Taking Openness to the Next Level

Yesterday I "wrote":http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/open-enterprise/2010/09/reasonable-and-non-discriminatoryaint/index.htm about one particular issue with standards: the fact that the associated patent licensing (if applicable) can shut out...

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Yesterday I wrote about one particular issue with standards: the fact that the associated patent licensing (if applicable) can shut out free software completely. But it's clear that the problems go much deeper: the entire standards-making process is conducted in a way that is often the antithesis of openness. That's not just bad for free software, it also means that the standards themselves suffer, as do many potential participants who are unable to contribute as fully as they otherwise might. Here's an interesting attempt to rectify many of those problems by drawing on the manifest success of the open source approach:

The Open Design and Architecture Initiative (ODAI) spawns from the idea of the "Open Source" movement is in many ways analogous to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) which brought about Open source, Open hardware, Open Data, Open StreetMap and others. There is no doubt that this "Open" philosophy will continue to grow, revised, refined and expand to areas where this practice will proof beneficial and even essential as the collaborative engine for success.

That sounds good in theory, but it's not very clear what it means in practice. Here are some more details:

ODAI is the grass-root version of ITU-T's resolution 44, Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) which focuses its goal on promoting "...development and adoption of “open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven standards...." in the developing and developed countries including all who are interested in the implementation of a standard. ODAI is about using/implementing these Standards openly, collectively and sharing the processes and results.

That Resolution 44 comes from the International Telecommunications Union, and is specifically about allowing developing countries to participate more fully in the standards-making process in that sphere.

The reference to the ITU means that this is a fairly domain-specific project, but ambitious nonetheless, because it aims to apply open source-like techniques to the entire open standards-making process:

ODAI does not develop Standards and is not a duplicate, off-shoot or competition to any Standard bodies or committees. Standards are usually not fully implementable as developed. ODAI is an initiative to appeal for "Openness" in the usage (design & implementation), testing, deployment, performance measurement and optimization of existing Standards and to share these processes and results. By sharing, these Standards will essentially be revised and refined by a much larger group of people who had put these Standards to real live production tests.

Pretty obvious stuff, you might, think, but not for the field of wireless technology, apparently, which is bedevilled by all the worst problems of closed-world thinking:

The standardization process and the practice of patenting any and every new ideas that are not fundamental for other ideas to build on is totally a closed group effort. This limits participation from non-[Working Group] folks from developed and developing countries. This stifles innovations from a broader-based audience. It disallows collective collaboration (i.e. working together, peer reviews, revise & refine) for better designs, implementations, testings, measurement and deployment processes and results involving standards, increases cost due to complicated multiple royalties and monopolies opportunities in driving the technology forward let alone slowing down progress.

The people behind the ODAI have come up with some very concrete proposals on how to apply open source's idea to open standards. Inspired by the Open Source Definition, the group has drawn up the Open Design and Architecture Initiative (ODAI) Definition, with ten parts to it that are almost identical to the OSD. The only one that differs is that "Source Code" is replaced by "Design and Architecture Materials". This is because the ODAI is dealing with is materials associated with the drawing up of a standard; so although they will be freely available, the final result of the standard – code, for example – may not be.

Still, it's a very interesting example of how the ideas behind open source and the Open Source Definition have been transposed into quite a different realm, and at a different level of the conceptual stack. It mirrors closely – and was partly inspired by – the Open Source Hardware Definition that does the same, and about which I wrote recently. That's important because it indicates that was not just some one-off idea, but part of a larger trend to adapt key aspects of the open source world to other spheres. I'm sure will see other examples in due course.

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