Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is An Open Standard Anyway ?

Summary: Not everyone agrees on the definition of Open Standards, especially HL7 enthusiasts who work for global multi-national companies and don't seem to be sensitive to the needs of Open Source developers.

Long Version.

It seems that standards are like opinions. Everyone has one, and everyone can make them up on a whim.

So it seems is true for Open Standards too, not only for the standards themselves, but even for the definition of what a Standard, or an Open Standard, is.

In Keith Boone's latest rant (his words), he apparently objects to the recent movement in opposition to the observation that HL7 is a CLOSED STANDARD, by many peoples' definition, though not his.

He apparently objects to the fact that he works his butt off (and is paid by GE Healthcare for the privilege) to develop standards for an organization (HL7) that is getting criticized for both CHARGING FOR ACCESS and CHARGING FOR USE of its standard. And he points to the principles espoused by a new organization OpenStand as being justification for the position adopted the HL7 Evil Empire.

As Keith quite rightly points out, nothing is free, somebody has to pay, and there are all sorts of revenue models for standard development organizations, but making standards Open Source unfriendly is not, in my opinion, a desirable approach.

Hence he prefers global multinational vendor friendly industrial definitions of "open standards", since for those companies the cost of fees and contributions is lost in the noise and patent litigation is a way of life.

I prefer Open Source and developing nation friendly definitions of "open standards" such as those of the Open Source Initiative listed under Open Standards Requirement for Software.

For a fairly exhaustive review of other peoples' definitions, you may find the Wikipedia entry about Open Standards informative.
From the perspective of the independent open source developer, I disagree with Keith strongly; it is indeed extraordinarily important that FREE (as in no cost to obtain or use the standard) is part of the definition.

In my opinion, Open Access and Open Use are a much higher priority than having the formal privilege of voting, which he sees as the tradeoff when contrasting the revenue model of standards organizations that have large fees for membership, but not for access or use (like the W3C standards). I can't say I value that privilege as highly, since one can still contribute. I have no W3C experience, but if one uses DICOM as a model for comparison, the formal privilege of voting is vastly over rated, since almost every decision is made by consensus and on merit.

Also, I don't feel too sorry for Keith's desire for control, since GE is an HL7 Organizational Member, so he gets to contribute and make decisions. GE also contributes vast sums to NEMA, which funds DICOM, so arguably GE's generosity (enlightened self-interest) is more than partly responsible for DICOM's existence and continued success.

Regardless, the term Open Standard has become relatively meaningless given that there is no authoritative source of a definition, but I will make no apologies for continuing to lobby for HL7 (especially CDA) to either become Truly Open (by my definition), or for us to find an alternative.

Keith also mentions the matter of respect.

He gets a lot of respect, from everyone, including me, and he well deserves it, for the merit of his many contributions in many forms.

But he does not get a free pass for being a lackey of the Evil Empire, which continues to expand its greedy tentacles into every aspect of US healthcare IT, extorting fees from the public as it goes.



Keith Boone said...

Your "evil empire" is an organization made up of real people whom you not just offend with that statement, but who can see that there is more than just a question of black and white. Many of them have been trying to change things in the organization, and today, you can see one of our major successes unfolding.

To paraphrase Luke Skywalker: "There is still good in it", and I think today, we've proved it without having to watch it die to make the point.

David Clunie said...

Hi Keith

It certainly sounds like good news.

But unfortunately, if I follow the link that you supplied to, it says only "You must be logged in as a member of to access this resource.".