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open standards and standards relevant to cms

In IT today, there is a lot of debate about Open Source. Open Source and Open Standards are not the same thing. If you are interested in comments on Open Source, click here.

You don't have to think to hard to understand the importance of standards. Standards for hygene, food preparation, measurement, currency, length of television shows (and commercials), language, education and just about everything in the modern world effect our everyday lives.

Standards are perhaps at their most important when they relate to exchange, communication, safety and integration. You may hear mention of 'standardisation'. This is often the process that occurs some time after invention and early innovation. Early railways for example had different track guages (space between tracks). As rail networks connected to each other this created problems. Standardisation of rail guages helped fix these problems and improve integration.

In the world of IT, invention is often relatively recent and innovation is often still occuring quickly. There is a balance between standardising on something too early (and accepting an inferior benchmark that limits future innovation) and standardising too late, resulting in long periods of innefficiency and wastage (cellular phone technologies may be an example here).

Without the standards of TCP/IP and HTML, the Internet would not exist in its current form. These new standards are built over historical ones of language, grammar, electricity, computers and a multitude of others. Standards give us a means of integration, a starting point and a way of adding discrete modular value to a preestablished benchmarks.

Closed standards are unavailable to the public. A car manufacturer who has a specific way of connecting all of its engines to its gearboxes may have a closed standard. The speedometer (odometer) in the same vendors car would use an open standard of km/h or mph depending on the standard of measurement used in your geography to communicate speed to the driver in a commonly accepted manner (standard).

Historically, IT companies such as IBM, Apple, Microsoft and others closely guarded their internal standards as a way of protecting Intellectual Property and capturing the largest possible profits and locking in their customers.

More recently, increasing numbers of Open Standards have allowed consumers to decide how to put together their total IT environment and allowed technology vendors to specialise on individual components or niche products. ODBC let databases talk to each other. HTML kept websites constant across different platforms and TCP/IP allowed these diverse networks to connect to each other. Newer standards such as XML are allowing more advanced integration of disparate systems.

In todays environment, any application you purchase should be standards compliant in order to maximise your potential for integration with other solutions. This is not the same thing as Open Source.

The problem in the CMS space is invention was basically yesterday and innovation is still occuring rapidly. Standards for some aspects are yet to emerge and where they exist they may still be too immature to settle upon. Even fairly established standards such as HTML compliance may not address the vagaries between web browsers as a result of the sheer speed of web innovation.

Nevertheless, CMS systems should support the standards that are available, tested and accepted and should be flexible enough to incorporate future standards.

Soon this site will provide some links to sites devoted to standards in the Content Management field. In the meantime, if this interests you further, see the
World Wide Web Consortium.



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