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addressing the limitations of open standards

Addressing The Limitations Of Open Standards


Marieke Guy, UKOLN

Alastair Dunning, AHDS

Brian Kelly


University of Bath

Bath, UK


Resources bookmarked using ‘mw-standards-2007' tag

UKOLN is supported by:

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 licence (but note caveat)

  • This talk will cover the following topics:
    • Introduction
    • Standards are great 
    • Standards don't always work 
    • Layered approach developed by QA Focus
    • Application to JISC development programmes
    • Application elsewhere
    • Sustainability
    • Conclusions
about me about ukoln
About Me, About UKOLN


  • Brian Kelly:
    • UK Web Focus – national Web advisory post
    • Advises higher & further education & cultural heritage sectors on Web innovations, standards & best practices
    • Involved in Web since January 1993
    • Involved in Web standards for JISC development programmes since 1995
    • National centre of expertise in digital information management
    • Location at the University of Bath, UK
    • Funded by MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) and JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee)
open standards are great
Open Standards Are Great …
  • JISC's development programmes (like others):
    • Traditionally based on use of open standards to:
      • Support interoperability
      • Maximise accessibility
      • Avoid vendor lock-in
      • Provide architectural integrity
      • Help ensure long-term preservation
  • History in UK HE development work:
    • eLib Standards document (v1 – 1996, v2 – 1998)
    • DNER (JISC IE) Standards document (2001)
  • which influenced:
    • NOF-digi Technical Standards (digitisation of cultural resources)

Open Standards

but don t always work
… But Don't Always Work
  • There's a need for flexibility:
    • Learning the lesson from OSI networking protocols
  • Today:
    • Is the Web (for example) becoming over-complex
      • "Web service considered harmful"
      • The lowercase semantic web / Microformats
    • Lighter-weight alternatives being developed
    • Responses from the commercial world

Open Standards

  • Other key issues
    • What is an open standard?
    • What are the resource implications of using them?
    • Sometimes proprietary solutions work (and users like them). Is it politically incorrect to mention this!?
what is an open standard

UKOLN's "What Are Open Standards?" briefing paper refers to characteristics of open standards:

    • Neutral organisation which 'owns' standard & responsible for roadmap
    • Open involvement in standards-making process
    • Access to standard freely available

Note these characteristics do not apply equally to all standards bodies e.g. costs of BSI standards; W3C membership requirements; …

What Is An Open Standard?
  • Which of the following are open standards?
    • PDF  Flash
    • Java  MS Word

Open Standards

compliance issues
Compliance Issues


  • What does must mean?
    • You must comply with HTML standards
      • What if I don't?
      • What if nobody does?
      • What if I use PDF?
    • You must clear rights on all resources you digitise
    • You must provide properly audited accounts
      • What if I don't?

JISC 5/99 programme ~80% of project home pages were not HTML compliant

There is a need to clarify the meaning of mustand for an understandable, realistic and reasonable compliance regime

the context
The Context
  • There will be a context to use of standards:
    • The intended use:
      • Mainstream  Innovative / research
      • Key middleware component  Small-scale deliverable
    • Organisational culture:
      • National vs small museum  Teaching vs Research
      • Service vs development  …
    • Available Funding & Resources:
      • Significant funding & training to use new standards
      • Minimal funding - current skills should be used

Contextual Issues

An open standards culture is being developed, which is supportive of use of open standards, but which recognises the complexities and can avoid mistakes made in the past

the layered standards model

Quality Assurance

External factors: institutional, cultural, legal, …

Context: Policies

Prog. n




Annotated Standards Catalogue





The Layered Standards Model




Context: Compliance

JISC / project


Self assessment



JISC's layered standards model, developed by UKOLN. Note that one size doesn't always fit all


Development Programme




JISC Manager

Programme Team


Programme XX Call / Contract

Proposals must comply with XYZ standard

Proposals should seek to comply with XYZ

Proposals should describe approach to XYZ

Report must be in MS Word / … and use JISC template

Projects audited to ensure compliance with …

Projects should develop self-assessment QA procedures and submit findings to JISC

Projects should submit proposed approach for approval/information

  • How might this approach be used in practice?

Contextual Model

the standards catalogue
The Standards Catalogue
  • The information provided aims to be simple and succinct (but document will still be large when printed!)
  • Standard: Dublin Core
  • About the Standard: Dublin Core is a metadata standard made up …
  • Version: New terms are regularly added to …
  • Maturity: Dublin Core has its origins in workshops held …
  • Risk Assessment: Dublin Core plays a key role …. It is an important standard within the context of JISC development programmes.
  • Further Information:
    • DCMI, <>
  • Author: Pete Johnston, UKOLN
  • Contributor:
  • Date Created: 04 Oct 2005
  • Update History: Initial version.


