[sc34wg3] RE: Public Interest and ISO WAS: [topicmapmail] <mergeMap> quest ions

Mason, James David (MXM) sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 16:24:09 -0400

At the risk of inflaming some of the participants further, I'm going to say
something on behalf of the ISO process.

The ISO process is indeed intended to serve something that might be termed
"the public interest", and that is why the members are national
organizations, not corporations or individuals. The ISO was created in the
late 1940s out of the same movement that created the UN (though many of the
component standards bodies, like ANSI and BSI, existed earlier). Of course,
ISO's processes were created before we had much experience with
multinational corporations that could afford to have representatives on many
national committees that affected them (as IBM once did). Remember that ISO
isn't just in the computer industry. They do work in many areas, from
textiles to fire extinguishers to industrial fasteners. So the things we see
in our restricted world are only a part of what ISO is working on.

On the whole, ISO has been successful. We wouldn't have either SGML or Topic
Maps without the ISO process. Nor would we have the W3C, OASIS, or a lot of
other things. It doesn't really bother us in ISO that those other
organziations have come along, because we can work with them, too.

The purpose of the ISO procedures is to ensure some sort of due process in
the development of standards. And that is one of the areas of their greatest
success. Almost all the other organizations that have gone into some sort of
standards development have modelled their process on that at ISO. I believe
that they have been most successful where their imitation has been closest.
It's no accident that many of the leaders in development in other
organizations got their training in the ISO process. Certainly all (with the
possible exception of the Empire of Tim) look to the ISO for direction,
which is probably one reason that OASIS is looking at how they can establish
liaison with SC34 to participate in the ISO process.

Someone asked earlier in this thread where the user participation was in the
ISO process. I can't speak for all the hundreds of ISO groups, but I can
certainly speak for SC34, in which I have participated for 20 years. SC34
has always asserted that we're a user-driven organization. I can think of
other ISO committees that were dominated by corporate interests, to their
detriment. In particuar, the former SC18, which once was SC34's parent (when
we were SC18/WG8) had too much corporate flavor, and it went down, leaving
us, the little group of users, as its successor. We always prided ourselves
that even when we _did_ work for large corporations or institutions, we were
working on behalf of the end users. (Anybody who thinks Charles Goldfarb was
really working for IBM's corporate goals back in the early 80's doesn't know
either IBM or Charles.) We were proud that we were a bit subversive to
promote something like SGML, which was one of those things that users wanted
but in many ways cut at the heart of corporate desires to control data. If
you look at the current membership of SC34, you won't find many champions of
corporate power, even though some of us work for large organizations. You'll
find a lot more small businesses and consultancies than anything else (e.g.,
Coolheads Consulting, Ontopia). 

Someone also asked how many Topic Map systems standards organizations are
buying. I just came back from a meeting sponsored by ANSI (Karl Best, of
OASIS, was on a panel with me) in which they were encouraging ALL their
standards committees, not just those in computing, to move to the XML model
for development of their documents. And, yes, they are thinking of setting
up a Topic Map system to manage the interconnections among the projects.

In short, don't fire off against the ISO process unless you've given it a
whirl yourself. It may not be what you think it is.

Jim Mason

James David Mason, Ph.D.

Y-12 National Security Complex
Bldg. 9113, M.S. 8208
P.O. Box 2009
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-8208

+1 865 574 6973

Chairman, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34