Balance of interest ~= Broader representation [Updated]

Lamb chops and the bazaar + ANSI Essential Requirements

By Rick Jelliffe
June 1, 2009 | Comments: 25

In March 2009, I wrote a series of blogs Concentration at the ODF TC, Concentrate! 10:1 and Another leap forward for openness in which I called for broader representation and more participation by non-vendors at the OASIS-Open ODF TC (with a similar principle of balance required for the OOXML and other standards groups.)

These followed up on a point I made in 2007's Is our idea of "Open Standards" good enough? verifiable vendor neutrality and followed up in 2008 Neelie Kroes gets it: "Standards are the fountain of intereoperability" that "openness" as defined as being potentially open for anyone to participate may not be adequate as a basis for mandated standards, due to the cartelization issue.

So a particular phrase in the US Office of Management and Budget Circulare A-119 Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities (from 1998, hat-tip Pattrick Gannon on the OpenDocument users list) stood out (I put it in bold):

A voluntary consensus standards body is defined by the following attributes:

(i) Openness.

(ii) Balance of interest.

(iii) Due process.

(vi) An appeals process.

(v) Consensus,...

This balance of interest can only come out of broad representation: indeed, they are two sides of the same coin.

Openness gives the potential for a balance of interest, but it does not guarantee it. The participation of all significant vendors in a committee similarly gives the potential for a balance of interest, but cannot deliver it without adequate participation by users.

An open standard developed with only vendor involvement may help define a market, but it does so in a heavy-handed way that actually circumvents the market. The market is not only a mechanism for establishing supply and demand and price points; it is also, when there is enough substitutabilty and knowledge and rationality, a mechanism whereby demand feeds back to suppliers information on the mix of features required.

This kind of feedback is an important part of the operation of the market when there are technologies that have not stabilized. In this situation, an open standard developed with vendor-side dominance actually retards and impedes the market.

Lets take a butcher's market for example. I don't suppose that many of us live in place where such a thing exists now, for example a town's shopping street with several different butcher shops. There is a certain freedom from choice and easier comparison if all the butchers decide to provide only the same cut of meat: you want lamb chops, you can have lamb chops that are 1 cm thick, that is the standard.

But part of the operation of the market is to allow consumer preference to express themselves: the big fat butcher has 1cm chops but the skinny small butcher next door has 1.5cm chops. This year thicker chops are the fashion, so people buy from the skinny small butcher, and the big fat butcher must decide whether to make his chops thicker to catch that market or the same to serve his loyal customers or even thinner to differentiate more.

A standards body with a balance of interest from broad representation acts more like this competitive market: the standard takes care of issues further along in the market negotiation. Rather than an agreement by suppliers on what to offer, it is more an agreement on what will be offered and accepted.

UPDATE: What does ANSI Essential Requirements actually say?

Readers amazed at the exchange below may, in the interests of woeful inadequacy, be keen to see for themselves what ANSI's rules for balance are for developers of its standards. They are in the document Essential Requirements.

There we find very clear statements on balance:

1.3 Balance
The standards development process should have a balance of interests. Participants from diverse interest categories shall be sought with the objective of achieving balance.

and in the Benchmarks section
2.3 Balance
Historically the criteria for balance are that a) no single interest category constitutes more than one-third of the membership of a consensus body dealing with safety-related standards or b) no single interest category constitutes a majority of the membership of a consensus body dealing with other than safety-related standards.

The interest categories appropriate to the development of consensus in any given standards activity are a function of the nature of the standards being developed. Interest categories shall be discretely defined, cover all materially affected parties and differentiate each category from the other categories. Such definitions shall be available upon request. In defining the interest categories appropriate to a standards activity, consideration shall be given to at least the following:

a) producer;
b) user;
c) general interest.

Where appropriate, additional interest categories should be considered.2

Appropriate, representative user views shall be actively sought and fully considered in standards activities. Whenever possible, user participants shall be those with the requisite technical knowledge, but other users may also participate. User participation should come from both individuals and representatives of organized groups. There are several user categories:

1. User-consumer: Where the standards activity in question deals with a consumer product, such as lawn mowers or aerosol sprays, an appropriate consumer participant's view is considered to be synonymous with that of the individual user - a person using goods and services rather than producing or selling them.

2. User-industrial: Where the standards activity in question deals with an industrial product, such as steel or insulation used in transformers, an appropriate user participant is the industrial user of the product.

3. User-government: Where the standards activity in question is likely to result in a standard that may become the basis for government agency procurement, an appropriate user participant is the representative of that government agency.

4. User-labor: Where the standards activity in question deals with subjects of special interest to the American worker, such as products used in the workplace, an appropriate user participant is a representative of labor.

1 "Affiliation" refers to the entity that the consensus body member represents (which may or may not be that person's employer). If the consensus body member is serving in an individual capacity, then the name of the individual, that person's employer, sponsor and interest category should be available. Contact information is not required.

2 Further interest categories that may be used to categorize directly and materially affected persons consist of, but are not limited to, the following: a) Consumer; b) Directly affected public; c) Distributor and retailer; d) Industrial/commercial; e) Insurance; f) Labor; g) Manufacturer; h) Professional society; I) Regulatory agency; j) Testing laboratory; k) Trade association.

