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Addressing the Limitations of Open Standards

Addressing the Limitations of Open Standards



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Published by Brian Kelly
Kelly, B., et al., Addressing The Limitations of Open Standards. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2007 at
Also available at
Kelly, B., et al., Addressing The Limitations of Open Standards. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2007 at
Also available at

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Published by: Brian Kelly on Apr 21, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Addressing The Limitations Of Open Standards
Brian Kelly
, Marieke Guy
and Alastair Dunning
* UKOLN, University of Bath, UK <http://www.ukoln.ac.uk> + AHDS (Arts and Humanities Data Service), UK <http://www.ahds.ac.uk/> 
 The importance of open standards in the development of widelyaccessible and interoperable services in the cultural heritage sector isgenerally accepted. It might, therefore, be reasonable to assume thatuse of open standards should be mandatory in the development of networked services. However experience has shown that the use of open standards is not always straightforward and that open standardsdo not always succeed in gaining acceptance in the market place. This should not, however, mean an abandonment of a commitment toseek to exploit the benefits of open standards. Rather there is a needto be honest about possible limitations and to ensure that there issufficient flexibility within the approaches taken in development workto accommodate limitations and deficiencies. This paper outlines a contextual model for the selection and use of open standards, which was developed initially to support JISC'sdevelopment programmes within the UK higher and further educationcommunity. The paper provides background to this work and reviewsthe current status of the implementation of this approach. Finally itconclude by describing how this community-based approach to openstandards can benefit from a wider acceptance of the contextual modeland a collaborative approach to both using existing resources andsupport materials and in the maintenance and development of newresources.Keywords: Open Standards, Polices; Digital Library
 The importance of open standards for those involved in thedevelopment of widely accessible and interoperable services in thecultural heritage sector is generally accepted. Open standards are onthe whole regarded very positively by public sector organisations. Why,then, isn’t use of open standards ubiquitous?It could be argued that the reason is due to a lack of understanding of the benefits of open standards or because of inertia, with developerscontinuing to make use of proprietary solutions they have expertise in.Such a belief would suggest that greater use of open standards
requires a mixture of the carrot (greater promotion of the benefits) andthe stick (mandating use of open standards and penalties for non-compliance).In reality, however, the authors feel that there is a generalunderstanding of the benefits of open standards in the culturalheritage sector. We also feel that, although there will be occasionswhen mandating use of open standards is needed, there are dangerswith this approach. Potentially this could result in services beingdeveloped which fail to be successfully deployed because the openstandards are too costly to deploy, are immature, fail to deliver theservices which the user community expects or have become out-dateddue to developments elsewhere or to changes in user expectations. There have been many examples of IT development projects in thepublic sector in which the costs have escalated and the services havefailed to live up to their expectations. An inflexible top-down approachto development methodologies, such as a formal commitment to a setof standards, may be one reason for such problems. There is thereforea need to ensure that sufficient flexibility is provided in the selectionand use of open standards to avoid such mistakes being repeated.
Open Standards
Definition of Open StandardsIn a paper on open standards it is important to have a clear definitionof the meaning of the term. In practice, however, it can be difficult toreach an agreed definition. Rather than attempting to produce a formaldefinition the following list of the characteristics of open standards isgiven:
 The development of open standards is the responsibility of atrusted neutral organisation.
 The responsibility for the ongoing maintenance anddevelopment of open standards is taken by a trusted neutralorganisation.
Involvement in the development of open standards is opento all.
 There are no discriminatory barriers to use of openstandards.
Access to open standards is available to all, without anyfinancial barriers.It should be noted, however, that such characteristics do notnecessarily apply to all organisations with a responsibility for openstandards. For example within organisations such as W3C (the World
Wide Web Consortium) discussions on areas in which standardisationwill occur are decided by member organisations who have paid therequired membership fee. Similarly the initial discussions andagreements on the preferred approaches to the standardisation workmay be determined by such member organisations. Also standardsproduced by organisation such as the BSI (British Standards Institution)are not necessarily available free-of-charge.Why Use Open Standards?Open standards are important in the development of networkedservices for several reasons. They aim to:
Support interoperability:
Interoperability is often critical tothose creating digital services. There will be a need to ensure thatservices and data can be used not only within a correctenvironment, but also across other digital services and acrossother application areas. A prime purpose of open standards is toprovide such interoperability.
Maximise access:
Cultural heritage services normally seek tomaximise access to their resources and services. Ideally accesswill not be limited by constraints such as the device used by theend user; their physical location; their location on the network;etc. or personal factors such as disabilities.
Provide application- and device-independence:
The dangersof lock-in to particular applications or hardware platforms arewidely acknowledged.
Ensure architectural integrity:
Unlike proprietary solutions, forwhich the development and intended usage is likely to beconstrained by commercial and competitive factors, openstandards which are developed within a wider context can help toensure architectural integrity across a wide range of scenarios.
Provide long-term access to resources and services:
Longterm access to scholarly resources and cultural heritage resourcesis of particular importance for public sector organisations. The authors of this paper feel that an understanding of such benefits iswidely accepted within the development community. What, therefore,are the barriers to an implementation of a vision based on thisapproach?
 The Complexities of Open Standards
 The reality is that despite the widespread acceptance of theimportance of open standards and the feeling among some that use of open standards should be mandatory in the development of networked

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