Hey kids – get off of my lawn

Back at the end of July, Microsoftee Dare Obasanjo attacked the Open Web Foundation for being a bunch of kids fresh out of college who hadn’t heard of IETF or other standards bodies. I dashed off a post calling on Dare to revert to his previously ecumenical ways of supporting bottom-up standards development, and to stop his partisan attacks on these Animal House attempts and their predatory sponsors from Google et al. The response in comments took me to task for being an idiot but others were not so sure.

Flash forward to a few days ago, when another post by Obasanjo popped up as a pingback linked to the phrase “personal attacks by Techcrunch” with more of the same, this time focusing on the Portable Contacts API promulgated by OWF co-conspirator Chris Messina and Plaxo’s Joseph Smarr. The money graf:

If anything, I’m concerned by the growing number of interdependent specs that seem poised to have a significant impact on the Web and yet are being defined outside of formal standards bodies in closed processes funded by big companies. For example, about half of the references in the Portable Contacts API specs are to IETF RFCs while the other half are to specs primarily authored by Google and Yahoo! employees outside of any standards body (OpenSocial, OAuth, OpenSearch, XRDS-Simple, etc). I’ve previously questioned the rise of semi-closed, vendor driven consortiums in the area of Web specifications given that we have perfectly good and open standards bodies like IETF for defining the Open Web but this led to personal attacks on TechCrunch with no real reasons given for why Web standards need to go in this direction. I find that worrying.

I called Messina up and arranged for he and I to have a conversation today on The Gillmor Gang, where we touched on the history and attitudes of Obasanjo in the context of what clearly is something too tempting to be left alone. Messina goes into some depth about the rationale for OWF and its genesis, mostly as the outgrowth of what Chris calls work done to solve small problems. OWF, as Messina suggests, is an attempt to help leverage legal issues common to many of the “specs authored by Google and Yahoo! employees outside of any standards body” to help move these useful tools from point solution to specs able to be bought into by big companies or even the aforementioned IETF.

I’ll let Chris explain the details of Portable Contacts and much more, but, though I tried to broker some conversation directly between Obasanjo and the college kids to bridge the gap between them, here I’ll just parse that first sentence of Dare’s:

    growing number of interdependent specs – cleverly intertwined to shut out big company market force standards broadsides

    poised to have a significant impact on the Web – threatening to overwhelm the right way of doing things with subversive amateur disruption of the Wild Wild Web

    defined outside formal standards bodies – note the silent use of the word “open”

    in closed processes funded by big companies – as opposed to the formal standards bodies funded by big companies.

Let me get this straight. These things are working, they grow from the grassroots into useful tools, we should go back to the good old days where market leaders create standards bodies like WS-I to shut out competitors’ work, and these homegrown efforts are closed because the same market leaders decline to participate when invited.

And a personal note: if using past words to underline how different an agenda seems to have emerged is a personal attack, then perhaps I’ll take it as a backhanded compliment that my perspective may be poised to have a significant impact on the Web too. I hope you’re right, Dare. Microsoft can’t afford to be anything but transparent about its interpretation of what the meaning of open is, with only three weeks and change to go to Mesh and the Windows Cloud’s promised open platform debut at the PDC.