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Why are there so many standards?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

One of the most often quipped complaints about standards is that there are so many to choose from.  Standards have a way of proliferating without control, much like summer weeds in the garden.

One of my favorite formualtions of this conundrum is a quote from Connie Morella, former congresswoman and former ambassador to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. She spoke at an ANSI’s World Standards Day awards dinner in 2006, when she received ANSI’s Ronald H. Brown Standards Leadership Award. During her speech she said, “Standards are like toothbrushes. Everybody wants one but nobody wants to use anybody else’s.”

Thanks to @ljndawson for the pointer to this XKCD cartoon, which summarizes this problem quite well.

<br /> Why are there so many standards?

Why are there so many standards?

There are a variety of reasons for this. Some are more reasonable than others. One reason that I have been spending a lot of time considering lately is that different communities create their own specifications because they are not aware of developments taking place in adjacent communities, don’t see the overlap and common goals of the two (or more) related specifications. One of the things we are trying to achieve in the space of ebooks with the recently launched special interest group, is to help foster cross-community discussion and collaboration. Hopefully, we can avoid the problem described in the cartoon.