Emerging Web Standards: Keeping Up to Stay Ahead

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Whose Standards?
However, despite numerous advantages to standards adherence, it's not always easy to figure out which standards to comply with, with a number of organizations issuing standards on topics impacting various aspects of the content industry. Each arose to meet the specific needs of slightly different constituencies, but there's plenty of room for overlap.

There's the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a 163-nation organization for which the official U.S. body is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI's maintenance agency for library and information standards, including the web, is the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). NISO has issued standards ranging from "Title Pages for Conference Publications" to "The Dublin Core Metadata Element Set," the latter of which defines 15 metadata elements for resource description in a cross-disciplinary information environment.

ISO board member Hlava believes that the length of time it takes to get a standard from initial draft to ratification within NISO (2-5 years) gave impetus to the establishment in 1994 of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), led by Tim Berners-Lee and Jeffrey Jaffe. "The length of time it takes to get NISO standards ratified would be deadly for businesses trying to keep up with web development time frames," she says. "So WC3 came along, and [it] focuses more on web-only issues." WC3's vision statement for the web "involves participation, sharing knowledge, and thereby building trust on a global scale."\

The Library of Congress issues its own digital library standards, including the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) and the Metadata Object Description Standard (MODS), an XML markup schema for selected metadata. There's also the Internet Society (ISOC), an independent international nonprofit organization founded in 1992 to provide leadership in internet-related standards, education, and policy.

In a positive sign of increased alignment between the various standards organizations, the ISOC announced plans to donate funds to support W3C in December 2009. Hlava says the NISO and W3C are also getting better at talking to each other, communicating more and finding ways to work out conflicting approaches. "We recently came up with a ‘crosswalk' between W3C ontology specifications and ISO thesaurus standards so that the two are not in conflict," she says.

NISO has also introduced a fast-track approval process to cope with what Hlava characterizes as broader interest in commercial standards compliance. "There's more awareness than before. And a lot of customers are putting pressure on their vendors to provide them standards-compliant solutions," says Hlava.

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