The ISO/IEC JTC1 committee on Document Description and Processing Languages has had an interesting couple of years, what with all the controversy and new members. But for the last few months, all ballots have failed due to lack of votes. Not lack of “yes” votes, just plain lack of votes. The reason is, obviously, because most of the committee members of new National Bodies (standards organizations from participating countries) that have nominated to be active on SC34 issues are only really interested in two issues: ODF and Open XML.
No interest in anything else; no vote on anything; nothing else progresses. It is easy to castigate NBs for not living up to the obligations they signed up for, but the more productive way to approach this is that the customer is always right: SC34 needs to have some reorganization so that people interested in just one thing don’t stymie other projects. When various SC34 people were discussing this over the last week, I suggested that perhaps what was needed was a completely new SC to handle it: that would leave SC34 free to continue with “enabling technologies” rather than application technologies. A less radical proposal came up, which was merely to make a new Working Group (WG4); apparently NBs can nominate which standards or WGs they are interested in, so this can allow partition. Something will happen.
I was very amused to see this on my second favourite trash website:
Is further proof needed that these are not good-faith members? How to get rid of these MSFT stooges?
So lets actually look at the NBs that failed to vote, and compare to their vote on DIS 29500 (Open XML) as far as I can figure it out. I’ll use the ballot results on the recent NVDL draft corrigendum as an example.
The countries that voted Yes on DIS 29500 but failed to vote on NVDL DCOR = 12:
Bulgaria, Côte-d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Egypt, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Venezuela,
The countries that voted No on DIS 29500 but failed to vote on NVDL DCOR = 9:
Brazil, China, France, India, Korea, Norway, New Zealand, Thailand, South Africa
The countries that abstained on DIS 29500 but failed to vote on NVDL DCOR = 2:
Chile, Trinidad and Tobago,
So both sides are equally slack. What did you expect the result to be? If you expected it to show that the MS stooge countries were pretty bad, while the valiant anti-OOXML forces were pretty good it shows you have drunk the Kool-aid, with all gentle respect. Some-one says something based on no objective evidence, but if it accords with what has been said enough times before, people think “That sounds about right”: but what if what was said before also had no objective evidence, that there is a chain or ripple of make-believe and demonization that merely emotifies foregone conclusions?
Actually, I think the whole way of thinking about this in blame terms is unhelpful. It is certainly very frustrating for SC34 members to be treading water: it means real money and effort wasted by those involved. May you live in interesting times! is the curse we are suffering from :-)
But ultimately this is just a problem of poor organization at the NBs by the NB bureaucrats: they should be checking that their local committees are indeed voting on the ballots before them, and they should be sending in abstain votes otherwise. It is ultimately a matter of mechanism.
So we have a confluence of three things. First, we have some new National Bodies who need to get their ballot governance procedures into shape: I think we should be highly tolerant of the antics of fledglings. Second, we have a committee structure that does not reflect the interests of members: there are some very mature and deeply involved NB who didn’t put a vote in, not just newcomers; the WGs need to be organized to reflect this division of interest. And thirdly, despite the previous two things, when the national bodies signed on to SC34 (particularly the “participating” P countries more than the Observer “O” countries) they did incur an obligation to vote, and they need to pull up their socks right away and participate: even if it means just sending in a official “abstain” on each ballot, that doesn’t derail the process.