Over at his Open Enterprise Blog, Glyn Moody explains “Why Open Source is Replacing Open Standards” by quoting Linux Foundation’s Executive Director, Jim Zemlin, as follows:

Logo of the Linux Foundation

Logo of the Linux Foundation

The largest form of collaboration in the tech industry for 20 years was at standards development organisations – IEEE, ISO, W3C, these things – where in order for companies to interoperate, which was a requirement in tech, they would create a specification, and everyone would implement that. The tech sector is moving on to a world where, in the Internet of things [for example], do you want to have a 500-page specification that you hand to a light bulb manufacturer, or do you want source code that you can hand to that manufacturer that enables interoperability? I think that’s a permanent fixture. People have figured out for a particular non-differentiating infrastucture they want to work on that through open source, rather than creating a spec.

For Moody, replacing open standards with an open source approach brings two “huge advantages”, namely that (1) “compatibility is baked in” and that it (2) “not only saves money, it speeds up development and the pace of innovation”. Functionally, as Moody emphasizes, open source software still represents a standard, whose source code “both defines that standard, and does 99% of the work of implementing it.”

Thinking about this case, I am asking myself whether there is a more abstract type of standard setting or standardization process that the open source approach could be categorized into? To a certain degree, open source represents a more experimentalist, pragmatist approach to standardization than traditional development of technological standards (although, recalling a recent discussion with blogging colleague Sigrid Quack, she was more sceptical with regards to applying the “experimentalist” label on to the open source software case).

In any case, growing relevance of the open source approach will lead to more informal de-facto standards. This will go hand-in-hand with a shift in regulatory power from “official” standard-setting organizations or forums (e.g. ISO, W3C) to new facilitators of cooperation such as the Linux Foundation. The latters’ role and tasks are presumably quite different compared to those of the traditional standard-setting organizations. Instead of formal agreements and consent, the formal goal is to produce running and widely adopted code.