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What is Rick smoking?

Former Microsoft consultant Rick Jelliffe has posted his own particular brand of science fiction/fantasy, this time in his favorite subgenre, a parody of a drug-induced psychosis, where after uneasy slumber Rick awakes in some alternate parallel universe and finds that JTC1/SC34 is open and transparent and OASIS is closed, and decides to write a rambling blog post about it.

If you like unintentional humor, you will enjoy reading Rick’s over-the-top post.

Rick suggests that organizationally JTC1/SC34 is a more participatory environment for developing standards than OASIS.

JTC1’s process, based on National Body voting is both effective … and more genuinely open, because it is impossible to stack either directly or indirecty.

Let’s test that proposition. Let’s compare OASIS and JTC1/SC34.

Who can participate? In OASIS, anyone can participate, from any company, organization, government agency, non-profit corporation in the world. Or you can join as an unaffiliated individual, as many have. You don’t need your government’s permission to join. You just do it. Most join with a nominal membership fee ($300 for individuals) but membership grants are available in some cases, when the fee would be burden for active individual contributors.

What about participation in JTC1/SC34? First, you must be a member of your NB. How do you become a member of your NB? In the US the price is $1,200 and you must be representing a company or organization. Individuals? Sorry, you are not allowed to participate. In other countries the rules vary. In some cases membership is not available at all at any price. You are essentially wait-listed until an opening becomes available. (Sorry, we don’t have enough seats, we heard in Portugal). In some countries, like China, membership is forbidden to native citizens who are employees of foreign subsidiaries in China. In other countries you can’t join at all. It is entirely a government decision. So, good luck joining the NB of Syria, where the constitution has been suspended under emergency rule since 1963. (But somehow they managed to make time to vote on the OOXML ballot. Zimbabwe as well, that paragon of open participation.)

Now, it is entirely possible for a standards organization to appear open, but in practice to be inaccessible. So we must look at the complete cost of participation, not just the initial membership fees.

The OASIS ODF TC does its work entirely on an email list, a wiki, and via weekly phone calls, which are toll-free calls for most participants. I don’t recall there ever being a face-to-face meeting, certainly not so long as I’ve been a member. This use of technology lowers the barrier to participation, so anyone can be effective on the TC if they wish. In particular it makes it easier for those who have day jobs and can only contribute to the mailing list during non-work hours.

What about JTC1/SC34? To participate effectively requires attendance at several international meetings each year (Plenary’s, WG’s, Ad-hocs, BRM’s, etc.), as well as participation at NB meetings. Since many of the participants are representative of large corporations or government agencies, a junket mentality prevails and the meetings are often held in some of the most expensive places in the world: Geneva, Granada, London, Kyoto, Jeju Island, etc.

JTC1 does not allow meeting participation by telephone. Since important votes, are held at these meetings, and no provision is made for remote participation, one cannot effectively participate in JTC1/SC34 without a substantial budget for international travel. Attendance at a single meeting — the DIS 29500 BRM — was $3687.52 for me, and I flew coach and ate cheap. How many standards meetings like that can you as an individual or your small company afford per year?

Further, note the nature of your membership — what can you actually do? Can you vote? In OASIS, it is one person/one vote. In the TC, your vote as an individual with a $300 membership fee is counted exactly the same as my vote representing an OASIS Foundational Sponsor. At the organizational level, it is one company/one vote, and the smallest OASIS member organization has exactly the same vote as the largest.

In JTC1/SC34 however, you typically can’t vote at all. NB’s vote, not individuals, not companies. So your opinion and your wishes are subject to the will of your NB. If your opinion varies from your NB’s, you may not be accredited to attend an international meeting, and even if you are able to attend you may not be allowed to speak your opinions. This extra level of indirection and censorship means that you, as an individual, can do little. And to the extent your NB’s committee is stacked by a single vendor and their partner community, or your NB decides to overrule or ignore its technical committee, or Microsoft calls your head of state to change the NB’s vote, or any of the dozens of other documented shenanigans that recently occurred, your entire membership fee and participation will be an entire waste of time, money and effort.

