Over the years I have been exposed to a number of standards.  EDI was the first.  More recently it has been the CIECA standard for Insurance and now the embattled document standards of Open XML and ODF.

Standards actually came up at the last CAG meeting.  The debate was over how effective they really are.  Even back in the late 80’s to early 90’s people found they had to customize these standards to get any work done.  I even had one vendor about a year ago tell me that they really weren’t standards, they were more of a guideline.

The problem is that standards are created either by committee or by companies trying to sell a product.  They never fit all situations.  This is why most of them leave extension points in their definition.  Of course if you use those extension points everyone has to have custom code to know how to consume the new product.

Standards increase reliability but they stifle innovation and slow the time to market cycle of products.  In this age of ever shortening windows of opportunity that could mean that a company could lose its competitive advantage.

I believe that standards are not only good, but essential.  I also believe that they are not a silver bullet.  People who turn competing standards into a type of holy war are really missing the point.  I think we should make the best standards we can, whether that is for a product so that customers can use API, or by committee so that they cross products.  But they also need to be as feature rich and flexible as possible.  They can’t be just the lowest common denominator since this type of standard will be broken the day it is published.  In the end though, it is the market will vote with their dollars.

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