nut and bolt sizes were agreed upon, socket sets and air wrenches 
> followed because they were newly possible. Before that you had the choice 
> of adjustable wrenches or custom wrenches designed for the particular item 
> and that was it. A socket was too expensive to build when it only fit one 
> nut and an air wrench needs sockets to be practical.

Suggested reading for everyone: Chapter 10 ("Standards and Regulations")
of W. Edwards Deming's _Out of the Crisis_.  Deming points out just how
much of what we know as commerce is possible only *because* competitors
have agreed to abide by standards.

> But one of the many things a user *doesn't* have to decide is whether their 
> local auto mechanic has a wrench that will fit the spark plugs, whether 
> they prefer a steering wheel or a tiller, and whether they're able to use 
> the highways designed for Fords or Chevrolets.

And when that hot new e-commerce startup decides to advertise on TV,
they'll have to make all sorts of audience-targeting decisions: what shows
to advertise on, whether to portray a "mild" or "wild" image, etc., but
one decision they'll *never* have to make, and will be extremely *glad*
they *don't* have to make, is whether to design their ads for viewing on
Panasonic TV sets or Sony TV sets.  Because TV signals are standardized,
it costs *nothing* extra for them to produce commercials that can be seen
on *all* brands of TV sets.  Of course, if they want to advertize
internationally then they *will* have to do two or three different
versions, because the standardization is only national, not international.  
But they'd be better off if they didn't have to.

And if that new startup is selling laptops and I buy one, I know that the
batteries will charge just as well on the ConEd power in New York as they
will on the ComEd power here in Chicago.  And that of all the tradeoffs
I'll have to make in deciding which model to buy, "time to learn to type
with a new keyboard layout" isn't one of them.

It is precisely *because* of standards that commerce can function on a
basis other than winner-take-all.  And, as Deming points out, industry
standards can reduce the need for regulation.

The winner-take-all version of the WWW would have been hyperlinked
Microsoft Word documents.

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