Concentrate! 10:1

By Rick Jelliffe
March 19, 2009 | Comments: 11

Last week I blogged on Concentration at the ODF TC. My concerns were

First, at all meetings, office suite developers had a majority of votes.

Second, at all meetings, commercial voters had a majority of votes.

Third, for 4 of the 12 meetings, voters associated with a single code base (the OpenOffice family, including Lotus Symphony, of Sun/IBM and sometimes Novell) had 50% or more of the vote.

So, another week, another OASIS ODF TC meeting. What are the numbers this week? [Updated: the original minutes seem to have miscounted numbers: with Microsoft having 2 voting members at this meeting.]

Here is the rollcall [with the number corrected: it doesn't change much]:

* Rollcall
+Peter Junge, Beijing Redflag Chinese 2000 Software Co., Ltd.
+Don Harbison, IBM
+Mingfei Jia, IBM
+Yue Ma, IBM
+Rob Weir, IBM
+Dennis E. Hamilton
+David Faure, KDE e.V.
Doug Mahugh, Microsoft
+Eric Patterson, Microsoft
Florian Reuter, Novell
+Michael Brauer, Sun Microsystems (presiding)
+Eike Rathke, Sun Microsystems
+Oliver Wittmann, Sun Microsystems

Voting Members are indicated with a + before their name.

* 12/17 11/16 voting members present, so quorum requirements have been met.

So lets see how the numbers pan out, for sectional affiliation:

  • IBM: 4/11= 36%

  • Sun: 3/11 = 27%

  • Novell: 0

  • Microsoft: 1/11 = 9%

  • KDE: 1/11 = 9%

  • China: 1/11 = 9%

  • FOSS: 0

  • Institution: 0

  • Individual: 1/11 = 9%

So this week, how have my three issues related to the concentration of power (the potential to pass or to block issues) fared?

1) Office suite developers: 91%
2) Commercial voters: 91%
3) Voters associated with a single code base: 63%

Even worse than before!

So basically only the presence of Dennis Hamilton stopped it from being a vendors-love-in.

And what do they vote for? A proposal from an IBM employee to classify defects into classes, which sounds OK until the fine print where the purpose is less understanding defects rather than prioritizing them: It is probably worth getting to a common understanding of defects and how much we're going to commit to resolving for ODF 1.2.

But who judges defects? The proposal reveals, I think, the mindset well:

We are fortunate to have so many ODF implementors on the TC to help us accurately evaluate defects and set appropriate severity levels.

It is not all bad though. A phrase mentions next-scheduled errata document. If this ends up meaning that the ODF TC may be moving the errata process to a regularly scheduled basis rather than treating them as unexpected exceptions or distractions from the main task, that would be a positive.

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Hold on a second. Let me make sure I have this right. Are you saying that in a technical committee whose charter calls for them to "create an open, XML-based file format specification for office applications" you observe that there are a large number of employees of companies that make office applications? Wow. Thanks for bringing this amazing insight to our attention, Rick. I would have expected something entirely different, like broad participation from vacuum cleaner salesmen, Egyptologists and professional oboe players.

Next I suppose we'll hear your exclusive discovery that the Australian Senate is filled will politicians.

Rob: So you really consider users, governments and other non-vendors to be as relevant as "vacuum cleaner salesmen, Egyptologists and professional oboe players"?

That is what I expected, and it rather proves my point. I think you have no commitment to openness, it is just a marketing slogan; you see the whole thing in Manichaean terms of a fight between vendors, where users are only minions of one or the other. It explains the complete absence of public effort on your part to get broader representation on the ODF TC, I suppose.

So, Rob: Is Bob Jolliffe a vacuum cleaner salesman or an Egyptologist? Is Dennis Hamilton an oboe-ist? Perhaps Jomar Silva is the Egyptologist?

It is an extraordinary thing to say. I have gone out of my way to distinguish that there is a kind of over-representation that occurs merely because users don't step up to the mark, which vendors can hardly be blamed for. However, there is another kind of over-representation when vendors deliberately dominate, and when they deliberately don't promote participation by people outside their interests, and where indeed they denigrate the idea that such participation is not, in fact, vital.

I am glad you brought up the Senate. The idea of our Senate is a house of review composed to protect States interests (Australia is a federation of pre-existing states, like USA.) By cutting the cake differently, it attempts to reduce the chances of the majority ganging up on minorities. It increases the diversity of representation: a good thing for the public, whether for Australians or for ODF stakeholders.

The thing is that vendors/developers (all of them!) have to swing around to seeing user participation as a good thing in the process, something that strengthens the standard technically, editorially and its credibility.

A standard made merely by a group of vendors dictating what users need is what "openness" is helping us escape from: it may be more tedious and bureaucratic to include users in decision making, just as it may be tedious to fix existing problems rather than rushing to the next features, but that is the cost.

I'm saying Rick that I'd expect participation by those interested parties who have an desire to participate. The process is open because anyone can participate. Professional oboe players are of course welcome but I would certain expect that vendors who are actually implementing the standard to comprise the substantial part of any technical committee. Where access is open, those with strong interests will naturally be the first to participate.

