Barndoor standards

Javascript is a perfect example of a syndrome in standardization that keeps CIO’s up at night. Let’s call it the barndoor syndrome; after closing folksy saying: “Shutting the barndoor after the horse escapes.”

Javascript escaped into the wild before it was standardized; it then underwent very rapid mutation in the installed base. Three forces drove this rapid emergance of new species: the security nightmare, the fun everbody was having, and high stakes competition. The last is particularly corrosive to the collaboration necessary for standards making. This family of species are now all over the installed base, and as we all know installed bases are very hard to move.

The poor web site designer is stuck with a miserable choice. He can antagonize large numbers of users; or he can make himself miserable. It’s a kind of quanity/quality trade off.

The standard(s) for Javascript aren’t a foundation for innovation; they are more like a beacon in the night toward which their authors hope the installed base slowly migrates.

When learning the language the standard is only a point against which you can measure the distance, in units of exceptions possibly, you must travel to reach this or that subpopulation of the installed base.

Driving the horse out of the barn is very tempting, since it builds momenteum and helps you search for the best design informed by actual use rather than ivory tower mumbling (i.e. security architectures). So we could rename this syndrome entrepeurial standards making rather than barndoor standards making.

When small entrepeurial firms do this it’s reasonably ethical; how else are they going to get traction in the market. When large monopolist firms do it the ethics are much more muddy. Which is something to think about when reading people’s critiques of Microsoft’s infocard. It is of course irrelevant to Microsoft if their designs go thru a legitimate standards process; just as long as it wins in the marketplace. Microsoft has cleverly attempted to substitute for a real standard process a conversation in among bloggers. The technorati are one audience you need to convince before a standard will gain great  momentum, but they are not a substitute for real legitimate standards making.  Assuming that you lack  sufficient  market power to just command it’s success.

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