July 15, 2024

Waldo on Standards

Jim Waldo (a Distinguished Engineer at Sun) has written two provocative blog entries about standardization. He argues that technical standards are a good idea when their purpose is to codify existing practice in the industry, but that it’s counterproductive for a standards group to try to invent new technology. I think he’s right.

When standards groups try to invent technology, they tend to do poorly, for two reasons. First, committees generally do a lousy job of designing anything; the best designs spring from the mind of a single person, or from a small group of like-minded people with a clear common goal in mind. Second, standards groups can easily degenerate into political wrangling which, regardless of their pretextual substance, really amount to a battle over which company’s product plans will be anointed as the standard – a failure mode that is much less likely when the only goal is to codify existing, widespread practices.

The worst case of all, of course, is when lawyers try to invent technology, by codifying their regulatory schemes as “standards.”