Note that as the standards catalogue is intended for wide use the contents will need to be fairly general

Note recent feedback has identified the need for heading on usage in other programmes (i.e. political acceptance)

standards catalogue process







User Experiences



Standards Catalogue Process


  • There's a need for developing and enhancing the standards catalogue in order to:
    • Update with new standards
    • Learn from feedback and experiences



  • How do we
    • Sustain, maintain & grow the standards catalogue?
    • Develop a sustainable support infrastructure?
  • Suggestions:
    • More resources for support infrastructure
    • Extend model to related areas to gain buy-in, etc
    • Exploit learning gained by projects, reuse experiences, encourage sharing, etc.:
      • Build on QA Focus approach (briefing docs and case studies)
    • Contractual requirement for projects to produce end-user deliverables and deliverables related to development process


lessons from nof digi tas
Lessons From NOF-digi TAS
  • What have we learnt from supporting the NOF-digi programme:
  • Use of Standards
    • Best practices not necessarily embedded if imposed externally
    • Formal compliance monitoring can be expensive (& unproductive)
  • Establishing Community of Practice
    • Limitations of top-down & centralised support
    • Sustainability problems of large, monolithic and centrally owned support resources


support infrastructure
Support Infrastructure


  • Opportunity to exploit deliverables from JISC-funded QA Focus project:
    • 100+ briefing documents & 30+ case studies
    • Licensed (where possible) under Creative Commons
    • UKOLN are continuing to publish new documents (documents on Folksonomies, AJAX, Podcasting, Wikis, etc. published recently)
  • Case Study Template
    • About the Project
    • Area covered
    • Approach taken
    • Lessons Learnt / Things We'd Do Differently
  • Case studies:
    • Opportunity to describe experiences in specific areas
    • Standard template to ensure consistency & provide focus
    • Allows UKOLN to promote projects' work 
    • Project get better Google rating 
support infrastructure 2
Support Infrastructure (2)


  • How do we integrate the standards catalogue with implementation experiences, etc.
    • Linking to related information in Wikipedia (the world can help the updating)
    • Uploading information to Wikipedia – the wider community can help to update and maintain it
    • Making information available with CC licences – so others can use it, update it – and hopefully give feedback on enhancements
    • Use of syndication technologies (RSS & OPML)
  • Note this is a Web 2.0 approach:
    • Uses Web 2.0 syndication technologies
    • Trusts users and benefits from a wide user base
    • Contributes to Web 2.0 services
support model
Support Model
  • Different stakeholders have different interests
  • Developers
    • Selection of standards & architectures
  • Users
    • Is it usable?
    • Will it do what I want?
    • Will I use it?
    • Can I use it in various contexts?
  • Funders, etc
    • Addressing differing interests
similar approaches elsewhere
Similar Approaches Elsewhere


  • AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council) programmes:
    • Requirement for bids to include technical appendix
    • Covers open standards, metadata, documentation, rights, preservation, …
    • Bids marked by technical experts
    • Flawed technical proposals are informed of deficiencies
    • Training and Advice provided to community to help raise awareness of best practices and improve quality of development proposals
parallels with web 2 0
Parallels With Web 2.0

Web 2.0

  • This approach has many parallels with Web 2.0
  • Web 2.0 Culture
    • Openness: Encourage of sharing by developers (problems as well as successes); use of CC; …
    • Always beta: There is not a single correct solution, but a process of continual development
    • User-focussed: Importance of satisfying user communities, rather than a set of rules
  • Web 2.0 technologies
    • Alerts & Syndication: Speedy alerts for fellow developers and reuse of content for developers
    • Blogs & Wikis: Tools for developers to facilitate sharing and collaborative working
example syndicating content

QA Focus resources are embedded in University of Waterloo Web site. Resources are also being ported to a Wiki to support ongoing maintenance by Web Standards community.

Example: Syndicating Content
  • Note importance of: (a) RSS and OPML (b) modular approach and (c) Creative Commons licence to maximise use & reuse of 100+ briefing documents
  • To conclude:
    • Open standards are important for large-scale development work
    • It is therefore important to have a pragmatic approach and not hide behind dogma
    • The contextual approach:
      • Allows scope to address complexities of technologies; deployment environments; etc.
      • Best deployed within a supportive open standards culture
      • Can be extended to other relevant areas
    • We can use Creative Commons licences for standards information; support materials; etc.
    • We can (and should) take a Web 2.0 approach to support materials (and not just end user services)