It seems that the only way to achieve the type of quota-based allocation you seem to seek is by coercion, to overturn individual wills by your own will. You either end up forcing people to attend who do not wish to, or to prevent those who wish to attend by not attending, or by by removing their voting rights. I can't say I'm in favor of that, Rick. It smacks of several discredited political institutions of the last century.

You throw around terms like "over-representation" and "concentration". Well, tell me this. Exactly what percentage of various interests should a TC have and how do you go about determining this a priori? If, hypothetically, we are going to demand a particular allocation and not reply on free-market economics, individual self-interest and open participation, then how do we determine the allocation?

Rob: I have blogged before on "verifiably vendor-neutral" standards, which copes with both single-vendor domination and cartels. In that I raised the issue that "potentially open" does not mean "open" in the sense of being actually representative of stakeholders requirements.

And, of course, you are quite aware that in fact it is illegal for a cartel of vendors to act in collusion to make standards that exclude competitor's technologies without adequate reason. This is not a blue-sky issue but one where there are already existing legal boundaries.

I agree with you (if this was a point you were making) that different standards may have different requirements.

But many standards, and ODF seems one of them, the standards-setting body needs to be an agent of the market: not just an agreement on which a market is then later built, but a dynamic locus for agreement on technology by the market. A standards body that only represents one side of the market (suppliers or demanders) is to that extent deficient. This is not in the main a credibility/reputation issue, it is a participation issue.

Standards bodies need to be tools of the market, where suppliers and vendors negotiate substantial aspects of technology. Excluding either suppliers or demanders takes the agreement out of the realm of market participation.

Now I happily agree that there is scope in some cases for standards which are vendor agreements. But these should not be regarded as "open" in the same way: in fact, standards based on supplier-determined standards with no possibility for demander-side feedback may be quite good technologies, but their virtues have arisen despite their provenance not because of it.

If ODF was a standard that said "We are the standard documentation for a particular product family, as evolved" then that would bound the kinds of openness that we could expect from the standard.

But the more that ODF says "We are open, neutral, cross-platform, universal" and, more importantly, the more that governments say "We like open things, and the more open the better" then there is no way that supply-side standards cannot be regarded as deficient compared to standards made with balanced participation.

Consortia like OASIS, W3C and Ecma are in the position that they can determine what kind of membership they want. ISO is stuck with national bodies as members, which is why its response to demand for increasing openness is to encourage joint standards: broader review.

You asked for some practical numbers? Here are some possibilities:

* Balance: A committee could not have a quorum if there was an absolute majority (66%) of either suppliers or demanders.

* Anti-cartel: A committee could not have a quorum if there was a simple majority of stakeholders with dominant common interest: for example, representing the same code base.

* Quotas: Where a committee is over these limits, the numbers may be pared down equitably and automatically by first disallowing members from the same affiliation.

** For example, if there are 3 Microsoft representatives on a working group, and 2 IBM and 1 Sun, and 3 demander representatives, then 1 Microsoft representative needs to step aside, to meet the balance.

** If there were 4 IBM and 3 Sun and 1 Novel, and 6 others, then IBM should shed 2 and Sun 1 vote so that they had 6 - 1 (< 50%) votes due to the anti-cartel quota.

** If there were 20 systems integrators, and 10 vendors, 10 systems integrators would have to cede their votes.

And so on. The quorum system would have the effect that members of unbalanced committees would be forced to actively seek out broader participation.

The more that open standards are required by regulation as indicators or requirements for functioning markets, the more that questions of "How open was the standards development process in practise?" will naturally arise. It cannot be avoided, and rather than fight it, I think it would fit into IBM's larger narrative of being in favour of openness to embrace it.

A standard developed without consultation with the demand side is deficient in that regard. Representatives of the demand side may indeed require extra financial help to participate, such as waived fees, but companies, technologies and standards fail when they cannot respond to the market.

I don't want to get all ISO9000-y here, but the importance of building feedback mechanisms into the process is surely just a given nowadays, isn't it?

We don't want Microsoft telling us what to do; but we don't want other big companies jumping into their place. Sam Goldwyn's comment "When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you" is not good enough: vendors do not know what users want, they have their own priority, and actual openness demands that the standards body acts as part of the market place where suppliers and demanders can negotiate.


I think you need to distinguish standards whose users are largely technical from standards whose users are mainly non-technical. For example, the direct users of Schematron are mainly XML consultants. So a WG consisting of Schematron tool vendors and Schematron-using XML consultants will naturally have a mix of producers and users of the standard. This is not forced. It is the natural expression of self-interest. The same argument can be made for XSLT, Relax NG, and other standards of that ilk. Where a standard requires XML-expertise to use, then the users will be of a caliber that they can meaningfully contribute to the standard.

