Giving the boutique Standards Consortia their dues

By Rick Jelliffe
March 4, 2009 | Comments: 7

How much does it cost to participate in one of the major boutique standards consortia? I thought I would have a look.


In W3C, membership is by organization rather than individual membership. The fees payable depend on 1) whether the organization is non-profit, 2) the gross revenues of the organization and 3) the location of the organization.

To promote diverse Membership, W3C offers lower Membership fees for organizations in some countries, based on a World Bank classification of country income. This resource defines four categories of countries: high income countries (HIC); upper middle income (UMC), lower middle income (LMC), and low income (LIC). The World Bank revises their categorization each year on 1 July.

For example, here in Australia you would have to pay AU$12,400 if you were an non-profit, a government department or company with a gross revenue of less than AU$78,500,000. (If you were a company in that class, you would have to pay AU$100,000 for membership.)

W3C does however, have Invited Experts. (I was one to the XML SIG [it wasn't called that] Internationalization SIG for several years, for example. And I was a rep of a member, Academia Sinica Computing Centre, for the XML Schema WG.)

Invited expert status is normally granted to either independent individuals (i.e., individuals not significantly affiliated with business interests), or to academics affiliated with institutions of higher learning.

If I recall, two separate government departments from the same government each require their own membership. I think there is more leeway for separate faculties in the same university, for example.


OASIS has several levels of corporate membership.

Organization type / size




Company employing more than 500 people




Company employing 100 - 500 people




Company employing 10 - 99 people




Company employing fewer than 10 employees




Academic Institution or Association




National government agency from OECD member country




National government agency from non-OECD member country




Local government agency




* Contributor-level dues for national government agencies from OECD member countries are based on the number of employees and correspond to the dues categories for companies (i.e., 8,000, 7,500, 6,600, or 3,200 USD).

OASIS does not have Invited Experts but they do have have a category of Individual and Associate Levelat an annual fee of AU$470, for:

self-employed consultants and those involved in unaffiliated research.

[Update: in another place that I missed, it clarifies it is for

those who are self-employed or whose employers are unable to join on their own behalf.]

[Update: on invited experts OASIS says:

OASIS has no class of membership for an "invited expert." To become a member or observer of the TC the person should become eligible as described in the OASIS membership policies and the OASIS TC Process.

If the desired organization or person is unable to pay the membership fee to join OASIS, the TC may petition the member section Steering Committee or the OASIS President to grant a fee-waived, one-year, Individual or Associate membership to the person, as described below.



Ecma has five membership classes, with some complex ownership rules to determine when two organizations are actually different.

The Ecma website doesn't make the detailed numbers handy, so I have relied on some figures for 2005. Basically there is a standard unit of around AU$93,000 which each class pays at 100%, 50%, 25%, and 5%.

Membership Fee
Ordinary AU$93,000
Associate AU$46,000
Small and Medium-sized Enterprise AU$23,000
Small Private Companies AU$4,600
Not for Profit 0

A company can be an ordinary member if it has a turnover of more than AU$132,000,000. It can be an SME member if it has a turnover of more than AU$6,000,000 or if it has more than 5 members.

Five Cases

Lets take five cases, all set here in Australia. The first is you are a recognized academic expert working for a university department. The second is you were are consultant in sole practice (you may have a secretary, etc. but not more than a handful.) The third is if you are working for a small systems integrator with, say, 15 to 20 employees. In other words, not one of the big boys.

And the fourth case is that you are an unemployed idiot. Or, at least, you are some kind of enthusiast without recognized experience in the area. and you don't work for anyone relevant: I guess a student who wanted to be an activist would fit into this category (without that making her an idiot, of course!)

The fifth case is that you are retired engineer with previous experience in standards making, but not particularly deep recent expertise in the domain of the committee. In fact, these kind of people are the jewels in the crown for many national standards bodies, because they can cut through procedural crap and suggest precedent.

Case W3C OASIS Ecma
Academic Expert AU$0 *** AU$1,700
or AU$460 individual
Sole Practitioner AU$12,400 AU$460 AU$4,600
Small Integrator AU$12,400 AU$460 AU$4,600
Unemployed Idiot Barred AU$460 Barred
Retired Standards Wonk Barred* AU$460** $0*

* At W3C, there is a requirement for particular experience to be an invited expert. At Ecma, our expert would have to find some suitable credible not-for-profit organization to apply. (These would also tend to block our fourth case too.)

** (Update) Can try applying to OASIS president etc. for fee-waiving for the year.

*** $0 assuming our academic can get in as an invited expert. Otherwise, the organization fees would apply, presumably the AU$12,400
Note: an earlier version of this table had incorrect entries in the OASIS column, using corporate number rather than individual member numbers. mea culpa

We can see that the economics of participation in each case is quite different. Factor in our molten-down belt-tightening, and the spread of values alter.

Standardization by Corporation

Why are these cases interesting?

Players who don't represent big business have always been disproportionately important in standards: this has especially been true for standards groups with closer connections to the open source, such as SC34 has always had. It is in this light that we should read Martin Bryan's widely-quoted comment (and I was there and had dinner with Martin that night, if I recall, and discussed it with him, so please no flames about the specific context of his remarks):

The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting "standardization by corporation", something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees.

