As part of my work with the Open Source Initiative, I've been thinking a lot about open standards. Open standards are a really important part of the open source, open network, open society ecosystem, but there is also a risk that big companies use the word "open standards" to attack the open source movement. For instance, many companies such as Microsoft would argue that even if they control a standard, just making it "open" makes it an open standard.
One of the biggest players in this space is IBM and I had the opportunity to ask Irving Wladawsky-Berger the Vice President of Technical Strategy and Innovation of IBM a question about this at the HICSS conference I attended in Hawaii a few weeks ago. Irving was the "Distinguished Lecturer" and I was "Plenary Speaker". I've been a huge fan of Irving's since I first met him in Japan. (He blogged about the conference.) I asked him what his definition of open standards was. The following is a summary of his response. (I just confirmed with him by email about its accuracy.)
If a crunch comes between the interests of the shareholders and interests of the community, a business has to choose the interests of the shareholders. A business creating a standard that it controls and says is "open" and that people should "trust them" is not robust from that perspective. Business should prevent itself from getting into these situation. Working with neutral professional organizations makes it impossible for such conflicts to corrupt the process and is key to good open standards.This is great news and exactly what I think of when I think of open standards. Go IBM!