The Road to Standardization

Spring is coming, and with the return of baseball and the chirping of young birds in the air, a young man's thoughts turn to... Internet standards.

As in years past, there are a number of new conversations going on around standards, some old and some new. For example, you can help make TrackBack a standard. Isn't that cool?

I'm really glad to see that an effort we've been working on for some time is finally seeing some light: TrackBack is being opened up to be governed by the community, and the initial response seems very positive.

The way I've learned about standardization efforts, especially in the weblog tools community, is from the history of RSS and Atom. Here's the key lessons I've taken from that experience:

  • Users shouldn't have to know or care about this stuff.
  • Being able to point to real-world benefits is important.
  • Technologists sometimes have (enormous) egos, which extend to the belief that being good at technology makes one good at marketing, public relations, or interpersonal relations.
  • Shipping an implementation pretty much trumps everything else. Most technical debates are eventually settled by looking at what is in current use. Sometimes this is phrased as "letting the market decide".
  • There are a number of different communities of users and developers. Enterprise users and developers on platforms like .NET and Java often like more tightly-defined "correct" specs, and users and developers in the LAMP world often like more ad-hoc specs that are more human-readable. And non-technical users will frustrate both camps by being completely irrational in regard to specs.
  • There's plenty of exceptions to that rule about de facto vs. de jure standards, but both audiences have trouble seeing the value of the other camp's preferences. You gotta have a Martin, and you gotta have a Malcolm.
  • Some really quiet, helpful people will do really hard, thankless work and not expect any kind of reward. I am constantly amazed by this.
  • "Better" and "open" are generally terms so vague as to be meaningless. People who are against these things are generally against motherhood and freedom.
  • Personal attacks should automatically get the attacker put on everyone's kill file, even if they're accurate. This doesn't usually happen.
  • Sometimes the person making the personal attacks is the person doing the thankless work. I suspect there's a correlation here.
  • Criticisms of technologies are often wrongly interpreted as personal attacks by those technologies' creators.
  • There's more than one way to do it.

Anyway, there's lots more lessons to be learned, but I'd love to see if people have any feedback on these points. If you don't care about standardization, congratulations! You're a Normal User.

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