But take ODF. The users of the standard for the most part think of "carbon" when you say the world "element". The users have little expertise in XML and likely have not thought deeply about text processing at any level. This is not an absolute, of course, but the % of XML expertise in ODF users is a minuscule fraction of XML expertise in Relax NG users. ODF users see their interaction with ODF mediated through a large layer of vendor-provided tooling. Similarly, the average user of HTML is a 14-year old girl updating her Facebook page. We would not expect 50% of the W3C XHTML WG to consist of HTML users. Nor would we expect the average person with a laptop to participate in 801.11 wireless protocol standardization.

These standards are set mainly by vendors and their incentive to produce what the ultimate end user wants is prompted by self-interest. This self-interest is what ultimately determines almost everything in the economy, from what foods are on the shelf to what movies are in the theater. If a vendor does not produce what users want, then they go bankrupt, aside from market defects like monopolies, etc. Having a representative variety of vendors participating in the process is what makes this process efficient in meeting user needs. Basic Adam Smith. This is the mechanism the economy uses to produce the goods that consumers want. I assume you had a run in with free market economics at some point in your career?

So I reject your notion that having a vendor on a TC is somehow an absence of user-oriented feedback. In fact a vendor is uniquely situated to provide participants that are both technically capable as well as highly motivated to produce a standard that meets users needs.

In any case your argument still comes down to coercion. If the distribution of self-identified and freely-expressed participation does not meet your a priori vision, then you would strip "surplus" members of their rights. I reject that notion, as do most.

You might consider what has been written on the topic by those who have given more thought to the topic. For example, ANSI has a definition, shared by many SDO's that says:

"Dominance means a position or exercise of dominant authority, leadership, or influence by reason of superior leverage, strength, or representation to the exclusion of fair and equitable consideration of other viewpoints."

In other words it is behavior-oriented and concerns due process and fairness and not some a priori determination of the ideal constitution of the ideal committee for the idea standard.

Rob: What is good for IBM is good for the country? Spare us.

As to your comment "These standards are set mainly by vendors and their incentive to produce what the ultimate end user wants is prompted by self-interest" lets look at the initial ODF TC membership*:

Doug Alberg, Boeing
Phil Boutros, Stellent
Michael Brauer, Sun Microsystems
John Chelsom, CSW Informatics
Simon Davis>, National Archive of Australia
Patrick Durusau, Society of Biblical Literature
Gary Edwards
Paul Grosso, Arbortext
Jason Harrop, SpeedLegal
Mark Heller,
New York State Office of the Attorney General
Ken Holman
Paul Langille, Corel
Tom Magliery, Corel
Monica Martin, Drake Certivo
Uche Ogbuji
Daniel Vogelheim, Sun Microsystems
Lauren Wood

On my count: suppliers 6, demanders 11 give or take a couple.

And two years later:
Doug Alberg, Boeing
Michael Brauer, Sun Microsystems
Gary Edwards
Lars.Oppermann, Sun Microsystems
Tom Magliery (Blast Radius Inc.)
David Faure(Individual)
Patrick Durusau (SBL)

which is suppliers 3, demanders 3

The strength of ODF is because of that early participation. Your perception that vendors are the only people who count is wrong, the idea that users are only non-technical end-users is condescending to systems integrators, and your current antipathy to non-vendors will weaken ODF.


Rick, Now, as then, the composition of the ODF TC is voluntary, open, and based on individual self interest. You cannot credibly praise the composition in 2002 and then criticize it in 2009 since it is determined by exactly the same rules.

Also, that you look at the initial membership of the TC, and compare that to the current _voting_ membership is of course sophistry. You are torturing the numbers again. Try comparing apples to apples. A quick look at the data shows that the membership of the TC is no less diverse today:

I suppose the true problem is that the composition of the TC does not reflect your parochial interests? Of course, the remedy is in your hands. Join the TC if you wish. Encourage others to do so. I think that is the real solution to your perceived problem. This is much better than arguing that those who are actually participating should be stripped of voting rights so that the inactive "activist" who is simply too lazy to join may have a TC that is more pleasing to him and his corporate paymasters.

So how do those stats stack up if IBM buys out Sun?

"What's good for IBM is good for ODF"?

btw Rick. The above represents a typical email 'debate' with Rob. Largely pointless

Rob: When discussing concentration of voting members, the non-voting membership is...err...rather a red herring.

That you consider the views of users (the 'demand' side) "parochial" says it, I think.

Yes, perhaps I should join the TC: is the TC willing to reschedule the teleconferences to suit Australian daylight time?

Uh, Rick, I hate to inject a side-issue into this wonderful spat, but I want to clean up something about Doug Mahugh's attendance. He was in attendance at the meeting, the error was putting the "+" in front of his name.

Now, the most frightening prospect for me is that we have participants from Japan and from Australia and I am the one who has to be on the call at 4 or 5 am. But for you, I would consider it.

So, exactly what is the UTC offset during Australian standard time, and during Australian Daylight Time (which I assume has or will be ending shortly as we trade Winter for Summer with you)?

Orcmid: Thanks, I have fixed the list accordingly.

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