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The Internet and OpenStand: The Internet Didn’t Happen by Accident

On the World Standards Day of 2013 (October 14; see for example http://www.worldstandardscooperation.org/wsd.html), it seems appropriate to recgoznize that on the Internet and throughout the Web, nothing goes anywhere without standards. These technical standards—communication protocols, data exchange formats, and interfaces—allow different computers and networks to talk to each other. They are the lifeblood around the world for multibillion dollar industries that didn’t exist 20 years ago. They are born of a collaborative, open process that prides itself on technical expertise and measures success by the depth and breadth of their acceptance across a hodgepodge of vastly different technologies all interconnected to what we euphemistically call “the Global Internet.”

As a necessity in a technical industry evolving at exponential rates, Internet standards have been developed with great speed and effectiveness. The processes by which these open standards are developed have matured along with the Internet. The development paradigm that has been successfully used to create those standards is emerging as an important piece of the Internet’s widespread success.

Last year, the IEEE, Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Society and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—five organizations deeply involved with the technical standards the Internet runs on—affirmed a set of principles called “OpenStand” (see http://open-stand.org/ ) that define the characteristics of this modern standards paradigm that depends on the Internet’s diversity and flexibility, making technical excellence its primary focus. Recently, the heads of those organizations have asked government officials involved in negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to take full account of the OpenStand principles as they develop the standards-related aspects of the partnership.

On many levels, the Internet is about making diversity whole—bringing together disparate groups of people with common interests, connecting independent networks to communicate, and so on. On a human level, that diversity comes through collaboration and new ways of beneficial social and economic organization. At a technical level, it is made possible by interoperability—allowing one technology to talk to another through established technical protocols. Those protocols, in turn, are developed by people, collaboratively, as open Internet standards. Standards developed with global input from a diversity of sources through open processes have the greatest chance of producing outcomes that are technically exceptional, leverage cutting edge engineering expertise, and support interoperability and global competitiveness in technology markets.

At the same time, the Internet grows from the inside out and from the bottom up, constantly responding to innovative changes. Technology and its use evolve at a rapid pace; standards must be able to develop accordingly in a flexible and scalable way. Allowing the community of Internet technology developers and users to create and experiment, build without permission, and feed their real-world experience back into the standards process, supports the uniquely innovative character that is the hallmark of the Internet. The top-down imposition of mandatory standards runs contrary to this process, preventing standards from developing in response to fast-paced technological evolution and market needs.

The way standards are developed varies from one organization to the next, but OpenStand represents a shared commitment to producing standards through open processes and consensus-based decision making, with transparency and balance. And, while the OpenStand announcement was made in 2012, this paradigm has been at the heart of the Internet’s development from the outset. Since the announcement, companies and other organizations that build and use the Internet have added their support for its principles.

As the Internet continues to grow, it is increasingly important to recognize this approach’s unique qualities and contribution to the Internet’s overall success—and how it has been part of the equation for successful companies and organizations that use the Internet. The OpenStand approach has given us the building blocks to create previously unimaginable services and opportunities to interconnect the world’s population. By tapping into the world’s greatest engineering talent, and more directly translating those talents into technical solutions, it creates the platform that generates innovation for everyone.

Co-authored by Leslie Daigle, Internet Society (Internet Society) and Alissa Cooper, Center for Democracy and Technology (http://www.cdt.org)

By Leslie Daigle, Principal, ThinkingCat Enterprises and Editor, InternetImpossible

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