Membership is OASIS is far more open and inclusive. You join. You discuss. You vote. Period. In JTC1/SC34, you are mired in layers of bureaucracy at the national and international level, in a system crafted by and for the big boys to cut back room deals and manipulate the process to the benefit of large corporations.

(Now that isn’t to say that there are not some individual consultants out there who thrive in the JTC1 environment by mastering its dark, dusty, demon-haunted hallways. Even the largest corporations occasionally have need of this expertise, as Rick and others are quite aware. If JTC1/SC34 were truly open and transparent, such skills would not be needed. You certainly don’t see anyone selling their services to help companies navigate OASIS, do you?)

What about transparency? As Rick demonstrates, OASIS meeting minutes and agenda are all posted and public. So is our mailing list. So are all of our drafts. So is our member and public comments.

But in JTC1/SC34, most of the documents are private, only accessible to SC34 members by password. And then occasionally JTC1 will step in prevent SC34 from releasing their own work , suppressing documents even from their own SC members. There are no public comments to speak of, and member comments on draft standards are secret.

So when you are back from your “trip”, Rick, please let us know again, who wins on openness, participation and transparency?

And for the record, a couple of outright deceptions in Rick’s post:

  • Rick says that there are 80 NB’s, and thousands people participating in JTC1, but only 13 people participating on the ODF TC. This is a particularly inept comparison. Why is he comparing all of JTC1 to a single OASIS TC? If you look at OASIS overall, you will see that OASIS has more than 5,000 participants, representing over 600 organizations and individual members in 100 countries. The ODF TC itself has 53 members, including 7 members of JTC1/SC34.
  • Rick picks a “random” ODF TC minutes post from a year ago to attempt to suggest domination by a single company. Not so random a choice, methinks. It was a rare joint meeting of the ODF TC and the Metadata subcommittee, which brought in a far greater number of Sun employees than typically participate in a call.
{ 11 comments… add one }
  • zoobab 2008/07/18, 8:50 am

    Here is the list of participants to the London meeting:

    Adam Farquhar (Ecma)
    Alex Brown (UK)
    Benjamin Henrion (BE)
    Brett Roberts (NZ)
    Dave Welsh (US)
    Doug Mahugh (Ecma)
    Francis Cave (GB)
    Isabelle Valet-Harper (Ecma)
    Istvan Sebestyen (Ecma)
    Jasper Hedegaard Bojsen (DK)
    Jean Paoli (Ecma)
    Jean Stride (GB)
    Jesper Lund Stocholm (DK)
    Jirka Kosek (CZ)
    Keld Simonsen (NO)
    Ken Holman (CA)
    Kimmo Bergius (FI)
    Manu Setälä (FI)
    Michiel Leenaars (NL)
    Murata Makoto (JP)
    Patrick Durusau (US)
    Pia Elleby Lange (DK)
    Rex Jaeschke (Ecma)
    Shahzad Rana (NO)
    Wemba Opota (CI)

    There seems to be an abnormal concentration of Microsofties in there. Yet another sign of vendor capture?

  • Nate 2008/07/18, 10:34 am

    I’m not sure Rick is smoking something so much as shooting it up. A casual perusal of http://www.oasis-open.org reveals a link on the right for “mailing list directory” which goes to http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/

    So I can scroll down to “OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) TC” And there’s a nice link for the monthly archives: http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/office/

    Well, that was easy. I can see a number proposals and submissions for corrections. And if I want to participate on a call, here’s an example of the announcement for a forthcoming call… http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/office/200803/msg00042.html

    follows by the minutes for that meeting… http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/office/200803/msg00049.html

    Further we can see some results from one of those meetings… http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/office/200803/msg00040.html

    Along with a reply from a Chinese developer about the use of imperial units… http://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/office/200803/msg00064.html

    Where the hell can I get that kind of transparency for JTC1? Have there EVER been minutes published from, say, the OOXML BRM? If memory serves, the public was SPECIFICALLY BARRED from attending that discussion, and participants were prohibited from making public statements about the contents.

    Whatever drugs Rick is on, he needs to talk to his dealer. His supply is clearly tainted.