Hmmm, a majority of the membership...sound like what I have been suggesting, doesn't it. If it is a good idea for ANSI standards—indeed an essential requirement—, why is it not also not a good idea for OASIS in general for its TCs? And for TC members to pro-actively show their good citizenship and adhere to? These requirements are essential to ANSI for good reasons: because of the legal obligation to block cartelization and undue dominance, because they are inimical to the standards system. Quibbling doesn't change that.

And the same thing goes for the ECMA TC45 and SC34 WG4, by the way, in my book. The difference is that I think that MS pretty much groks that it is precisely having a balance of interests at TC45 (and SC34 and WG4 and WG5) that will allow IS29500 to have credibility not just as an "open standard" but this higher bar as set by ANSI and other NBs. This is particularly true if IS29500 moves from being the backwards-looking standard to being the forwards-looking one.

On a tangent, it is interesting that the very next section of that ANSI Essential Requirements brings up the old chestnut of standards which conflict. Readers with sad lives may remember how there were claims made during the first round of the OOXML standardization process that it contradicted ODF because it was in the same area: at the time I was puzzled that certain people would just make things up about how standards work, without bothering to look or to ask old-timers. So what is the current position (well, 2008)?

2.4.1 Definition of Conflict
Conflict within the ANS process refers to a situation where, viewed from the perspective of a future implementer, the terms of one standard are inconsistent or incompatible with the terms of the other standard such that implementation of one standard under terms allowable under that standard would preclude proper implementation of the other standard in accordance with its terms.

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Rick, I think you would be disappointed to find out what "balance of interest" actually means in US standards policy. You took this quote -- from a long standing set of ANSI principles -- quite out of context. If you read up on the background, they are speaking about the balance of interests between those who are implementing a standard and those who own the IP necessary to implement the standard. "Balance" is essentially a code word for RAND licensing.

Rob: It certainly may be true that 'balance of interest' is a secret code.

However, we can go along to the ANSI site, search "balance of interest" and find immediately that what you claim is not actually correct. It is almost as if you just made any old crap up: what are your citations or sources on this please.

ANSI actually has a document (7008 Balance interpretation) that clarifies specifically what "balance of interest" means. I reproduce it in full:

5.2. Balance

The ExSC reviewed the current language contained in the ANSI Essential Requirements as it relates to balance.

The BSR routinely asks developers whose submittals do not appear to satisfy the historical criteria for balance to provide evidence of documented outreach intended to achieve balance. Members discussed the long history associated with the approval of the current language, which was designed to provide flexibility yet ensure that all ANSI-Accredited Standards Developers seek appropriate balance.

ExSC members recalled and confirmed the basis of the current language associated with balance. Balance is a goal; however outreach to achieve balance is a requirement. The historical criteria for balance are not hard-and-fast requirements; however, it is appropriate for the BSR to consider those criteria as benchmarks when evaluating a developer’s procedural compliance. Further, it is appropriate to request related evidence that demonstrates the type of outreach undertaken by a developer to achieve balance. The application in this manner of the historical criteria for balance was contemplated when the current language was approved. The ExSC noted that the current language clearly states the following:

“The standards development process should have a balance of interests. Participants from diverse interest categories shall be sought with the objective of achieving balance.” (Emphasis added)

Rob, you should particularly note that the emphasized section (emphasized in the original) is precisely the thing that I have been calling out about your own determined failure to outreach except, according to you, to other vendors. When you scoffed about non-vendors as "vacuum cleaner salesmen, Egyptologists and professional oboe players" you were directly going against an ANSI requirement.

As to the general meaning of balance of interest in standards, Googling at "'balance of interest' standard" and we find the term used in the way I describe in discussions of:

International trade

Electrical trade "a balance of interest groups"

Of particular interest is the following, from the medical device industry:

medical standards "Balance of interest on a main committee or subcommittee requires that the number of voting producer members cannot exceed the combined number of voting user, consumer and general interest members."

If you are so keen on following ANSI requirements, then I look forward to seeing items on your blog every few weeks drumming up more diverse participation, including more offers to waive fees (I was pleased to see you eventually did this yesterday in response to the ODF guy: but response is not outreach.)

And I repeat my request that IBM and Sun follow Microsoft in not having more than two voting members vote at any ODF TC, to redress any imbalance. Indeed, I think the ODF TC would do well to adopt the medical device balance requirement I cite above, which is another thing I called for. This need for balance of interest is not some eccentricity on my part, some way to attack you or stymie the work of the ODF TC, but the kind of thing that serious committees who want their output to be taken seriously especially for mandating ultimately have to adopt.

Noe that I don't necessarily agree with this as a policy, but here it is from the ANSI introduction page:

"The terms and conditions used in the development of “open standards” should balance the interests of those who will implement the standard with the interests and voluntary cooperation of those who own intellectual property rights that are essential to the standard. Such terms and conditions should readily promote, and not unreasonably burden, accessibility to the standard for the communities of interested implementers. To achieve such balance, the payment of reasonable license fees and/or other reasonable and nondiscriminatory license terms may be required by the intellectual property rights holders. This balance of licensing rights (rather than waiver thereof) is consistent with an open standard. The word “open” does not imply “free” from monetary compensation or other reasonable and nondiscriminatory license terms. Further, an open standard may involve the payment of a fee to obtain a copy of the standard. Such fees are sometimes used to offset the costs associated with managing open standards development process."

