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Debate Around The Need For The Open Web Foundation

by Mark Little on Aug 13, 2008 |
At OSCON 2008 David Recordon announced the creation of the Open Web Foundation, whose goals are:
... to create a home for community-driven specifications. Following the open source model similar to the Apache Software Foundation, the foundation is aimed at building a lightweight framework to help communities deal with the legal requirements necessary to create successful and widely adopted specification.

The foundation is trying to break the trend of creating separate foundations for each specification, coming out of the realization that we could come together and generalize our efforts. The details regarding membership, governance, sponsorship, and intellectual property rights will be posted for public review and feedback in the following weeks.

As we work out the fine details of the foundation, we invite and encourage individuals to come and join the discussion. To ask questions please visit our Q&A page. You are also invited to join the community and discuss ideas and specifications you would like to see developed within the foundation.
Some laudable goals and with Google, Yahoo, O'Reilly and others behind them it seems that there is interest. Dion Almaer is "excited" by this development:
Imagine that you came up with a great idea, something like OAuth. That great idea gains some traction and more people want to get involved. What do you do? People ask about IP policy, and governance, and suddenly you see yourself on the path of creating a new MyApiFoundation.

Wait a minute! There are plenty of standards groups and other organizations out there, surely you don’t have to create MyApiFoundation?

Well, there is the W3C and OASIS, which are pay to play orgs. They have their place, but MyApi may not fit in there. The WHATWG has come up with fantastic work, but the punting on IP is an issue too.

MyApi has some code in there, so how about putting this in Apache? Apache is great for code, but it doesn’t deal with the other stuff, which is fine. That isn’t its mandate. Apache does things very well though, especially when it comes to governance and the incubator process. What if we had a foundation that had some of the same values around people participating (so anyone can, versus companies) and a varied community (not just a few blokes from the same company).

This is why I am hopeful for the Open Web Foundation. It is a new place to look at if you come up with something helpful for the Open Web, a place that may match your values.

Although the OWF does point out that they are not competing with these other standards bodies, but rather "The communities we’re working with are currently coming together in a very ad-hoc fashion, and if we can help them have clean intellectual property, it makes it easier for a community to take their open specification to a standards body." But others are less convinced that there is a need for yet another standards organization. As Dare Obasanjo points out, the usual suspects of W3C and OASIS do charge fees (sometimes these can be high, but there are individual memberships usually around $500) but is cost a necessary or sufficient reason to start up yet another group? Especially when the IETF has been around since 1992. Dare again:
The IETF policy on membership doesn't get more straightforward; join a mailing list. I am listed as a member of the Atom working group in RFC 4287 because I was a participant in the atom-syntax mailing list. The organization has a well thought out and detailed policy on intellectual property rights as it relates the IETF specifications which is detailed in RFC 3979: Intellectual Property Rights in IETF Technology and slightly updated in RFC 4879: Clarification of the Third Party Disclosure Procedure in RFC 3979.
Bill also agrees with others that there seems no good reason for creating the OWF than "because we can":
I can see why a group of likeminded people wanting to retain control of the overall social and technical direction of a spec would want to stay outside them - a bit like kicking off your own OSS project (though I draw no significance from the OWF being unveiled at OSCON). I've done some work in the IETF, JCP, and the W3C, and been on the edge of OASIS. I think you absolutely have to have your act together going into any of these organisations, technically and politically - politically, because technology specifications aren't like OSS projects insofar as they have a strong economic slant - iow, someone's lunch is at stake. Maybe that's why the OWF exists, who knows. That said, I can't imagine why anyone would want to redo the process and IPR stuff that is required of globally deployed technology; it's critically important and absolutely no fun whatsoever.
Dare concludes with a question directed around Google's participation in this activity:
I can understand that a bunch of kids fresh out of college are ignorant of the IETF and believe they have to reinvent the wheel to Save the Open Web but I am surprised that Google which has had several of it's employees participate in the IETF processes which created RFC 4287, RFC 4959, RFC 5023 and RFC 5034 would join in this behavior. Why would Google decide to sponsor a separate standards organization that competes with the IETF that has less inclusive processes than the IETF, no clear idea of how corporate sponsorship will work and a yet to be determined IPR policy?
We'll have to see if this effort really does take off or whether it's just another flash in the pan. But with OASIS, W3C and IETF all going strong it is difficult to see OWF having much of an impact in the near future.

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