[sc34wg3] Re: Public Interest and ISO WAS: [topicmapmail] <mergeMap> questions

Steven R. Newcomb sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Fri, 19 Oct 2001 11:53:37 -0500

[Murray Altheim:]

> I don't see the current discussion as productive in
> determining who among the ISO committee, any of its
> members, or anyone on this forum as being either
> better qualified or better placed in serving the
> "public good."

I'm sorry if I sounded like I was promoting persons.  I
was trying to promote ideas.

> Only in hindsight could one determine which better
> served. It's not about intention.

I disagree.  Of course it's about intention!  If we
don't intend to serve the public interest, then we will
only do so by accident.  We are very likely to serve
the public interest better if we actually intend to do

> If XTM is not simple, straightforward, and can't be
> understood without an exhaustive education, if such
> an education is required to author a topic map, if
> its processing model cannot be understood by software
> developers, if a user of topic map software finds
> that a reference to an online taxonomy causes an
> enormous taxonomy to be downloaded (which it's
> unlikely its owners would even allow in many cases
> even if the user was willing to wait and had the
> space in memory and hard drive to contain it and
> process it), well, XTM will not succeed.

First of all, the points you make are all very relevant
to the public interest.  Furthermore, I know you,
Murray, and I know that you are so deeply committed to
the public interest that, most of the time, you're not
even aware that it's an issue.  (And I would venture to
say that this is the case with just about everyone in
our community.)

But just looking at your words, and if I did not know
you personally, I would get the message that your
primary intention to is "make XTM succeed" -- to make
it be adopted by the mass market.  It's not at all
obvious that you regard XTM as a tool for providing
some specific benefit to the public.

I'm not splitting hairs, here.  The distinctions we
make between means and ends inform everything that we
do.  For example, the primary goal of Microsoft is to
make its products succeed.  For a commercial venture,
there's nothing wrong with that.  But consider how
different Microsoft's products would be if Microsoft's
primary goal were to enhance human productivity,
instead of using human productivity enhancement as just
one means of generating profit.

I guess what I'm saying is that the development of a
public standard need not itself be a commercial
venture.  It can have different priorities.  Widespread
adoption need not be an end in itself, but rather a
means to another goal.  That other, primary goal,
whatever it is, must be the basis of our discussions.
Otherwise, we may make a mistake, and, for example, get
the wrong standard widely adopted.


Steven R. Newcomb, Consultant

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