In any case, without a background in ANSI standards policy, you are woefully under-prepared to comment or interpret these words. For example, balance requirements are explicitly on the "consensus body", not the technical committee or working group. So OASIS as a whole, when they vote on a standard, or INCITS Executive Board, as a whole when they vote on a US standard, is the consensus body, not the ODF TC or INCITS V1.

Rob: The material I quoted is concerned with what "balance of interest" means.

The material you quote (what is the URL?) on fees is just one non-definitional use of the term. Nice try though.

So you are saying that while OASIS is required by ANSI to get this balance of interest, neither the ODF TC nor you as a chair of an OASIS TC implements such a policy, either officially because of any OASIS procedures or voluntarily in order to satisfy ANSI requirements as OASIS organs?

Indeed, you feel it in order to speak out against broader involvement, as being consonant with the public statements of an OASIS TC chair, since the ANSI requirements do not trickle down to OASIS TC officials and individual committees?

Rick, First, I never said that the ANSI definition is mandatory for OASIS. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I don't have an opinion on that and certainly have not expressed one.

Second, balance is explicitly defined by ANSI as applying to the "consensus body", the body that approves the standard. The TC is not the "consensus body" by this definition. The TC does approve standards. It approves drafts and specifications. The "consensus body" is is OASIS as a whole and only they have the authority to approve OASIS Standards. This is a good thing, since the overall OASIS membership will always be more diverse than any one of its TC's. You will find that most standards consortia make this same distinction between the TC/WG and the parent consensus body.

Rick, am I understanding this correctly? am I oversimplifying this? -- you are posting advocating balance among vendors, independent representatives and others in standards activities? And Rob is arguing vigorously against that?

Yes. Rob is a pot of gold.

And did you see his latest claim, that any imbalance on the ODF TC is actually my fault!

No, Gray, your not oversimplifying. You're distorting. The ODF TC's at OASIS (and there are 3 of them) have 81 members, from 28 organizations and 13 countries. OASIS, as the consensus body, has more than 5,000 participants, from over 600 organizations in 100 countries. Not only does this meet any ANSI definition of balance, it blows it away.

Gray: Well, I think Rob is not arguing against it being a good idea, I believe Rob is pointing out that this is not a condition at the OASIS TC level and also at the technical working level for ANSI (or, in this case, INCITS) and the ODF-TC officers have no obligation in this regard.

The language lawyering on which occurrences of "balance of interest" refer to this kind of balance is a distraction.

Whatever confusion there is at ANSI, the 1998 OMB directive addresses both IP agreements and balance of interest among participants. The balance of interest expression is not used in any other way but with regard to participation, not with regard to IP.

Here's the IP Part: "For purposes of this policy, 'voluntary consensus standards' are standards developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies, both domestic and international. These standards include provisions requiring that owners of relevant intellectual property have agreed to make that intellectual property available on a non-discriminatory, royalty-free or reasonable royalty basis to all interested parties."

The "balance of interests" item comes up under how such a body is *constituted*, and Rick quotes the relevant enumeration of attributes.

Now, "balance" is used in only this one place, and there is no further description to suggest that it is, as Rick concludes, such that "This balance of interest can only come out of broad representation: indeed, they are two sides of the same coin."

I think Rick makes a good case. The use of a similar language around IP questions in some quarters is simply unfortunate (although there is clearly a balance of interests to be achieved in that regard). I think the broader sense of balance involving the interests of producers, consumers, and public authorities is meant, and IP issues are simply one aspect under that.

I see, Rob. So, do you think this reflects the balance of which you speak (speaking of "distorting")?

It would help if you would provide links to your examples.

Gray, TC's aren't the standards approval bodies. The consensus body is OASIS. That is what is called out in all ANSI policies -- the membership of the consensus body, which in this case includes:

Akuacom, Inc.
Amdocs Management Ltd.
American Bar Association
Ars Aperta
A-SIT, Zentrum fur sichere Informationstechnologie Austria
Australian Government Information Management Office
Auto-trol Technology Corporation
Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG)
Axiomatics AB
BAE Systems
Beijing CE Open Source Software Co., Ltd.
Beijing Redflag Chinese 2000 Software Co., Ltd.
Beijing Sursen International Information Technology Co., Ltd
Beijing Tong Tech Co., Ltd.
Belgian SPF Finance
California Legislative Data Center
Canadian Association for Public Alerting and Notification (CAPAN)
Canon Inc.
Carnegie Mellon University
Casewise Limited
CellCast Technologies
CGM Technology Services
Changfeng Open Standards Platform Software Alliance
China Internet Network Information Center(CNNIC)
Citec Information Oy and Affiliates
Citytech, Inc.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Confederation of Forest Industries
Content Technologies ApS
Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA)
Contra Costa County Community Warning System
Corel Corporation
Courthouse News Service, Inc.
Day Software
Deloitte Consulting LLP
Denmark Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation
Departamento de Arquitectura de Computadores, Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña
Det Norske Veritas
Deutsche Telekom AG
Digital China Information System Co., Ltd.
Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) Galway
Directorate of Labour and Welfare Norway
Document Engineering Services Limited
Donau Universität Krems
Drummond Group
Echelon Corporation
Edmond Scientific Company
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
Electronic Commerce Promotion Council of Japan
Emergency Interoperability Consortium
ESI Acquisition
Eurobits Technologies
Eurostep Group AB
Evolution Technologies Inc.
Exalead, Inc.
Federal Ministry of the Interior, Germany
Fidelity Investments
Flatirons Solutions Corporation
Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH
France Telecom
Freescale Semiconductor, Inc.
Fuji Xerox, Ltd.
Galdos Systems
Gesellschaft fur technische Kommunikation-tekom e.v.
Getty Research Institute
GIS Research Center, Feng Chia University
Health Level Seven
Helsinki University of Technology
HIPAAT International, Inc.
Hirsch Electronics
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Infinitum Consulting Ltd.
Intalio Inc.
International Electronic Communication Analysts, Inc. (IECA)
International Press & Telecommunications Council
International Security Trust & Privacy Alliance (ISTPA)
Jeonju University
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Jotne EPM Technology
Judicial Council of Georgia
Konica Minolta Business Technologies, Inc.
Korea Institute for Electronic Commerce
Kyungwon University
LA County Information Systems Advisory Board
Larson Software Technology
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Lexmark International, Inc.
Liberty Alliance Project
Library of Congress
Lionbridge Technologies
Localisation Research Centre
LISA- Localization Industry Standards Assoc.
Lockheed Martin
LonMark International
LSI Corporation
ManTech Enterprise Integration Center (e-IC)
Maricopa County
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Middle East Technical University
Missouri Office of State Courts Admin.
Mitre Corporation
MTG Management Consultants, LLC.
National Center for State Courts
National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)
National Informatics Centre
NIA (National Information Society Agency)
National Security Agency
NEDAP Election Systems
NETS Co., Ltd.
NetUnity Software
New York State Department of Labor
New York State Office of Court Administration DoT
New Zealand Ministry of Education
New Zealand State Services Commission
NOAA's National Weather Service
NorthID Oy
Northrop Grumman
Norwegian Defence Logistics Organisation
NTT Corporation
NuParadigm Government Systems
Object Management Group
OIOXML eBusiness Standardization Group
Open Applications Group
OpenDocument Format Alliance (ODFA)
Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC)
The Open University
OSS Nokalva
Pearson PLC
Pennsylvania Assoc. of Notaries
Pensive S.A.
Ping Identity Corporation
Polish Association of Translation Agencies (PSBT)
Previstar, Inc.
PricewaterhouseCooper LLP
PrimeKey Solutions AB
Property Records Industry Assn.
PSLX consortium
Quantum Corporation
Really Strategies, Inc.
Red Flag Software Co., Ltd.
RenderX, Inc.
Revenue Administration of Turkey
Rockley Group
Rolls-Royce plc
Saab AB
SailPoint Technologies
Salzburg Research Forschungsgesellschaft
Schneider Electric
SDL International
Search Group
SGML/XML Users Group Holland
Siemens AG
Society for Technical Communication
Sonnenglanz Consulting
South Africa Dept. of Science and Technology
Spalding Consulting, Inc.
STI Innsbruck
Swedish Association of Local Authorities & Regions
Swedish Defence Materiel Administration
Sybase Inc.
System Development
Tanner AG
Technische Universität Dortmund
Telecom Italia S.p.a.
Toshiba America Business Solutions Inc.
Tsujii Laboratory, the University of Tokyo
UK Forestry Commission
UK Ministry of Defence Technical Information
UNIK Graduate Center
Universal Postal Union
University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil
University of California, Berkeley (Center for Document Engineering)
University of Hong Kong
University of Manchester
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Rome
University of Rostock, Germany
UOML Alliance
USAMC Logistics Support Activity
US Department of Homeland Security
Utah Administrative Office of the Courts
viaRadio Corporation
Washington State Administrator for the Courts
Wells Fargo Bank
XyEnterprise Inc.


One point I would like to make is that 'vendors' should not all be lumped together, when considering balance of interest.

In the case of OOXML/ODF, the term 'vendors' seems to have come to mean the office suite vendors, rather than the much wider ecosystem that consume and create these document instances in other ways.

There are a huge amount of varied vendors meeting completely differing customer demands using these formats, so, if sufficiently involved, can serve as a reasonable proxy for bubbling up the needs of end-users into the process.

As you probably know yourself, innovative software products are never the result of solely implementing customer wishlists. End users rarely have the time and inclination to really spec out the ideal solutions to their problems, often unaware of what is possible.

As a vendor, meshing in-house innovation with customer feedback is where you add value and essentially, stay in business.

I am not saying that having Rob's egyptologists on board is pointless, but a wider mix of /types/ of vendors is a good thing that helps achieve diversity. If end-users are involved too, that's gravy.

