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Subject: Struggling 150 years for Standards

A friend of mine just pointed me to a terrific article on the importance of standards.  Here are the money quotes:

    Standards are socially constructed
    tools: They embody the outcomes of negotiations
    that are simultaneously technical, social,
    and political in character. Like algorithms,
    they serve to specify exactly how
    something will be done. Ideally, standardized
    processes and devices always work in the
    same way, no matter where, what, or who applies
    them. Consequently, some elements of
    standards can be embedded in machines or
    systems. When they work, standards lubricate
    the construction of technological systems
    and make possible widely shared

    In practice, few standards can be specified
    as perfect algorithms. Therefore, most
    standards also involve discipline on the part
    of human participants, who are notoriously
    apt to misunderstand and resist. As a result,
    maintaining adherence to a standard involves
    ongoing adjustments to people, practices,
    and machines. Although tedious and
    obscure, negotiations over standards are
    among the most complex and important political
    arenas of modern societies,
    with myriad institutional,
    financial, symbolic,
    and practical dimensions

Paul N. Edwards.  "A Vast Machine": Standards as Social Technologies.  Science 304, 7 May 2004, pp. 827-828.  Available at <http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/304/5672/827>.

The article goes on to describe the 150 year drive to achieve consistent meteorological observations and data interchange.  Parts of the effort included the initial adoption of standard time zones in 1883.  The final statement is 

    Since the 1980s, climate politics have provoked 
    much controversy over the quality of data, 
    sometimes resurrecting debates that standards 
    were intended to settle. In the long run, this 
    heightened scrutiny makes for better science. 
    In the short run, it demonstrates the irreducible 
    social and political dimensions of all 
    technological systems.

I must keep that in mind.

 - Dennis

Dennis E. Hamilton
NuovoDoc: Design for Document System Interoperability 
mailto:Dennis.Hamilton@acm.org | gsm:+1-206.779.9430 
http://NuovoDoc.com http://ODMA.info/dev/ http://nfoWorks.org 

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