April 11, 2006
The Minn Open Formats Bill: Bandwagon or Babel?
Andy Updegrove writes "It is perhaps no surprise that Minnesota, a blue state like Massachusetts and heir to the political traditions of the Prairie Populists, should be the next state to host a bill to require "open data formats." In spirit, this is a good thing, as it indicates a broadening appeal for open document format standards that, if missing, would be worrisome. But is the bill as submitted an encouraging signal that a bandwagon effect is taking hold, or a step towards standards Babel, and a leap backwards? The question is a serious one for a variety of reasons, and cuts to the heart of why standards exist. Clearly, the definition of an "open standard" contained in the Minnesota bill includes many of the attributes that make a standard useful, such as requirements intended to prevent "lock-in" by a single proprietary vendor. But if everyone comes up with their own definition of what an "open standard" means, then there is no "standard" for what a "standard" is, and there is no incentive for a vendor to support amy of these so-called "standards," because none represents a market large enough to design for."