On community driven standardization

Tom Debus
4 min readDec 5, 2017

co-authored by Dimitri De Jonghe, Günsu Pancar with great intellectual inputs from Tim Daubenschütz, Don Gossen, Gautam Dhameja and Jernej Pregel.

What do you think – is cocooning, collaboration or competition the more dominant social paradigm in today´s digitized society? As with so many self-reflecting positions I’d argue „it depends“. And I further want to elaborate on how those three fundamental behavioral patterns work when we try to create an overarching standard.

Standards sound soooo boring, however they are a catalyst for the advance of society – in today´s digital routine more than ever before.

While we appreciate the comforts of standards when plugging in our USB cables to charge our many devices, we start to be annoyed if the wall-plug doesn’t fit our home-base standard. Thanks to travel adaptors this gap in common standards is easily closed. Once we move into the realms of payment systems, of legal contracts or of crypto-economics the importance of standards rises dramatically. Mushrooming payment systems, trade law conflicts and hard-forks are obvious signs, that achieving new standards or even maintaining existing ones is no easy feat. Depending on the partial interests conflicting each other, the number of actors involved and the possible values at stake simply converging onto the road towards a joint standard seems a real challenge.

We know, however, that a digitized society is dependent on standards and there are three basic ways to create and enforce standards – you can buy, grow or invent them:

1) Buying a standard is typically applied by big corporates who can leverage their customer base to force a new standard. By simply investing large amounts into the phase from inception of a new standard until a critical mass starts to adopt this standard. As Apple´s lighting interface has shown this strategy often is applied to keep other competitors at bay or in situations where a broad adoption of the standard is judged to be non-critical.

2) Growing a standard most often occurs where market or technology convergence creates a situation benefitting all stakeholders involved from adopting a new standard. The progression of the various USB generations seems like a fitting example for this type of pattern.

3) Usually large teams or consortias work over a long time to develop, agree and then promote a new standard. And though the first two patterns obviously also involve intellectual work and creative thinking, I want to distinguish the third pattern: Inventing a standard that is picked up by corporations and adopted by the market implies velocity – an invention with both impact and overwhelming benefits.

So this third pattern is the one we are after when we talk about community driven standardization. We consider a community driven standard a success if it doesn’t take millions and years to be established and still is adopted on a broad scale.

There is a recipe to arrive at such standards at scale. We often here the hypothesis that markets are efficient. So we create a market around the invention of new standards and we invite people benefiting from such standards as active market participants. The key challenge in this approach is in defining the relevant parameters and setting adequate incentives and boundaries to govern the economy focused on creating the most effective standard.

Jointly BigchainDB and integration alpha are creating a framework that allows for exactly this scenario to be applied to different use cases.

Type A – Corporate Standards: Imagine a large company with a complex legacy of heterogeneous IT systems wants to define an accepted and pragmatic data model across its silos of functions and regions.

Type B – Consortia Standards: Imagine five banks with a similar business model cooperating with the intent to create a common shared service across their different policies, processes and technology choices.

Type C – Public-Private-Partnerships: Imagine the European regulator and its national counterparts cooperating with banks and service providers to establish the regulatory policy of the future.

We are currently testing our ideas in a very close circle of family & friends and the initial results are very promising. Additional related use cases spring up like mushrooms in a damp autumn wood. And we are excited to try them out, see which ones might be poisonous and which ones might be hallucinogenic.

If you or your organization is currently struggling with creating a standard or thinking about starting the creation of one, let us know. We will start a closed private beta test phase in January and we selectively encourage innovative minds to join our beta community. Simply drop me a quick note or comment and briefly explain the use case you think about.

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Tom Debus

Telling stories with data and building ecosystems at the crossroads of data, artificial intelligence and cloud. Focused on the ESG & sustainability ecosystem.