There is probably an aspect of "if you have a dog, why bark yourself" from end-users - they are paying vendors to create solutions and in an ideal world, market forces will out. Why should they invest time and money in getting involved.

I think a wider mix of vendor types may also help in ensuring that these standards do not become too byzantine.

One of the issues I see, is that although the formats are expressed in XML, they should not become an advanced XML technology playground, where it requires extreme XML kung fu to get anything productive done. Although that's fine and dandy for the 'big boys', for every Microsoft Office or, there's 10,000 little guy vendors needing to deal with these formats. We need to ensure that the cost of admission is not restrictive.

Your post on classes of fidelity is right on the money, as well as the MODUS post. FYI our app, Monarch, is squarely in the MODUS vein.

We take advantage of the standard to read what we care about and easily throw away the rest, as well as being able to write stuff that we don't render ourselves (nor would it necessarily make sense), such as formulas and pivot tables.

I do sometimes wonder on what basis Rob picks his fights - trying to argue against /a universally accepted good thing/ on technicalities seems a little strange.

@Rob- the correct response is:

"Yes Rick, that sounds sensible. We will try harder, but on the plus side, the "consensus body" is OASIS as a whole and only they have the authority to approve OASIS Standards. This is a good thing, since the overall OASIS membership will always be more diverse than any one of its TC's"

How hard is that?


I agree that looking a numbers of "producing members" (to use that term from the medical device people) compared to the number of others is not the only way to cut the cake. (For example, I also looked at a finer distinction, which is those producers associated with a common code base.) Other ways of looking for balance would be along national lines, along corporate income lines, and so on.

Picking a couple of these, even one, would be better than none though.

Gray: Rob can speak for himself, but I think, when listing the membership of an OASIS TC, you should consider only the voting members, including the officers. (Also, there are observers on these TCs, but they are not listed as part of the membership and they do not participate.)

Setting aside whether or not it is a duty of the officers of the ODF TC, for one, to obtain a balance of interests, it is important to realize that the TC members vote as individuals (a record of attendance is all that is required to be established as a voting member) and it is only at higher levels that organizations vote, 1 vote per member organization.

I think broader participation is important at the TC level, particularly for ODF TC, OIC TC, and the ODF Adoption TC (though not a standards-development TC in any ordinary sense). But it really depends on there being sufficient self-interest and expertise for others to come forward. I am particularly disappointed by the absence of public agencies, many of which are creating or applying regulatory requirements with regards to these specifications and the products that support them.

The reality may simply be that formats are not what other interested parties deal with or develop much expertise in. Other interested parties are dealing with the benefits that such formats may provide in their selection and use of products. That is different than having a direct interest in being able to contribute to the development of the format. (I refer to this conundrum as the format-interoperability antipattern. It is a problem.)

Rob, you said:

"The ODF TC's at OASIS (and there are 3 of them) have 81 members, from 28 organizations and 13 countries. OASIS, as the consensus body, has more than 5,000 participants, from over 600 organizations in 100 countries"

I replied to your comment with a link to the membership of one of those ODF TC's, which has an imbalance favoring IBM.

You then reply back to say that the TC's are not the approving bodies. Was this intentional?

@Orcmid, thank you for clarifying (although I am interested to hear Rick's perspective as well.) Although Rob's comment to me seemed to say that the ODF TC's do have balance that "blows away" the ANSI criteria.

As a consumer of the standards process, I'm just trying to understand this as best as possible.

@Rick / Rob, I'll gladly concede that OASIS is comprised of hundreds of organizations for the sake of making the comment list readable again. If this list exists on a public site, perhaps it is better to link to it than copy/paste it, surely.

Gray, are you intentionally ignoring the ANSI policy, or do you fail to understand it? Balance based on membership of the consensus body. It is not based on TC membership, or TC voting membership, or TC attendance records, or whatever fanciful data Rick wishes to cherry pick from.

Remember, Rick is already on the record as saying that his vision of balance should be enforced by removing membership privileges from existing ODF TC participants. Do you agree with this? So when he misinterprets US standards policy as being in support of his odd views, I think it is important to note where and how he goes astray.

Finally, for the record, TC chairs have absolutely no membership functions. We have neither the ability to approve or deny membership in OASIS or any TC. This is all handled by OASIS staff. I think the list of OASIS members I presented above shows that they do very well with recruitment.

Rob, I'm just responding to what you have said in this forum. If you're not concerned about the role of the TC in establishing balance, why did you raise it?

I think that Gareth's comment (suggested reply) might be a better way to go here, rather than dragging this into a argument about the context in which blance is defined, or its purpose or necessity.

People might be inclined to interpret this type of argument as being against balance or against vendor neutrality.

It may also be worth it for you to remind potential members of the ODF TC who are not from large corporations how they can get involved.

Lastly just let me say that Doug and Stephen have both shared publicly that they have no complaints working in the ODF TC, and have stated that their membership and participation was welcomed by the committee members. I'm not suggesting anyone be removed, added, or modified otherwise.

