Standards and Interoperability
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The information superhighway may be one of the first markets to have been created on the back of standards. An essential element is that a vast array of different hardware and software interoperates through the application of the TCP/IP and HTML standards. Unlike fax, where it was the agreement to create essentially similar hardware embodying the standards, the Internet thrives on diversity. Whether this can survive competitive functional upgrades from web software writers remains to be seen.
Apart from usability, interoperability is probably the single most important topic in the glue that makes large distributed information projects work. Unfortunately there are two problems, standards (or perhaps standards experts) bore most people to tears, and the vendors of the different building blocks are more interested in product differentiation than interoperability. The vendor business models seek the holy grail of locking buyers into a de facto market standard such as Windows.
A study entitled: "The Development of ANSI/NISO Z39.50: A Case Study in Standards Evolution" explores and describes factors involved in the development of information technology standards through a case study of the Z39.50 Information Retrieval standard. The study took as its starting point the critical importance of standards for information handling in the digital environment. It provides evidence of major difficulties in producing standards, and the lack of systematic, empirical research on standards development. The authors are requesting comments. The document is available as a set of .pdf files. A very brief overview of the study is provided in the Abstract.
URL: study http://www.unt.edu/wmoen/dissertation/DissertationIndex.htm
URL: abstract http://www.unt.edu/wmoen/dissertation/abstract.pdf
The European Organisation for Conformity Assessment (EOTC) which acts a European forum for standardisation activities in Europe, publishes an email newsletter, providing a useful summary of standardisation issues in their broadest sense (ie. not just ICT standardisation).
URL: EOTC http://www.eotc.be/
The New Approach Standardisation web site has been developed, under the umbrella of the EU, in an attempt to provide SMEs with easier access to information on standards and the European standardisation process. In particular the site provides:
- information on the European standardisation bodies, CEN, CENELEC and ETSI;
- an explanation of the concept of New Approach standardisation;
- resources concerned with standards-making responsibilities and activities.
The Diffuse Project provides a single, value-added, entry point (via its web site) to up-to-date reference and guidance information, on available and emerging standards and specifications, that facilitate the electronic exchange of information.
The Diffuse project has been set up to provide neutral reporting on developments relating to standards and specifications in support of Key Action II (New Methods of Work and Electronic Commerce) and Key Action III (Multimedia Content and Tools) of the European Commission's Information Society Technologies (IST) programme.
The project is based on work previously carried out under the European Commission's Open Information Interchange (OII) initiative, which concluded in December 1999.
Information services include: a number of guides to standards for business users; an updated standards and specifications list; and a list of standards fora.
Standards are governed by many different groups including official bodies, not for profit organisations and industry consortia. Each group is charged with gaining concensus for the implementation of particular standards, often within a particular application domain. For example The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the consortia leading development of standards relating to the Web. For implementors it is as well to remember that there are an awful lot of standards being developed by a very wide range of consortia and official bodies. These organisations serve many different markets and have significantly different remits. This has meant that often standards are being developed, by many different groups, for products and services that essentially offer the same functionality.
Rather than list the standards bodies and give an exhaustive list of the standards they are responsible for, we have decided to include below details of the consortia and the standards they are involved in developing according to function. We have also limited coverage to those standards of direct importance to the area of interactive electronic publishing. For example the W3C appears in a number of sub sections under "Markup, Stylesheets, Character Sets" - whilst links to the specific W3C working groups are given we also repeat the general link to the consortium itself below.
Specific information concerning the overall objectives of consortia and standards bodies is given in general terms, at the head of sections and is not generally repeated.
We publish a separate, comprehensive, list of associations and industry consortia active in the interactive electronic publishing field on the Industry associations page. Below we list some of those with a central role to play in the development of interactive electronic publishing.
ANSI the US standards body, has an information infrastructure standards panel looking at standards for the Global Information Infrastructure (GII).
URL: ANSI http://www.ansi.org/
ETSI has many groups looking at standards to build the ICT highway, and also has a number of other groups considering the application of TCP/IP-based internetworking.
URL: ETSI http://www.etsi.org/
The MSAF was created by network operators and technology providers to promote the use of standards for globally interoperable multimedia products. A white paper setting out their aims can be downloaded.
OASIS (formerly SGML Open, the international consortium that has guided the SGML industry since 1993) is a non-profit, international consortium of users and suppliers whose products and services support SGML and XML, today's most viable standards for document and data interchange. Their web site has information about their members and their products, and many papers on XML, SGML and HTML subjects. The site also hosts Robin Cover's SGML/XML Web Page, a comprehensive reference site for information about open document interchange standards.
The Graphic Communications Association (GCA) runs the not-for-profit International Digital Enterprise Alliance (IDEAlliance). IDEAlliance provides support to working groups engaged in developing industry-specific applications of both vertical and cross-industry open information standards.
Current member groups of the IDEAlliance include:
- the Information and Content Exchange (ICE), which establishes standards for the syndication and aggregation of information across industries;
- the Publishing Requirements for Industry Standard Metadata (PRISM), which is developing a standard XML metadata vocabulary for the publishing industry;
- the Customer Profile Exchange Network, a vendor-neutral open standard for the privacy-enabled exchange of customer profile information across disparate systems and applications;
- and the Independent Consultants Cooperative (ICC), an organisation of XML/SGML consultants.
IDEAlliance serves as a host for meetings of the committees and other working groups of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) - groups responsible for the development and maintenance of structured information standards, the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), and their derivatives.
The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is an international project which develops guidelines for the encoding of textual material in electronic form for research purposes.
The Unicode standard is an essential reference for computer programmers and software developers working on global software and multilingual applications as it provides the foundation for the internationalization and localization of software. Development of Unicode is overseen by a consortium made-up of individual and corporate members.
The Unicode Consortium web site provides authoritative sources of information on the Unicode character encoding standard. In addition to the authorised description and guide to the Unicode standard, there are sources on all the essential aspects, including basic principles, code charts, and a discussion of implementation issues.
The Web3D Consortium is concerned with the standardisation of "multiple technologies for 3D on the Internet". Originally based on work carried-out by the VRML Consortium the organisation aims to create a suite of interoperating standards targeted at specific market segments.
URL: Web3D Consortium http://www.web3d.org
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the non-profit organisation charged with the development of common protocols for the evolution of the World Wide Web. It is an international industry consortium, jointly hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Computer Science [MIT/LCS] in the USA; the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique [INRIA] in Europe; and the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus in Asia. The Consortium is funded by commercial Members but has the stated aim of being vendor neutral. The Consortium's work programmes, which are constantly revised, cover technologies such as:
- User Interfaces including: HTML, Style Sheets, Graphics and 3D, Internationalization, and Fonts
- Technology and Society covering: Accessibility, the Digital Signature Initiative, Electronic Commerce, PICS (further information concerning PICS is available on the social aspects page), RDF - resource discovery framework (further information is available under metadata on the web and web-like technology page), Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), Privacy and Preferences, and Security.
- Web Architecture, concerned with: HTTP; Addressing - URLs, Object Technology Propagation and Replication; RealTime - Audio/Video, and XML.
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Last up-dated: 26 March 2021
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