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Thinking The Unthinkable
Interoperability Through
Open Standards! Really?
Brian Kelly                           About This Talk
UKOLN                                 This talk explores some of the
University of Bath                    areas in which open standards are
Bath                                  limited and invites discussion on
Email                                 JISC‟s “Interoperability though                   open standards” approach.

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        •   Why do we need standards?
        •   But standards don‟t always work!
        •   What are open standards anyway?
        •   Examples of the problems
        •   Alternatives to open standards
        •   So what should we do?
        •   Questions
        •   Group discussion

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    Open Standards   Why Do We Need Standards?
                        Independence                          Avoidance of
                                                              vendor lock-in

                     preservation                                 Minimise costs

                              Interoperability    Architectural

                     A summary of the open standards message I‟ve been giving
                     duringof10 year at UKOLN management
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    Open Standards   Open Standards Are Great  …
                     JISC's development programmes:
                        • Traditionally based on use of open standards to:
                                 Support interoperability
                                 Maximise accessibility
                                 Avoid vendor lock-in
                                 Provide architectural integrity
                                 Help ensure long-term preservation
                     History in UK HE development work:
                        • eLib Standards document (v1 – 1996, v2 – 1998)
                        • DNER Standards document (2001)
                     which influenced:
                        • NOF-digi Technical Standards
                        • ..
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    Open Standards   … But Don't Always Work 
                     There's a need for flexibility:
                          • Learning the lesson from OSI networking protocols
                          • Is the Web (for example) becoming over-complex
                                  "Web service considered harmful"
                                  The lowercase semantic web / Microformats
                          • Lighter-weight alternatives being developed
                          • Responses from the commercial world
                     Other key issues
                       • What is an open standard?
                       • What are the resource implications of using them?
                       • Sometimes proprietary solutions work (and users
                          like them). Is it politically incorrect to mention this!?
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    Open Standards   Open Standards: an EU View
                     European Interoperability Framework for pan-European
                     eGovernment Services defines open standards as:
                         • The standard is adopted and will be maintained by
                           a not-for-profit organization
                         • The standard specification document is available
                           either freely or at a nominal charge
                         • The intellectual property of the standard is made
                           irrevocably available on a royalty free basis
                         • No constraints on the re-use of the standard.
                     Taken from W3C’s Technologies and e-Government
                     talk by Ivan Herman at Workshop on E-Government,
                     Edinburgh, May 2006

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    Open Standards   What is an Open Standard?
                     Which of the following are open standards?
                       • XHTML 1          PDF            Flash
                       • Java             MS Word        RSS (1.0/2.0)
                     UKOLN's "What Are Open Standards?" briefing paper
                     refers to characteristics of open standards:
                       • Neutral organisation which 'owns' standard &
                         responsible for roadmap
                       • Open involvement in standards-making process
                       • Access to standard freely available

                     Note these characteristics do not apply equally to all
                     standards bodies e.g. costs of BSI standards; W3C
                     membership requirements; …
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    Compliance   Compliance Issues
                 What does must mean?
                   • You must comply with HTML standards
                             What if I don't?                JISC 5/99 programme
                             What if nobody does?            ~80% of project home
                             What if I use PDF?              pages were not HTML
                     • You must clear rights
                       on all resources you digitise
                     • You must provide properly audited
                             What if I don't?
                  There is a need to clarify the meaning of must
                  and for an understandable, realistic and reasonable
                  compliance regime
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    RSS Example   Is RSS An Open Standard?
                  Is RSS an open standard ("are RSSs open standards")?
                     RSS 1.0 (RDF Site Summary)
                        • XML application using RDF model
                        • Developed by Aaron Schwarz
                     RSS 2.0 (Really Simple Syndication)
                        • XML application using simpler model
                        • Developed by Davey Winer
                  Note that RSS is a widely used and popular application;
                  with usage growing through its key role in Podcasts

                      • Are these open standards?
                      • Are they reliable and robust enough to build
                        mission-critical services on?
                      • Is there a clear roadmap for the future?
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     RSS Example   RSS – Governance Issues
                   Governance Issues:
                    • RSS 1.0 specification maintained by Aaron Schwartz:
                       "Aaron Swartz is a teenage writer, hacker, and
                       activist. He was a finalist for the ArsDigita Prize for
                       excellence in building non-commercial web sites at
                       the age of 13. At 14 he co-authored the RSS 1.0
                       specification, now used by thousands of sites to
                       notify their readers of updates.“ (Web page now changed)
                    • RSS 2.0 specification developed by Dave Winer:
                       "Winer is known as one of the more polarizing
                       figures in the blogging community. … However ..
                       there are many people and organizations who seem
                       unable to maintain a good working relationship with
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     RSS Example   RSS 1.0 – Roadmap Issues
                   RSS 1.1:
                     • In Jan 2005 RSS 1.1 draft released:
                           "[we] expressed our mutual frustrations with 1.0 …,
                           we decided that rather than lauch (sic) ... another …
                           diatribe against the quality of the RSS 1.0 spec, … [we
                           would] simply write a new specification ourselves. "

                   But it is no longer being developed:
                      • Draft technically good (addressed ambiguities &
                        interoperability flaws) but political reaction apathetic
                      • RSS 2.0 has (a) better acronym and (b) momentum
                        (through Podcasting)
                      • And RSS 2.0 sounds newer
                      • RSS 3.0 (joke?) proposal has caused confusion
                        and arguments on Slashdot and elsewhere
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     RSS Example   RSS 2.0 – Roadmap Issues
                   RSS 2.0:
                    • Spec published by Harvard Law School with a
                      Creative Commons licence
                    • RSS-Board YahooGroups used for governance body
                    • Many arguments (most recently on proposal to
                      expand board in April 2006):
                   "Winer has now decided that the board doesn't exist and never
                   had authority over the RSS specification, even though it has
                   published six revisions from July 2003 to the present.
                   I don't agree, but now that the board's fully public, we're in a
                   position to make his wish a reality."