  • Rob 2008/07/18, 10:37 am

    So a quick tally shows that there will be 25 participants, of which 12 are Ecma TC45 members (as listed) or Microsoft employees (Brett Roberts, Dave Welsh, Jasper Bojsen, Kimmo Bergius, Shahzad Rana and Wemba Opota).

    Nothing like a good, stuffed committee to start things off right. Of course, this committee is only advisory. Alex Brown will decide the contents of the actual maintenance proposal, and SC34 (another stuffed committee) will vote on whether to approve that proposal.

    That’s why I say this standard is on a fast track back to Ecma. Microsoft can force through whatever terms they want on OOXML. This meeting cannot possibly reach consensus on anything unless it is acceptable to Microsoft. There is no logic reason to even negotiate. They have all the cards. They can simply dictate terms.

  • Ian Easson 2008/07/18, 1:36 pm

    Rob and Zoobab appear to be confusing SC34 with its ad-hoc committee AHG1.

    The way the latter was set up was:
    – This is a temporary group (about 6 months lifetime)
    – Membership explicitly includes Ecma, because of its expertise in the area
    – It is not surprising that NB’s would send people with expertise in OOXML. It’s not intended to be a forum for fighting over IS29500, but to discuss what should be done with it technically and procedurally.
    – The group does not decide anything. It is only there to advise the convenor.

  • Rob 2008/07/18, 2:48 pm

    I’m not convinced we are confusing anything.

    Suppose this were purely about expertise. Once you send the Secretary General of Ecma (Sebestyen), the Chair of Ecma TC45 (Valet-Harper) and Microsoft’s head XML architect (Paoli) what incremental expertise “technical and procedural” is contributed by sending an additional 8 other Microsoft employees?


    You certainly get a lot of additional votes and influence though.

  • Gerben 2008/07/19, 4:54 am

    Out of curiosity, with Oasis as open as you described, what’s to stop Microsoft from sending a platoon of employees at $300 each to ‘assist’ in ODF development and stack every single committee?

  • Rob 2008/07/19, 7:27 am

    Good question. $300 are for individual membership. For corporate membership, the fee is on a sliding scale, based on the size of the company, and entitles the company to as many TC participants as they want.

    The disincentive to stuffing a TC in OASIS is that everyone has an equal ability to do this. So if Microsoft showed up one day with 10 new TC members, then one might imagine that at the very next meeting, IBM would add 10, Sun would add 10 and Google would add 10, and so on.

    So the disincentive is really that of mutually assured destruction.

  • Anonymous 2008/07/20, 2:25 am

    When you put it that way, Rob, it makes me wonder. After all, do they *really* mind the “destruction” which is intended as the deterrent?

    If things got so bad nobody could get any work done on ODF, it would certainly seem to suit their purposes…

  • gerben 2008/07/20, 8:37 am

    Given Microsoft’s proven ability to work through third parties that’s not quite as reassuring as I’d like. At least the sudden stacking of NBs for OOXML was obvious because Microsoft had to deal with the approaching deadline… There’s more room for subtlety here.

    Oh well. We can hope, I suppose.

  • Rick Jelliffe 2008/07/21, 9:02 am

    Very silly.

    AHG1 is a forum to discuss and negotiate the maintenance not a voting group. The particular maintenance regime from any fast-track procedure needs to have buy-in from the original sponsoring body, whether OASIS or Ecma.

    Rather than these conspiracy theories, why not see the numbers as some kind of hopeful sign about the continuing commitment from the Ecma side and the continuing interest from the NB side?

  • Rob 2008/07/21, 11:18 am

    Of course the ad-hoc can vote, Rick. It is an OWG, and OWG’s have all the rights of a normal WG, just limited by the scope of their terms of reference. This includes the ability to vote on meeting resolutions.

    I do not share your Pollyannish view that this is a “hopeful sign” of “commitment”. Unless you’ve been hit on the head and have forgotten about the events of the past 18 months, such a view is revisionist, escapist and illustrates a naive understanding of the recent history and dynamics of the SC you claim expertise in.

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