Gray, it depends on how you define "balance". If balance is defined as Rick has defined it before -- a coercive attempt to mandate specific distributions of interests in a TC regardless of the inherent interest levels -- then I am very much opposed to it. It smacks of a statist meddling in the the voluntary standards system, and ultimately commerce.

On the other hand, I'm very much in favor of open access and removing impediments to participation in the process. But I fully understand and expect that a specification for document formats will be primarily created by those vendors who are most interested, by commercial motivation, in selling products that use that standard. This is a good thing, indeed an essential thing, since that in a single shot brings together the expertise and IP rights needed to create such a standard. A TC made up of 66.67% professional oboe players will not be able to accomplish the task. Participation from non-vendprs on the TC is, of course, welcome. You occasionally find the retiree or other outside expert with the time and inclination to participate. It makes my day when that happens. But they are the exception, not the rule. So, I'm not going to apologize for the fact that the balance of interests in the TC (which is different than the consensus body)leans predominately to those with ... duh ...the strongest interests. If oboe players had more interest, then they would dominate the TC. But they don't, and that's not a problem in my book.

The checks and balance occur then via an open public review and a vote in the consensus body, where as I've illustrated, the interests are extremely rich and diverse.

In any case, I'd note that I've interested many people in the ODF TC, who have later joined the OASIS. I've created several subcommittees and a new TC. (I should get a commission!) I've helped several experts get membership fee-waivers. Rick, on the other hand, by my count, with his various calls for greater "balance", has racked up the impressive total of zero new members. Standards activist? Certainly not an effective one.

Actually I have called for vendors to voluntarily ration their participation as far as voting by their employees: why don't you do that? I don't care how many non-voting vendor-affiliates take part in a meeting; it is a pretty low bar.

If you think there is such unanimity that it would not be necessary, or if each member operates so distinctly from their employers and fulltime jobs that the affiliation does not influence anything, then there should be no impediment: good arguments have to win the day.

Obviously I disagree with your worldview, which is difficult to tell apart from "consume, be silent, die."

The ANSI material I quoted clearly is requiring (for the developers of a standard, if they want or have to meet ANSI's requirements) that a developer of a specification has sought balance of interest in regard to that standard's development. That a ratifying membership has a large number of members does not mean that there is specific balance of interest, nor that a specific balance of interest was sought. (OASIS can have every oboe-making corporation in the world, but they would not represent the vacuum-cleaner salesmen that apparently occupy your nightmares.)

What about when the development process of a standard (TC) did not in fact have a balance of interests, and none was sought at the TC level, and the ratifying body did not have a specific balance of interest and none was sought at the standards body level? I guess the only hope in that case is some external review by a body which clearly has a kind of balance: JTC1.

As to me being ineffective, that is all too often true: it is very disheartening to spend a lot of time and effort trying to convince people, only to have them utterly fail to see what you are getting at. It must be how you feel about IS29500.

Rob Weir said, "it is important to realize that the TC members vote as individuals."

That should better be phrased as how TC members are supposed to vote, not as how it works on the ODF TC. Sun members have consistently bloc-voted and come to think of it, I recall no instance where IBM members voted on opposite sides of an issue.

That is not how it is supposed to work:

The relevant context is thus the standard-setting process of a private association. Typically, private standard-setting associations, like the Association in this case, include members having horizontal and vertical business relations. See generally 7 P. Areeda, Antitrust Law § 1477, p. 343 (1986) (trade and standard-setting associations routinely treated as continuing conspiracies of their members). There is no doubt that the members of such associations often have economic incentives to restrain competition and that the product standards set by such associations have a serious potential for anticompetitive harm. See American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Inc. v. Hydrolevel Corp., 456 U.S. 556, 571 (1982). Agreement on a product standard is, after all, implicitly an agreement not to manufacture, distribute, or purchase certain types of products. Accordingly, private standard-setting associations have traditionally been objects of antitrust scrutiny. See, e. g., ibid.; Radiant Burners, Inc. v. Peoples Gas Light & Coke Co., 364 U.S. 656 (1961) (per curiam). See also FTC v. Indiana Federation of Dentists, 476 U.S. 447 (1986). When, however, private associations promulgate safety standards based on the merits of objective expert judgments and through procedures that prevent the standard-setting process from being biased by members with economic interests in stifling product competition, cf. Hydrolevel, supra, at 570-573 (noting absence of "meaningful safeguards"), those private standards can have significant procompetitive advantages. ...


... Indeed, because private standard-setting by associations comprising firms with horizontal and vertical business relations is permitted at all under the antitrust laws only on the understanding that it will be conducted in a nonpartisan manner offering procompetitive benefits, see ibid., the standards of conduct in this context are, at least in some respects, more rigorous than the standards of conduct prevailing in the partisan political arena or in the adversarial process of adjudication. ...


What petitioner may not do (without exposing itself to possible antitrust liability for direct injuries) is bias the process by, as in this case, stacking the private standard-setting body with decisionmakers sharing their economic interest in restraining competition.

Allied Tube & Conduit v. Indian Head, Inc., 486 U.S. 492 (1988) (reinstating jury award of treble damages under the Sherman Act) (footnote omitted; emphasis added).