If we look at the original XML Working Group (then called the Editorial Review Board ERB), we see its technical lead was James Clark (self employed). Of its co-editors, one started off from a small business (Tim Bray) but got consulting sponsorhip from a small company (Netscape) and other original is an academic (Michael Sperberg-McQueen).

But a thing that made the XML development effort work so well was that the core ERB was surrounded by a very active interest group of about 100 experts, most of whom were invited experts, and many of these were from small businesses or sole practice. Topics would be raised and discussed with no constraints, and going into whatever areas the conversations took, until the issues were exposed and the real requirements separated from premature solutions (very often, what we think as a requirement is often a particular solution to some requirement that we have not or cannot articulate at the time when we raise it). And then the core ERB could take the issues with the requirements and technical options very well discussed, and make their editorial decisions.

Of course, credit for this needs to go to Jon Bosak from large corporation Sun. (Jon also established the ODF effort at OASIS, under the committee and public participation rules it had then.) He understood, I think, that openness does not mean openness to the dictates and fixations of large corporations (public, private or the state), but needs to be openness to any grassroots expertise too.


I am happy to make any corrections here promptly, if I have made mistakes in the appropriate fees. (I have left out the various arrangements that can be possible for participation by members of other standards bodies in liaison, too.)

One issue I have not dealt with here is the important one of whether, in each case, membership is as an individual or as a corporation. The rules vary: sometimes individuals can nominate proxies to vote for them if they are absent, sometimes the corporate member is free to nominate multiple participants and substitutes, sometimes the corporate member is only allowed a certain number of votes.

And, by the way, if you are unemployed please don't take my use of "idiot" as meaning you are an idiot because you are unemployed. I was unemployed during our recession here in the mid 1980s, and I know how heart-breaking and spirit-destroying it can be. I couldn't afford meals sometimes. You have to resist any voices that want to put you down, and this includes refusing to interpret normal comments that people make but which rub salt on your wounds.

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One comment I didn't make, but the figures show the unsatisfactory nature of quoting in high-value currencies. The W3C has a sliding scale that compensates and is quite complex, but it only resets each year. OASIS quotes in US dollars, an Ecma in Swiss francs.

In volatile times, this certainly penalizes people from people from countries with depreciating currencies. And the currency exchange rates, of course, only roughly corresponds to purchasing power in real terms, so the real cost of the dues a person or small business from a poorer country can be much more than that paid in America.

The W3C's rules sometimes vary between groups. In particular, the HTML Working Group has basically no requirements on Invited Experts, so anyone (except employees of an existing W3C Member organisation) can join with a few forms and emails and no money. (282 of the group's 367 participants are Invited Experts.)

One could make plenty of arguments against the effectiveness of the HTML WG process, but at least it's open to anyone who wants to contribute, and a number of other WGs seem to be shifting in the same direction.

Phillip: Ha! But it is interesting to see that W3C errs on the side of inclusivity.

Yes, it is good to be reminded that a standards group where users swamp vendors may be just as feeble as one where vendors swamp users. Some kind of robust mix of different kinds of stakeholders is necessary.

Of course, in many political systems there is a two tier structure: one tier based on majority views with a house of review to protect minority or sectional interests (most parliaments in Australia are bicameral like that.) Applying the same concept to standards development, then the boutique consortia get balanced by review by ISO for these joint standards. In theory.

Rick, you are mixing organisational rates with individual rates, which is inappropriate. For example, we have individual academic experts participating in OASIS, and they join as individuals at the individual rate. But if their institution wishes to join, then they pay the higher rate, but that rate entitles them to have many of their people participate as members. Ditto for the various categories of corporate membership. You really should be calculating the cost-per-person, which your last table implies it is stating, but in fact is not.

You also fail to distinguish between participation in a non voting role, versus membership classes which give voting rights. For example, only "ordinary" members at Ecma are voting members.

You also fail to note that OASIS has fee-waived membership grants for individual memberships. I don't see how you managed to miss this is it was in the same section where it talked about OASIS not having a category for "invited experts".

Rob: My table is what it would cost a single interested person. So I am delighted to be wrong and have adjusted the amounts.

You say only ordinary members are voting members, but I am talking about participation on TCs, and the attendance/power at the last meeting in particular. What is the connection?

I have added a quote on how you can ask the OASIS president to have a fee waived. Is this used much?

Voting is part of participation. In your last blog post (gagging mouth) you made attendance of those with voting rights a center piece of your "concentration of power" argument. But now you ask "what is the connection?". Interesting case of selective amnesia. In any case it seems a bit eccentric to speak of "power" at a meeting and not give weight to whether the attendee may vote or not.

As for fee-waivers, I can't speak for them in general at OASIS, but in the ODF TC we've made use of them on several occasions to facilitate the participation of specialists in areas such as accessibility.

Rob: So are you claiming that my numbers in that blog* are wrong? I am happy to correct them if they are. Muddy the issue all you like, but openness means scrutiny.


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