Apply Sparingly: Open Standards (and When to Use Them)

By Mark Sigal
May 8, 2009

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"The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from."

I know, I know. Proprietary is Evil. Open is Good.

But, not so fast, my friend. I am here to tell you that there are only three reasons to embrace open standards.

Thus, if the definition of the situation regarding the standard that you are contemplating embracing does not fit within one (or all) of these three buckets, do yourself a favor, and choose a different path:

  1. Indisputable Market Momentum: Front-line products or services supporting the standard are shipping (or imminently will be). Don't get fooled by pledges that products will support the standard in the future, or a company hedging its bets by supporting the standard on a third-tier, obscure offering. This is all about tangible, meaningful proof.
  2. Clear Technical Leverage: Does the standard solve a real problem that eases your development cycle TODAY? Too often, a standard promises to solve a meaty problem down the road, but in practice, does nothing for developers today. Be vigilant and discriminating in assessing if there's a "there" there in the present.
  3. Brand Awareness by the End Customer: While the media will often tout a given standards-based approach as a game-changer, customers rarely care, unless the product solves a specific, well-understood problem for them. Thus, this is a two-part question. One, does the customer REALLY care? Two, do you know who the actual decision maker to buy your product is (technical buyers and non-technical buyers often have very different criteria)?

Duh, sounds obvious, right?

Yet, I am amazed how often the rank-and-file diss a particular approach as proprietary, as if being differentiated and having a fig leaf of defensibility is something to apologize for.

Or worse, they tout a so-called standard when it is neither widely embraced in real shipping products nor offers compelling technical leverage or explicit marketing advantages.

When confronted with such folk, approach them as you would the door-to-door salesman who's pushing an unwanted trinket, and simply say, "Thanks. Not interested at the present time."

Related Posts:
1. On Intellectual Honesty: Seeing things as they really are
2. "Strategic" versus "Win-able": The 1.0/3.0 Paradox
3. The Paradox of Developing New Products and Services
4. Vitamin, Aspirin or Penicillin? Product Sanity Check.
5. Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best


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