OFE Comment of the Week from the Geneva 2008 Conference

Geneva 2008

Last week OFE ran its Conference in Geneva on Standards and the Future of the Internet. It turned out to be a great event, and I am pleased to say the feedback has been excellent. The Conference was run over two days and looked at issues such as Standards and Innovation, Standards and Democracy, IPR, and the Quality of Standards Development. An enormous thank you to all the speakers. Star event though was without doubt the evening Keynote workshop featuring Vint Cerf, Bob Sutor, Hakon Lie, and Andy Updegrove. The debate would have gone on all night if we had allowed it. As it was, half way through I was given the nod that we gained an extension to the Conference Centre opening hours, so to those who didn’t get to ask their question ( there were still six hands up when I eventually had to call a halt) my apologies. The other key point was the Declaration that we announced at the end of the conference. Signed by some 17 member organisations from across Europe it really spells out the need for increased vigilance from Government in particular if we are to maintain the integrity of Open Standards. More about that another time.

The Conference wasn’t without its stresses – the fact that DHL managed not only not to deliver the stand on time but also to route it via Liepzig (from London)!. They still haven’t managed to get it back yet either!

But of course one of the interesting challenges was to run the Conference in parallel to the OOXML BRM being held in the same building. As I have said this was no coincidence, and as promised to Alex Brown the BRM convenor we kept to our promise of no hassle and no interference with the BRM delegates. Nevertheless I am delighted that so many did register and indeed come to those parts of the conference run outside BRM schedules – indeed close to half registered/attended. Which clearly was a key objective for us – we felt it essential to point out the need for National Bodies to review all the aspects of a proposed standard – not just the technical issues. Those that came to the conference will hopefully have left much the wiser on these facts. But the conference wasn’t just about BRM delegates – despite what some of our detractors would like you to believe. Geneva is a very busy city for other institutions and we made some great contacts from many of these. I was equally pleased to welcome attendees from organisations and companies normally less than complimentary about OFE. After spending a month rubbishing the event, they then booked to attend – praise indeed!

The outcome to the BRM? Well I wasn’t in the meeting so everything has to be second hand, but some key points seem to be clear. Firstly the delegates tried their best and acted thoroughly professionally at an individual level. But essentially it was a farce – apparently only 18% of the consolidated comments being addressed, and many countries being able to speak only once on one of their concerns. Much of the discussion seems to have been reduced to ballots (they need not have gone to Geneva if that was all they were going to do). Not surprisingly some – ECMA et al have welcomed this ‘great success’ – but the real truth is coming out in the blogs that are filling up hour by hour, both by individual delegates and NBs. The real villain is the ‘fast track’ process which was instigated by ECMA and approved by ISO. Totally inappropriate, and all it has done is to bring the entire Standards process into disrepute. There is no point hiding behind the rules – if they are broken they need to be changed. European Commission take note as you decide on your ICT Standardisation review.

The next step is of course down to the National Bodies, who have until the end of March to decide whether they will change their vote. Interestingly whilst the advance conjecture was on NBs maybe switching from a No to a Yes, the anger I heard being expressed was suggesting we may see some go the other way – we will see.

Graham Taylor