spherical beer bottles: on standards and standardization in the digital realm

A quick Sunday morning rant …

I imagine it would be pretty hard to do business if I owned a small brewery but insisted on selling my beer in spherical beer bottles year round.

That would probably create all kinds of problems in terms of packaging, delivery, and shelf space in a retail setting. Sure, I could do it if I insisted but I imagine the financial consequences for my small brewery would be too great versus just complying with the bottling norm.

Having said that, I sometimes I get a little sick and tired of talks of "standards" in Library Land with respect to digital information. It's as if some people still have a physical-world mental barrier clouding their thinking.

My take is that, standards aside, it's pointless to re-invent the wheel in any walk of life so, yeah, give standards a chance but if the wheel doesn't do what you want then one shouldn't hesitate to "roll their own". Moreover, I'd argue that a great many "standards" are in fact born out of that very kind of dissatisfaction with the status-quo. Reminds me of this great quote by George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

And isn't that the very freedom that digital information provides? Isn't that one of the points of the web – that everyone can contribute with very minimal pre-requisites?

But it seems like some people think metadata formats and ways of doing things always have to be determined by committees.

I just don't get that especially since the device anyone is reading this on exists in large part due to private entrepreneurship and not a bunch of people sitting around a table talking about how great the world would be if we all did things their way. Actually, that's exactly what happened, but it wasn't just a bunch of academics without the resources to transform theory into practice.

The difference in rolling one's own is, of course, that you have to make your data comply to existing standards or practices if you want to reap the benefits of doings things the same way as others like linked data and what not.

Big deal. If the data exists at a granular level it can be "shipped" in spherical AND regular bottles simultaneously.

And if you're a big enough player you can make people go along with your vision and indeed ship a product in round bottles after all …

picture of round Christmas Coke bottles

Too bad those aren't filled with a nice IPA.

🙂

Update, March 2012: I've often meant to update this post because I never differentiated a "standard" vs. something that's "standardized". The former emerges based on adoption and proven value over time, the latter is that which is simply documented. And I think the problem is that many people – perhaps librarians aren't any more to blame than others – confuse the latter for the former and therefore insist on usage of the latter.

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