What had begun as an effort to extend the approach to expert interviews initiated by Spring et. al. ran into significant problems. While the individuals invited to participate in this process were among the most knowledgeable and the most involved, the magnitude of the task, the other commitments of the invited participants, and the chance that the results of the process would hurt rather than further the refinement of the standards development process caused some of those invited not to participate. At the same time, the extensive efforts of Steve Oksala and Tony Rutkowski to grapple with and discuss the issues has led to a few observations.
First and foremost, the discussion highlights the fact that the crux of the problem would seem to lie less in alternative standards development paths than it does in alternative approval paths. While even our dispassionate dialog had its share of connotative references, it was generally clear that there was much less contention in the context of development issues than there was in the context of ``approval/adoption'' mechanisms.
Second, the discussion confirms a strong commitment to a continued market approach to the standards development process. Again, there was some disagreement as to whether and how ``standards'' should compete, but there was no doubt that the process of developing standards should be controlled more by business needs than by government dictates. One might imagine that all disagreement would go away if all business organizations were perfectly aware of and in control of their contributions to standards development. That is to say, if all of the firms employing all of the individuals involved in standardization had complete knowledge of the costs involved and the results being achieved, then duplication of standardization efforts and the development of marginal standards would be eliminated in those cases where they did not meet the needs of the participants. Further, one might imagine that it would be possible for the businesses that back standardization efforts to see those situations in which standards are needed that they cannot cost justify but which might be justified with some form of government subsidy.
Third, this paper only begins to hint at the role of government relative to protecting national interests. There are numerous occasions, both in IT and other areas, where nations (governments, local companies, etc. in some mix) have taken positions and actions related to competition between nation-states. HDTV seems an obvious example; there are similar efforts in the area of cables and wiring. While the IT industry has generally been free of this kind of interference, there is no guarantee of non-interference. This could prove to be a significant problem for the US given its choice to delegate the standardization process to a federated private enterprise system that might have trouble seeing and countering an organized campaign.
Finally, while there was no specific mention of the need for better information in the process, one can't help but speculate that better information disseminated about the process would improve the situation without formal regulation. There are several levels at which one might imagine this occurring. First, the National Standard System Network effort by ANSI offers the hope of a national database of standards. It may well be that the existence of this database will allow the various organizations engaged in standardization to see more of what others are doing. While the system of liaisons that currently exists is intended to serve this purpose, it may well be that until this information is available on demand, it will not be used extensively. On a related front, one of the working groups of the Information Infrastructure Standards Panel of ANSI is working on a standards requirements data base for the NII effort. This kind of database is intended to provide a link between the need for standards and the development of standards. Should this effort be successful, it might indeed serve as a prototype of the kind of system Steve Oksala suggests might be used to establish a justification for initiating a standards development effort. At the level of individuals standards development, the CASCADE effort at the University of Pittsburgh is devoted to making more and better information about the standards development process available to those involved. Part of the design plan for CASCADE involves interserver communication which leads to information about all the various standards efforts conducted under CASCADE being available to each other.