dave_winer's picture
Blogging and RSS Software Pioneer; Editor, Scripting News Weblog
Winer's Law of the Internet

Productive open work will only result in standards as long as the parties involved strive to follow prior art in every way possible. Gratuitous innovation is when the standardization process ends, and usually that happens quickly.

Think about the process of arriving at a standard. Someone goes first with something new. Assume it catches on and becomes popular. Because the person did it in an open way, with no patents, or other barriers to competitors using the technology, a second developer decides to do the same thing. The innovator supports this, because he or she wants a standard to develop. At that point the second person has the power to decide how strong a standard it will be. If the new implementation strives to work exactly as the original does, then it's more likely the standard will be strong, and there will be a vibrant market around it. But if the second party decides to use the concept but not be technically compatible, it will be a weak standard. 

One would assume that the second mover would make every effort to do it exactly the same way as the first, but over the years, but this has not been the case. As soon as a standard becomes popular, market forces lead to multiple incompatible ways forward. Microsoft called this Embrace & Extend, but all technology vendors are driven to break standards. Standards can only go a short distance before forking defeats the standardization process. 

This is an extension to Postel's Law (the late Jon Postel was one of the key players of the development of the Internet), which says you should be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you send. It goes further by saying that we should all collectively be conservative in what we send. This keeps the technology small and the market approachable by developers of all sizes. The large companies always try to make the technology complicated to reduce competition to other organizations with large research and development budgets.