More on AusGOAL lack of Understanding of Formats

More on AusGOAL lack of Understanding of Formats:

The AusGOAL’s statement on open formats is confused.  While the examples given are good, the criteria for identifying whether a format is open or not are of no use.  They say:

An open format is a specification for storing and manipulating content, that is usually maintained by a standards organisation.  In contrast, a proprietary format is usually maintained by a company, with a view to exploiting the format by incorporating it into other products they sell, such as software.

“Which is like, ‘no'”

The fact that a format is “usually maintained by a standards organisation” is hardly a useful criteria.  In that case, every ISO standard would be open, despite being subject to patent claims or permit the inclusion of unspecified binary blobs. The only good thing about this is that it hints at the fact that the standard must have some transparency to its creation.  Compare this to the US government’s description:

“An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information”

This, at least, says something about the format (“is” vs “usually”).

Assessing a format for openness is quite difficult.  I think the criteria should be focussed on the practical implications of the standard.  In particular, if it creates a gatekeeper that people wishing to implement the standard must go to for any reason at any time (eg for getting a reasonable, nondiscriminatory licence), then it is not open.  Other criteria, such as the transparency with which it is developed/maintained go not to whether it is open per se, but to whether it is advisable to adopt it.

Frankly, I think the best test  of whether a format is open or not is whether it has a free software implementation.  This, of course, is not a definition – an open format is still open immediately before the free software implementation is finished.  The existence of such an implementation implies that the rules of the format are now discernable from the code and that there is freedom to implement those rules.




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