ATHENS, Greece -- If you think standards are boring, you had to be in Greece this week, where a loose coalition of researchers, librarians and corporate representatives launched a campaign on open standards. The timing coincided with a forum on the future of the internet that is receiving about 1,500 people in a hotel outside of Athens four days in a row.
“We’re test-driving,” said Susy Struble from software-giant Sun Microsystems, in reference to the first step taken to build a larger movement favouring open standards. “We’re talking technology standards here, applied to hardware and software.”
If we are to believe Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopaedia, open standards are publicly available and implementable standards. By allowing anyone to obtain and use a standard, the latter can increase compatibility between various hardware and software components.
What this brand new coalition is after, is to halt the growing trend towards the privatisation of technology. It wants to get back to the open nature of technology and innovation and ensure that the multiplication of proprietary extensions are put aside to the benefit of compatible ones.
The coalition that is set to grow in numbers as soon as participants will look back at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), is currently made up of Magdy Nagi from Egypt’s Library of Alexandria, Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, Eddan Katz of the Yale Information Society Project, Robin Gross of IP Justice, Daniel Dardieller from standards consortium WC3 and Sun Microsystems’s Susy Struble.
It will work on the basis of rough consensus and pursue the recognitions highlighted in the Tunis Agreement. Paragraph 44 of that agreement, to which all countries subscribed in November 2005, specifies that “Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society.” It goes on saying that “The development and use of open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven standards that take into account needs of users and consumers is a basic element for the development and greater diffusion of ICTs and more access to them, particularly in developing countries.”
More than any other party, the governments are seen not only as enablers, but also as procurers and purchasers of hardware products and information. The new-born coalition envisions this special position of governments as an opportunity for them to promote open standards.
“When governments use copyrighted standards, they become a force of monopolisation. We are trying to impeach the proprietary monopoly on citizens,” one of the coaltioneers explained.
The issue of standards carries cultural implications with it. “Versions of software are not compatible in Arabic. This is also a reason for pushing for open standards,” Nagi from Egypt’s Library of Alexandria specified.
Love of a US consumer group took a more commercial stance, insisting that open standards provide consumers with more choice and more competition. “It doesn’t solve all your problems. What’s missing, is a strategy in how you advance open standards in the areas where it’s tough,” he said.
The dynamic coalition on open standards, some would optimistically say, is the concrete and practical way to get there.