Standards Don’t Just Happen

There are days when I want to bring everyone in tech into one big room and knock all their skulls together until they wake the hell up.

It’s clear that tech is overwhelmingly ruled by children who have no sense of history and no sense of duty to anyone’s welfare other than their own. (See Exhibit A for this week: Apple.)

Really, how many damn web browsers are there in the world? And yet website developers have to go through all sorts of contortions to deliver what should be a simple experience that’s identical for everyone.

Tech children out there will say this is the “market” at work. Having never had an education in economics, free enterprise, ethics, and political economy outside of a sociopathic Ayn Rand novel, they think the chaos and frustration they inflict on the general population is the way things should be.

Here is a bit of a history lesson to start all of you off and to begin your sorting out:

[President Herbert] Hoover had also created a Division of Simplified Practices, whose job it was to standardize and harmonize the distressingly fractious and unresponsive manufacturing and construction sectors. In those days roads were often still paved in brick, and brick was a typical example: sixty-six different sizes were being produced by manufacturers when Hoover ordered research on the topic. This was sheer waste, as far as the utilitarian Hoover was concerned. He therefore pulled the nation’s paving-brick firms into a room and settled the matter; the range of sizes dropped from sixty-six to eleven. Emboldened, Hoover also looked into brick for homes; here he claimed victory outright, for the number of sizes went “from forty-four to one,” the praiseful Irvin reported. Then there were beds. Seventy-four different sizes were available; as a result of encouragement from Hoover, the figure went down to four.

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Put down your damned book about HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, Objective-C and the rest.

Pick up a history book instead.

Get some damned education into your head and start working for the good of the general population instead of only your own.

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2 Comments

Filed under Digital Overthrow, Friction, Minimalism, Reference

2 responses to “Standards Don’t Just Happen

  1. Standards in tech are controlled by tech companies. This isn’t because nobody has tried something else. In web tech, for example, browser makers just implement the features they approve of and like and standards authorities have the choice of standardising what has been implemented, or of being bloody irrelevant.

    Anybody who has been following the history of HTML5 for example has seen that those in charge of the standard (mostly Google employees) ignore almost all feedback on accessibility and security they get.

    The HTML5 codec mess is another one, there’s no universal codec you can use accross all HTML-video supporting browsers.

    The problem with telling people to put down the tech books and pick up the history books is that it only teaches us that we’re powerless, it takes concerted government action to enforce sane standardisation.

    It’s a bigger problem that just with tech and standardisation. The core of the matter is the fact that corporations today favour short term decisions while standards have long-term consequences, they don’t hesitate to chase profits at the expense of the user’s/customer’s longterm welfare.

    Not fixing the inherent insecurity of JS and the DOM in HTML5 means that we will live with a growing parasitic web malware economy for the next 20 years.

    All of the accessibility decisions made today in HTML5 will dictate the overall accessibility landscape for a similar amount of time.

    Microsoft’s decision not to update IE6 crippled the web industry for years and rendered most standards activity for that period irrelevant.

    OTOH, aside from security and accessibility, the web landscape is improving. All of the browsers released this year, whether they’re on Windows, tablets, iOS, Android or even feature phones (Samsung’s Bada OS, for example, has a really nice browser), will have extensive support for most of the important web standards.

    But, yeah, at least in web tech, corporations have a knack for short-sightedness and a tendency towards user hostility and I seriously doubt that we’ll make any sort of headway in getting them to take security and accessibility seriously without government intervention. That’s even without getting into the bullshit Apple’s trying to pull with the iOS app market.

    But government intervention couldn’t force Microsoft to update IE6 or force Amazon to give the Kindle better HTML/CSS support. Both have effectively kept entire industries anchored in 1990s tech there was little they could do to enter the 21st century beyond just praying that those corporations improve their software.

    Microsoft finally will, with its upcoming IE9 (which is very promising). When will Amazon?

    • mikecane

      You make my point precisely: They are more interested in self-interest than in the general welfare. People are getting fed up with people at the top ignoring their welfare. See Tunisia and Egypt and Jordan. If government ever steps in, given the rotten intellectual quality of people it has (see FTC and FCC), the move would be retrogressive instead of progressive. Anyone who ignores this post does so at their own future peril. One of those short-term decisions, you could say.

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