next up previous
Next: What needs to Up: The Discussion and Previous: What are the

What is the most important characteristic of a standard?

While it seemed to come up in quite different ways, one characteristic that seemed noteworthy was the singularity of the standard. Oksala holds that ``when there is more than one, its value diminishes.'' The existence of competitive standards essentially puts the consumer into the same practical position he would be in if there were no standards--trying to guess whose products to buy based on their architecture, and hoping that in a multiple unit environment things will work together. From this point of view, the notion of standards as singular and non-competitive is consistent with the economic and social good views of standards. Oksala argues that when there is more than one standard, there isn't a standard at all. He suggests that from an organizational point of view we look to avoid this kind of competition.

If such competition arose inside the IETF, then the membership would be quick to deal with it in a way that would eliminate wasted resources and non-productive activities. At the very least, the IETF management structure would make sure that incompatible standards did not get the same approval.
He goes on to suggest that:
. . . the US people in the JTC 1 process have generally not been in favor of ``directed'' activities, and this has been a bone of contention with the Europeans who would like to see strategy boards determining what gets worked on. Central planning is an entirely different mechanism from cooperative behavior, even if it is ``forced'' a little.
Oksala makes a strong business case for avoiding competition. This argument does not deny that there may be situations in which competitive standards would be advantageous in the long run despite the short term costs.

Thinking about the singularity of a standard causes Rutkowski to suggest that there may be times when competition among standards is advantageous. While competitive standards may not be best in the short term, the competition among standards may provide the best long term solution. In some ways, this reflects the long held belief that timing is critical in the decision to standardize. It is possible to suggest that in situations where there are complex sets of interactions and during periods where technology is in a state of flux, if standards are developed, it may be advantageous to allow competition so as to avoid premature lockin. From this point of view, creating several local area network standards allowed the strongest standard to emerge.

Thus, while singularity is accepted as the critical characteristic of standards in the long term, it is also agreed that there may be times and situations in which competition among standards is justified despite the increased short term cost.

next up previous
Next: What needs to Up: The Discussion and Previous: What are the

Michael Spring
Mon Nov 27 18:45:46 EST 1995