Bar none the hardest problem in standardization is getting the community of users to adopt the standard. This is a social engineering problem. This is an economic problem. It is not, mostly, a technological problem.

Here is a beautiful example of that. An example I like because it so nicely complements another standards making example – i.e. why people drive on the right.

When you pass another person on the road at night his headlights tend to blind you. There are social conventions about that, drivers know to disable their high beams. I’ve even driven cars that had clever electronics to automaticly dim the high beams (technology displacing good manners).

There is a much simpler solution. If cars and wind shields were both polarized approprately then the lights of an oncomming car wouldn’t bother you at all. All that’s needed to make that happen is to get the approprate standard widely adopted.

This idea was championed for years by Edwin Land of Polaroid. You might say that his inablity to get this simple technological fix widely adopted drove him to try his hand at a simpler problem. Instant photography – that at least was meerly a technically hard problem rather than a hard social engineering problem.

It would be facinating to revisit this standardization failure again. For example I wonder if you could get this bandwagon started in some ways that Land didn’t try. For example what if you made a kit and sold it to car buffs, they would then be able to recognize their fellow car buffs when they pass on the road. What if you gave them away free to some small communities and then sold them at cost to all the neighboring communities?

It would be an interesting experiment to see if there are tools available
to spin up cooperation that we know about now that we didn’t appreciate
back in Land’s day. Axelrod book suggests that maybe we do know some new things.

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