I believe congratulations are in order to Microsoft and Ecma’s TC45 for what appears to be a new world record for creating a standard. Their recently-approved Office Open XML (OOXML) standard weighed in at 6,456 pages yet took only 357 days to be reviewed, edited and approved, making it not only the largest markup specification, but possibly also the fastest to complete its standardization cycle.
To put the magnitude of this accomplishment into perspective, I looked at a variety of other successful standards from various standards bodies, such as:
- OASIS OpenDocument Format (ODF)
- OASIS Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)
- W3C Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL)
- W3C XHTML
- W3C Scalable Vector Language (SVG)
- W3C Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)
- IETF MIME
- Ecma C#
- Ecma C++/CLI
In all cases I looked at how long the specification took to be standardized, from when the initial draft was made available (whether developed within the technical committee, or submitted by a vendor at committee formation) to the time when the standard was approved. So we’re looking at the complete editing/review/approval time, not including the time to author the initial draft. I also looked at the length of the resulting standard.
(Click on the above chart for a larger view)
As you can see, there is a noticeable trend with previous standards, where longer specifications took longer to edit, review and approve than shorter ones. This was the received wisdom, that standardization was a slow process, and this deliberate pace was necessary not only to achieve technical excellence, but also to socialize the specification and build industry consensus.
Also, previous specifications seemed to top out at around 1,000 pages. Larger than that and they tended to be broken into individual sub-standards which were reviewed and approved individually.
The general practice, as shown in this data, has been for standards to take from 0.1 – 1.2 pages per day, for a complete review/edit/approval cycle. Even other Microsoft specifications in Ecma have fit within these parameters, such as C# (1.2 pages/day) and C++/CLI (0.7 pages/day).
Thus the remarkable achievement of Microsoft and Ecma TC45, who not only managed to create a standard an order of magnitude larger than any other markup standard I’ve seen, but at the same time managed to complete the review/edit/approve cycle faster than any other markup standard I’ve seen. They have achieved an unprecedented review/edit/approval rate of 18.3 pages/day, 20-times faster than industry practice, a record which will likely stand unchallenged for the ages.
I think we would all like to know how they did it. High-altitude training? Performance enhancing drugs? Time travel? A pact with the Devil? I believe you will all share with me an earnest plea for them to share the secret of their productivity and efficiency with the world and especially with ISO, who will surely need similar performance enhancements in order for them to review this behemoth of a standard within their “Fast Track” process.
I am optimistic, that once the secret of OOXML’s achievement gets out, the way we make standards will never be the same again.
1/26/07 — corrected two typographical errors pointed out by a reader
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