Why standards are hard

In a good primer on why web analytics is hard, we see this statement:

Every single person inside the Ford corporation has the same IP address.

So, some questions:

  • What about married people? All have the same IP address? If so, are they all the same as each other but different from the single people?
  • Do they have different IP addresses outside of Ford?
  • How can they talk to each other if they all have the same IP address?
  • Do people really have IP addresses? Where do they keep them?

Silly questions? Sure. In this case, if we’re familiar with how the web works at a high-level (and we must if we’re going to do any analysis), we can devine intent from context as well as from our experience. However, human languages are not precision instruments, and thus everything is open to interpretation.

This is why standards, and legal contracts (including laws) try to be so precise. Precise, unambiguous wording is very hard. This is one reason why people invent new terms during any new endeavors – to make sure that the meaning is precise as possible. It’s also what makes standards (and laws) so hard to understand.

This is from experience: many moons ago, I was the technical chair and spec editor for the DMTF DMI 1.0 standard. The fruits of that effort – an 18-month process – are now embedded in many devices, including the BIOS of every x86-based computer.

Back to our topic. The other thing about standards is that they are produced for a specific purpose. Knowing that purpose is the key to how the standard is applied. Often, different groups have different goals, so they need different standards. When the standards overlap, or contradict, for very similar applications, there’s confusion. A common joke is “the good thing about standards is there are so many to choose from.” Until this article, I’d never heard of JICWEBS, and I’ve been doing web analytics for almost ten years now. Part of that is because it’s a UK & Ireland effort. But they exist and have a standard. These standards aren’t the same standards that the Interactive Advertising Bureau has produced, but that’s because the IAB focuses on ads. Yet there is overlap. Which do you choose?

I have high hopes the WAA will be able to help in this regard.

Why standards are hard