I came across this post about standards, by Adam Bosworth, a well known net luminary who is working (or so I gather) on Electronic Medical Records. You can imagine that next to Elections, E-Medical-Records has got to be a virtual quagmire party for people who worry about data interchange.

The post, which you should read in it’s entirety, lays out 7 excellent principles which I agree with wholeheartedly:

  1. Keep the standard as simple and stupid as possible.
  2. The data being exchanged should be human readable and easy to understand.
  3. Standards work best when they are focused.
  4. Standards should have precise encodings.
  5. Always have real implementations that are actually being used as part of design of any standard.
  6. Put in hysteresis for the unexpected
  7. Make the spec itself free, public on the web, and include lots of simple examples on the web site.

Adam concludes:

“Let’s be honest, a lot of standards are written for purposes other than promoting interoperability. Some exist to protect legacy advantages or to create an opportunity to profit from proprietary intellectual property. Others seem to take on a life of their own and seem to exist solely to justify the continued existence of the standards body itself or to create an opportunity for the authors to collect on juicy consultant fees explaining how the standard is meant to work to the poor saps who have to implement it. I think we can agree that,  whatever they are, those are usually not good standards. Health data interoperability is far too important an issue to let fall victim to such an approach.” (from Adam Bosworth)

To which I would add, “… and our democratic elections are also far too important not to heed his advice.”