Bloc-voting is a no-no. And it's hard to imagine a standard more anti-competitive than ODF. E.g., where are the conformity requirements that are essential to achieve the interoperability, as required by JTC 1 Directives? Might one not reasonably infer from the circumstances that the OASIS "procedures that prevent the standard-setting process from being biased by members with economic interests in stifling product competition" have been less than adequate?

It certainly has not been lost on me that IBM is busily building the OOo 3.x code base into its proprietary apps whilst calling for that same code base to be substituted for fully specifying the standard. Nor has it been lost on me that IBM also has no plans to specify the conformity requirements essential to achieve the interoperability in ODF 1.2:

... interoperability is most efficiently achieved by conformance to an open standard where the standard clearly states those requirements which must be met to achieve interoperability.

So back to ODF 1.1. What is the relationship between conformance and interoperability there? Clearly, it is not yet at that optimal point (which few standards ever achieve) where interoperability is most-efficiently achieved. We're working on it. ODF 1.2 will be better in that regard than ODF 1.1, and the next version will improve on that, and so on.

Rob Weir, A follow-up on Excel 2007 SP2's ODF support, An Antic Disposition (7 May 2009).

Meanwhile, IBM pushes at DG Competition to have Microsoft forced to disclose its Office formats with sufficient specifity to place competitors on an "equal footing" in regard to interoperability, building from the precedent in the Windows communications protocols case. Commission v. Microsoft, European Community Court of First Instance (Grand Chamber Judgment of 17 September, 2007), para. 226, 230, 421, (rejecting Microsoft's argument that "interoperability" has a 1-way rather than 2-way meaning; information technology specifications must be disclosed with sufficient specificity to place competitors on an "equal footing" in regard to interoperability; "the 12th recital to Directive 91/250 defines interoperability as 'the ability to exchange information and mutually to use the information which has been exchanged'").

There are standards and there are double standards. But Rob Weir put it out there in black and white. There will be no specification of the conformity requirements that are essential to achieve interoperability in ODF 1.2. I'll call that an IBM double standard, not a real standard.

I'm not so concerned about the balance of membership on the ODF TC. As a victim of big vendor lock-in/lock-out games for far too many decades, I'm far more concerned by the dearth of OASIS "meaningful safeguards" against this anti-competitive IBM horse radish. OASIS simply is not even attempting to fulfill its legal oversight obligations.

@Paul ..... This is rich. There are two instances i recall where IBM was split, but Sun, true to form, voted as a block. They are the infamous "List Enhancement Proposal", and, the "XML ID" metadata fiasco.

The List Enhancement Proposal turned out to be a donnybrook of back biting, intimidation, threats, coercion, deal making, and back channel nastiness that shattered forever the patina of genteel and collegial traditions that were the hall mark of ODF 1.0 work. IBM's vote was near equally split. The Foundation's vote was all over the place, somehow manging to get on three sides of a two sided issue (for, against, abstain). Sun's vote was of course based on a stack and block routine that was pretty much the norm for them.

The XML ID issue was something else in that the primary arguments were between IBM's Elias Torres, (of RDFa fame), and Sun's Michael Brauer - Svante Schubert duo. Sun was late in joining the action at the ODF Metadata SC. When they did arrive though, they came in force, honed in on the XML ID mechanism, insisting that metadata be limited to only those handful of elements approved and supported by OpenOffice. Elias of course thought that the use of XML ID should be open to developers.

Elias believed developers could best determine how to apply the metadata mechanism. When Sun was unmoving in their insistence, he even argued for a compromise solution where developers would be allowed a years time to experiment with XML ID before the sub c members made their limiting decisions.

Notably, at the following weeks meeting of the metadata sub c, Rob Wier showed up with 14 spreadsheet elements he wanted Sun to bless with the XML ID. Sun quickly looked at his proposals, determine that OpenOffice could support the elements, and gave their blessing. No further discussion required. Oligarchs know how to take care of fellow oligarchs, or the least reach a back room compromise.

Note that if interoperability is at the application level, these back room compromises between application vendors are critical. If however, interoperability is at the format specification layer, there is no back room "application" advantage. The playing field is level for all developers and end-users. [see ODF Interoperability: The Price of Success; slides 22-25 for reference]

The XML ID issue is also infamous for the comment that Sun's Svante Schubert made in response to Elias' persistent questioning. When asked why XML ID use should be limited to only those elements OpenOffice supported, Svante replied, "Because the only things allowed in ODF are those things supported by OpenOffice." A strange kind of circular logic, but there it is. Another turn in this same discussion had Svante saying that, "Nothing goes into the ODF specification unless OpenOffice supports it."

Elias Torres is one of the most talented people ever to work on ODF. And for that we have IBM to thank. If ODF 1.2 had followed the path laid out by Elias, there is no doubt in my mind that great headway would have been made in the three areas where ODF so notably fails public expectations: backwards compatibility, forwards interoperability, and, Web readiness (compatibility with (x)HTML-CSS3-RDFa).

There is one other aspect of the XML ID argument that should be noted. When the discussion moved from limiting XML ID to only those elements OpenOffice agreed to support, Elias put forward the question of how will the ODF Metadata SC handle developer requests to use XML ID on unauthorized elements?

