July 24th, 2008

OSCON 2008: Introducing the Open Web Foundation


Open Web FoundationToday at OSCON, David Recordon officially announced the formation of the Open Web Foundation. The Open Web Foundation is an interesting step in the ever evolving world of technology "openness." What started with open source code and moved to open data has now evolved to the open Web. And that's an important step.

What is the Open Web Foundation?

According to the Open Web Foundation site:
The Open Web Foundation is an attempt 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.
Take a moment to read that again. Because within that charge lies a very important distinction. A distinction that differentiates the Open Web Foundation from other organizations playing in this space: the Open Web Foundation is focused on the specifications that facilitate the sharing and transmission of data. Not the data itself, the specifications. "The Open Web Foundation is not a standards body," said Scott Kveton. "The W3C, OASIS and others do that fantastically today. This is about helping speed the development and proliferation of open specifications so we can figure out if they make sense or not." My take? For the Open Web Foundation, it is more critical to understand and support how the data is being exchanged and how we build open systems that are interoperable. Because without interoperability and the ability to share, all the data in the world is useless. So what organizations belong to this foundation? Well, you've hit upon another important difference. You see, the Open Web Foundation is an organization of individuals. The following folks are currently part of the foundation, but it's a list that---obviously---is continuing to grow: And as a foundation of individuals, the Open Web Foundation is open to you, as well. Simply join the Open Web Foundation Google Group to begin discussions with the organization and determine how you would like to participate. But just because it's an organization of individuals, that doesn't mean it lacks community support by major players. Who? A few folks you may have heard of:
  • BBC
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • MySpace
  • O'Reilly
  • Plaxo
  • Six Apart
  • Sourceforge
  • Vidoop
  • Yahoo!

The Open Web begins to take shape

David Recordon hinted at the shift to the Open Web perspective in June:
We truly are in an inflection point when it comes to the future of the web. Today I'm wearing my "I support the Open Web" wristband which Mozilla gave away at OSCON last year. So what are you doing to support the Open Web and bring about change?
And Scott Kveton echoed similar thoughts as he responded, in part, to the announcement that Portland-based Jive Software had decided to join the Data Portability project:
The Open Web is the key to the centralized me or citizen-centric web we hear so many people talking about. Without interoperable formats and protocols, all of this stuff will be a pipe dream.
Clearly, there was a different need brewing here. A need to facilitate the development of technologies in an open and accessible way. And that need was not being met by organizations currently working toward those ends.

Pre-launch criticism

News of the Open Web Foundation's pending launch started to leak earlier this week, prompting a largely speculative post on TechCrunchIT---one which was also promoted on TechCrunch, itself---on the "Open Data Foundation," highlighting:
A long running problem in messaging and consistency from advocates of both open source and standards has been the duplicate and overlapping efforts. The best recent example was the split within the RSS camp that resulted in a new Atom syndication format, which in the long-term did not manage to displace RSS and instead divided evangelism efforts. While a similar split along technology lines does not exist in the case of the new Open Data [sic] Foundation and the Data Portability project, it would seem that a more united and single-branded front would be more appropriate considering the shared agenda of both camps.
Hopefully, today's announcement and the resulting coverage will help clear up the story and clarify the focus and intent of this new group.

Portland's response to the OSCON announcement

Marshall Kirkpatrick sees the Open Web Foundation as doing the roll-up-your-sleeves dirty work that will enable the Open Web:
The Open Web Foundation is positioning itself as a complimentary organization. DataPortability.org can handle the evangelism and the Open Web Foundation will do the behind the scenes work to help developers bring code to market. Not completely behind the scenes, but you know what they mean.
Dawn Foster, one of the founding members of the Open Web Foundation, clarifies the OWF focus:
The OWF is not trying to compete with existing standards bodies (IETF, W3C, OASIS, etc.). 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.
And that sounds eerily similar to another organization with whom Dawn is deeply involved, Portland's Legion of Tech. [Update] For additional insight into the reasoning behind the formation of the group, see Scott Kveton's post on the Open Web Foundation announcement.

My first-blush impressions

Is the Open Web Foundation a competitor of the Data Portability project? In terms of mindshare? Absolutely. In terms of technology? Not really. Is that competition a bad thing? Not at all. I've said it time and time again, competition---either real or perceived---defines a market. If you're in a situation where you have no competition, you're either so far ahead of the curve that no one can perceive the value you provide (and you may not survive long enough for anyone to catch up to your line of thinking) or you're doing something in which no one will ever see any value. Either way, a market without competition isn't a market. So as divisive as it seems right now, a little competition is a very good thing. Because it will push people to get things done. It will motivate people to keep things moving. It will force organizations to more tightly define their charters and to more stringently follow their own guidelines. And---perhaps most importantly---it will give everyone a choice of where to spend their time and energy. A monopoly doesn't help anyone.

Okay, so what does the Open Web Foundation mean to me?

First and foremost, the Open Web Foundation will become the facilitator of open specifications. An umbrella resource that helps manage the continuing development of open specs and a means of ensuring consistency and compatibility among the variety of technologies currently in play. As a developer, this means you gain a trusted resource---a partner in helping develop the open Web. "We're trying to create a nonprofit organization that will help these organizations work together," said Recordon. "We need simplicity in these specifications." The thought? Instead of people having to create innumerable organizations to manage and support individual efforts, let's just create one. One that supports all of the different projects.
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.
No doubt, this foundation will have an effect on many efforts around the Silicon Forest. And with the Portland efforts around OpenID---and locals Dawn Foster and Scott Kveton among the founding individuals---the Open Web Foundation is sure to be part of our existence. I, for one, am looking forward to the Open Web, and I applaud these folks taking this step forward.

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3 Responses to “OSCON 2008: Introducing the Open Web Foundation”

  1. It will be interesting to see how far OWF gets. I’m certainly excited to see some long overdue activity in the area of open web interoperability, but I think it will remain to be seen how quickly relevant standards get developed and what the uptake for them is going to look like a year or two from now.

    The signal to noise ratio surrounding open standards is fairly askew. I’ve heard lots and lots of talk and seen very little in the way of actual standards definitions and general web community uptake. Take microformats.org, for example. This is a body dedicated to creating open standards that is absolutely *buried* in its own committee ratification process. There are proposed standards there that have sat 98% complete for several *years*. As a result, the entire movement suffers and the whole arena grows stale.

    So while I think that OWF is a very cool idea with a lot of potential that has some very smart people and big companies behind it, you’ll pardon me if I wait until I see some *actual, implementable standards* before I get too excited.

  2. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Jaybill I hear you. Since the OWF isn’t a standards body, they need some standards with which to work. But hopefully, as a united front, they can help bring some of these issues to the forefront and work on getting them solved.

    Given the participants in this group and their passion for this effort, I would imagine we will be seeing some definitive activity out of this group.

    And I, like you, hope to see that happen.

  3. Matt Bonner says:

    I’d love to see some work start defining an XML format for the configuration of user home pages. I’m thinking of a portable format that works between igoogle, my.yahoo.com, myway.com, etc so that it’s easy to point any site to an XML descriptor for the content I want to see, and dare I dream, how I want to see it presented.

    adéu,
    Mateu


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