Still have yet to complete the language performance post; not only has my schedule refused to comply, but there’s new material still being generated that I need to take into account. To that end, if everyone would kindly stop writing anything related to language performance for the next, oh, two days, that’d be greeeattt, mmm’kay?
In the interim, however, I wanted to elevate one point/question I raised in our podcast with the always intelligent Jason Matusow of Microsoft earlier this week. While you can be forgiven for not having listened to it yet, because the audio quality is suspect after we resorted to a non-traditional recording setup, some of the points raised and discussed were worth discussing further, IMO. Among them was my question first put to Jason, then to my colleagues, and now to you: do you know of any instances where standardization eliminated or otherwise destroyed a business?
I asked the question not to put anybody on the spot, but rather because I’m very interested in an answer. There have to be examples, but we didn’t manage to come up with any on the call, and I find that interesting.
Interesting for many reasons, but principally because it’s self-evident to me that while standards are nearly always good for both customers and vendors, the latter always approach them terribly cautiously. Matusow, for his part, made the point that standards are but one among many approaches to growing a market, and I agree with that. Considering the different approaches, however, it would appear that standardization is tough to beat in terms of effectiveness.
As my more intelligent colleague pointed out, consider the Blu-Ray v HD-DVD fiasco, which to my admittedly uneducated eyes seems like little more than a 21st century repeat of the Betamax v VHS battle. That lack of standardization taught me something simple. We were one of the five or six families in the country that owned a Betamax player, and our local video store stocked a grand total of maybe 5 Betamax titles (compared to the dozens available for VHS). As a result, every trip to the movie store resulted in the same rental; I watched Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings around 9,000 times. While I loved the film at the time, and still care for it a great deal (I have it on the standard DVD format), I can say with absolute confidence that based on that experience I’m probably not going to invest a dime into any new DVD equipment until they standardize. The Lord of the Rings was good, you know, but not that good.
That is, of course, strictly a customer perspective, and vendors have – rightfully so – an entirely different set of concerns on top of making their customers happy. But are they occasionally – even commonly – a bit overzealous in protecting their turf? I think so. On the podcast I brought up the subject of the Flickr/Zooomr API controversy. On the face of it, this would seem like a bad example. Flickr’s API meets none of the traditional definitions of a “standard.” It hasn’t been submitted to any standards body, it wasn’t designed by a committee of multiple parties, and it has not been ratified by anyone other than Flickr. It practice, however, it’s very similar to standards in that it permits – potentially, anyway – interoperation between two or more parties. As Simon noted in his seminal “Freedom to Leave” piece, the Flickr folks did the right thing in the end, granting API access to those who responded in kind – giving Flickr users such as Simon or myself the Freedom to Leave. But before that happened, their initial protective stance towards the API earned them the scorn of The Voice of Lon…er, Web 2.0.
Which brings me back to the question. Can any of you cite examples where standards – real or practical – have resulted in the demise of a commercial entity? You’d think that the world would be teeming with examples given the fear with which standards are often regarded by vendors, but I’m short on a justification for that position. If you’re not, I’d appreciate being enlightened.
 Note to Dalibor: I did indeed ask the “is the OSP a template for future behavior” question. The answer? We’re always willing to listen to feedback about other areas where the promise could be extended, but we have no further plans to announce at this time.