At first the self appointed metadata oligarchs thought that developers could submit their requests using the public listserve. This didn't sit well with some members. —— came up with the rather incredulous proposal that developers needing XML ID flexibility should be required to join the ODF Metadata SC, just like the other oligarchs, before their requests would be considered. I kid you not.

Personally for me this proposal was the end of my years of involvement with OASIS ODF TC. I decided right then and there that i would see it through the "List Enhancement" vote, and call it quits. Which i did. My involvement with —— went back quite a few years. The Foundation sponsored his participation on the TC. And his influence on the establishment and proceedings of the Metadata SC is beyond vital. I had the utmost respect for him, his contributions, and his voluntary efforts to improve OpenOffice ODF. Yet, here he was. Wallowing with the vendor of record. Buying into a self serving agenda that was not in the best interest of ODF, and came at the expense of a world hungering for an open solution. ...(sentences removed)

...something indeed is, "rotten in Denmark". One can only hope that David Wheeler can hang on, and pull his beloved OpenFormula project through the mire.


Gary: I have edited the comment to remove a name and some paragraphs, because they are not necessary to the thrust of your argument, out of respect for that person, and because I really hate the use of the word "corrupt" (even though you used it in the sense of 'spoiled' not 'bought'.)

I think it is indeed important to have records of people's experiences, and your recollection of Svante Schubert's comments are something I have not seen before, but of course people say all sorts of silly things in the heat of the moment (or was it just honesty or his perception of how things worked at that time?) It is because these highly commercial application standards are so prone to be dominated that I think there is some utility in engineering a market of competition between ODF and OOXML, where the vendors are forced out of their comfort zones to some extent (in ODF's case, to add features not in, in OOXML's case, to remove the lazy carbuncles and support the needs of others apart from MS).

But what is more important is getting all our groups to have greater participation: broader representation, self-rationing, and a balance of interests.


I found that point regarding same code-base vendors again on your Concentrate 10:1 post - I did recall it very vaguely, but just thought picking apart the 'vendors' amalgam needed a clearer re-airing here.


@Gary, no one but you and Florian voted for your proposal. Every one else voted against it. Not even a majority of your own ODF Foundation members voted for it. The KOffice representative voted against it as well. The vote was 7 against, 2 in favor. In my opinion, your proposal was pure snake oil, just like your vaporware magical da Vinci plugin that you oversold and claimed would solve all interoperability problems. I think it is a sign of a healthy committee that dumb ideas are shot down. That is a good thing, Darwin in action. You had your opportunity to make a proposal. You made it and it was voted on, openly and fairly. You lost. Get over it.

@Rick, the ANSI requirements are for the consensus body, not the technical committee. There is an important difference here. For example, if there is to be made a medical standard for the exact chemical composition of a plasma blood substitute, who should be the most active members of the technical committee? Would you be adverse to there being a predominance of technical experts in that field? Probably not. That is to be expected. However, technical experts with the knowledge and resources to participate are likely to be employed by not disinterested corporations active in that field. So attracting the technical experts naturally attracts the corporations who employee these experts. You would not exclude professional oboe players, but neither would you consider their absence as being a defect. In fact you should, as a consumer, be highly concerned if the relevant technical experts did not constitute a preponderance of the technical committee. Do you really want the composition of the blood plasma substitute to be defined by a committee which is controlled (from a voting perspective) by professional oboe players? Would you ask a qualified M.D. to relinquish his vote? I don't think so.

Of course, the work of that technical committee (which is a specification, not a standard) should be publicly reviewed, and when time comes to officially give it the imprimatur of a standard, it should be by vote of a diverse and well-balanced consensus body, including consumers, public authorities, academia, etc. That is where the checks and balances come into play. But heaven help us if the underlying technical committee is dumbed down by removing the ability of relevant technical experts to fully participate and contribute, and influence the specification in line with their knowledge and experience.

This is not just my opinion, this is how almost every standards committee in the world works, from OASIS to INCITS to JTC1.

Rob: And the committees without a balance produce rubbish standards.

Or they become conspiracies against the public, which is largely how I see the MPEG group. The main reason Linuix failed to get market share on desktops was its poor support of CODECS, and a lot of the blame comes down to the ISO MPEG group, for buying into an anti-FOSS, pro-corporate RAND business model rather than a RAND-z model.

Of course vendors cannot see this. They think they represent the public; they believe their own sales pitch. It may be a sincere belief, and they may be able to think of lots of good reasons.

But ratification time, especially for any ratification process which does not include the ability to send back individual bits (a kind of line-item veto) such as the ISO "Approve/Disapprove with comments", is not a time of checks-and-balances. It is just a time of check.

The more that a standard gets regarded as mission-critical or mandated, the more that the openness and balance of its development process *at all levels* becomes a subject of interest.

Oh, and I completely the idea that the only people worth being considered experts (or having anything useful to contribute) are those people who work for vendors. It is pretty crass.

You don't want to restrict your blood plasma to doctors, you only want doctors from the blood plasma companies, not government, not the Red Cross, not hospitals, not the CDC, not religous representatives of hospitals. And certainly not nurses.

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