The Case for Standards

I’ve just spent the past few days trying to do something very simple. I want the steps from my watch to be available to an calorie tracker other than MyFitnessPal. I’ve used MFP for several years and I want to try something new. This shouldn’t be hard. Alas, it is far harder than one would think.

Garmin only integrates with MFP. Google Fit can serve as hub for fitness data, but I have to get the data there. Fitness Syncer can pull data from Garmin and send it to Google Fit. Qardio will write my weight but not my blood pressure to Google Fit. There doesn’t appear to be any way to get my weight automatically back to Garmin so my calorie calculations can be more accurate. And this is assuming it works, which due to bugs, really only mostly works.

Earlier this year I decided to tackle home automation. The landscape there is no better. After spending too much money and too much time, I have only the most rudimentary capabilities. I have managed to get the garage lights to turn on as I approach at night and turn off 10 minutes later. I should say, they work 50% of the time. The logic that I’ve contributed is about 30 lines of code. I’m relatively sure the randomness of the behavior is not in that code.

We’ve been here before. In the 1980s email was a collection of islands. There were several companies that made good money creating pairwise integration between these islands. Of course the idea that you can’t send email from anywhere to anywhere today is absurd. What happened? The Internet standards for email.

Standards are not universally loved. Large companies with entrenched customers have no motivation to create or adopt standards. They are not interested in making product mobility easier for their customers. Small companies love standards because standards allow customers to pick the product they prefer.

And that is the strongest argument for standards. Competition is good for everyone. Consumers are given more choice. Companies must compete with great products instead of simply building more and more walls to customer mobility.