Open Standards as Commons for Everybody

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"There are a number of ways such standards could be decided:

  • the corporatist way: standardization could be “left to the market”, with all the companies involved in the electricity sector doing everything in their power to get their competitors to adopt their preferred ways of doing things, thus giving them a first-mover advantage. But this tends to result in competing systems that don’t inter-operate for years or decades, resulting in uncertainty and inconvenience for both businesses and end users.
  • the statist way: standards could be dictated by government, obliging any company operating in that government’s jurisdiction to follow one set of standards. But this doesn’t solve any problems involving inter-operation of systems across state borders, and government couldn’t do a good job of it without doing extensive consultation with engineers and designers anyway.
  • the commons way: non-governmental and non-commercial standards bodies are set up as independent organisations, inviting participation by engineers from as many different organisations as possible, who proceed towards consensus through discussions focused on measurable technical criteria (eg does it work? Is it safe? Is it efficient?). Once these cross-industry consultations reach consensus on a standard, governments may make some parts of the standards compulsory for public safety reasons (eg standard voltage for household wiring and appliance to prevent house fires from non-standard voltages clashing).

One way to think of standards is as peace treaties between businesses competing in the same industry. Standards bodies play a role analogous to the role played by inter-state treaty bodies like he UN or the WTO. There would be very little point in group with a shared political-economic ideology sitting down and defining their own standards for electrical systems, because there’s absolutely no reason for anyone outside their group to implement such standards." (Loomio, March 2017)

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