                   Note Wikipedia has useful links to the history and
                   politics of RSS
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       RSS Example   Podcasting
                     Lots of interest (recording lecturers; student created
                     Podcasts; marketing; …)
                     A simple enhancement to RSS 2.0 (syndication
                     sound/movie file, and not just text)
     <itunes:author>Henry Rzepa</itunes:author>                                But:
     <description>Wiki Workshop</description>                                   • Syndicates MP3
      …                                                                           (Ogg, who cares?)
     <itunes:category text="Education">
                                                                                • Proprietary Apple
     <itunes:category text="Higher Education"/>
     <itunes:keywords>Chemistry, …

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     RSS Example   RSS – Summary
                   What can be learnt:
                     • We thought RSS was a great lightweight
                       syndication technology
                     • It was – but competing alternatives were
                     • No clear winner (RSS 1.0's extensibility & W3C's
                       support versus RSS 2.0's simplicity and take-up
                       in Podcasting, iTunes, etc)

                      • Life can be complex, even with simple standards
                      • Technical merit is never enough – market acceptance can
                        change things
                      • RSS can still be useful, and interoperability can be provided by
                        RSS libraries supporting multiple formats
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             Isn’t Slideshare Good Enough?
                                                is a good
                                                         example of a digital repository
                                                         for slides, which is easy-to-use
                                                         and supports community
                                                         discussion, folksonomies, etc.
                                                         How does this compare with the
                                                         traditional JISC approach (see
                                                         Andy Powell‟s Blog ).
                                                            • The slides can be embedded
                                                            • PowerPoint & ODF supported
                                                              - but not XML or PDF!
                                                          NB looking for other slides about
                                                          “standards” finds Stephen
                                                          Downes critique of standards
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     VRVS vs Skype
                                                    Oct 2004 – Andy Powell‟s
                                                    Ariadne article on benefits of
                                                    Same time Brian Kelly uses
                                                    Skype at events, with
                                                    colleagues, ..
                                                   AP: You should use/promote
                                                   VRVS: it‟s standards-based,
                                                   Access Grid, JISC ‟approved‟
                                                   BK: Terrible Interface; users
                                                   love Skype; …
                                                         24 Oct 2006:
                                                         “At the time, Brian Kelly at
                                                         UKOLN asked me why I was
                                                         promoting a tool with such a
                                                         poor user-interface. Looking
     A centre of expertise in digital information management     
16                                                       back, he was absolutely right”
               IT Development vs IT as a Commodity
                                                                     Web 2.0 is bringing IT
                                                                     as a commodity:
                                                                       • Amazon provide
                                                                         disk storage, CPU,
                                                                         applications, …
                                                                       • Google & Yahoo
                                                                         provide many
                                                                         application services
                                                                     If IT becomes a
                                                                     commodity, who cares
                                                                     about the production
                                                                     processes? uses Amazon to serve files                       Open standards =
     – SOA tocentre of expertise in digital information management
            A serve proprietary formats?                             ethical electricity?
            Standardistas – Good or Bad?
                                                            If standards are great:
                                                              • Why are
                                                                 „standardistas‟ getting
                                                                 a bad name?
                                                              • Why are there so
                                                                 many Blogs about
                                                                 conflicts in W3C?
                                                              • …
                                                                   Are standards like New
                                                                   Labour? We thought it
                                                                   was all great in 1997, but
                                                                   we‟re now disillusioned –
                                                                   although we sometimes
                                                                   recognise it‟s better than
            A centre of expertise in digital information managementthe alternative!
18   XHTML 2 or HTML5? W3C vs WHAT WG!
     Issues For Discussion
     Some possible areas to discuss:
          • Is there a limited scope in which open standards are
              critical (cf. “open source is best for middleware; IBM
              took on MS in the office environment and lost”)
          • Standardisation is often an intensively political
              process – so is it surprising if open standards can
              be so flawed?
          • User-focussed or standards-based development:
              how do we respond if they‟re in conflict?
          • Why are development projects deliverables often
              perceived as inferior?
          • “Interoperability through open standards” Is this the
              correct message to give? If not, what should we
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               A Final Thought
                                                                   Are open standards like
                                                                   You wouldn‟t dream of
                                                                   arguing against either but
                     can be
                                                                   if Sinn Fein or Hamas are
                     operable &
                                                                   democratically elected, or
                     may not
                                                                   proprietary standards
                                                                   demonstrate similar appeal
                                                                   to a wide user community,
                                                                   everyone goes quiet and
                                                                   tries to avoid the issue.
     Adapted from Washington Post cartoon
                                                                   The open standards
                                                                   elephant in the room?
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     What Next?   Discussion Groups
                  In your groups:
                      • Are the arguments given reasonable?
                      • What additional criticisms can be made?
                      • How can the concerns be best addressed?
                      • What recommendations should we make to JISC,
                        CETIS and the wider community?

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