What are open standards and why are they important?
"Open standards are publicly available specifications for achieving a specific task." () While the use of "open" is not always precise, it will be used here as referring to technical specifications that are
- not proprietory (i.e. not owned by a commercial institution),
- formulated in consultation with experts and decision-makers in the specific field(s), and
- publicly documented.
Examples for open standards include:
- HTML/XHTML (specifications of the W3C for structured hyperlinked document formatting)
- PDF (though initially a specification by Adobe Systems Incorporated for formatted documents, later approved by ISO as ISO 15930-1:2001)
The importance of open standards
While projects dealing with specific materials have to sometime adapt or, if no or little work has been done in a given field, invent their technological approach, it is highly recommendable to follow established standards as far as possible. The are good reason for this advice:
- Digital materials can be reused for other, future, purposes and by other projects. Adhering to open standards facilitates such reuse.
- Tools (commercial and open source) developed for certain projects, which make use of open standards, can also be reused by future projects or interchanged between projects.
- The longevity of digital materials is more probable, since understanding the format of such materials is made easier and, therefore, migration into future formats will use less resources.
It is hence also very important to document the standards followed in a specific digital project and even more important when and how such a project departs from such a standard. Ideally such documentation is machine-readable, like when customizing a markup scheme for a project using TEI's.