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Towards an Interoperable Future (and a good game of baseball) – Part I of III

Created: 06 Jul 2009 • Updated: 05 Nov 2012
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Brian Tokuyoshi - Product Marketing Manager

Most people agree that open standards are good for everyone. Standards help companies deploy products that work together with existing investments, thus reducing the impact and issues of technology displacement. They help developers build products by not having to reinvent the wheel, and build upon the work that has already been done. It establishes some common ground that bridges the gap between the interdependencies for related products.

Perhaps one of the challenges for standards is recognizing the need for one, and the unforeseen and currently unattainable future that provides the benefit for all. Standards do not emerge without a need in the market, which typically originates from the proliferation of one-off proprietary technologies. The creators of said proprietary technologies tend to not want to give ground to an open standard, because they profit by locking in customers to their interpretation of what the market needs.

Let’s take a look at how standards can make a change for the better in another realm, specifically baseball. Baseball has been played at the national level in the United States for nearly 150 years, and with the popularity of the game around the world, it’s interesting to look back at how it started. In the early half of the 19th century, there were a variety of popular games that involved a large stick wielded by a player, a ball, and some form of running. These games had a number of colorful names, such as Town Ball, Round Ball and Poison Ball.

With no shortage of the number of games to choose from, and the broad range of local and often informal rules applied to the games, the teams basically had to negotiate a set of rules before they were able to play their games for the day. This was a tiresome chore, which required work to set the game up, and limited the popularity of any one particular game. In addition, many variants involved throwing the actual ball at the runner, instead of having the defense make the tag, which caused tempers to flare.

In 1845, Alexander Cartwright authored a set of guidelines that would go on to become the foundation for the modern rules of baseball.  Cartwright’s original 20 rules defined the terms, the parameters (such as the distance between bases) and established the standards by which teams would abide. It also eliminated the painful practice of throwing the ball at the runner by stop the offense, thus providing ground rules for the game to flourish. Participants could enjoy the game because they knew what to expect, and players could focus on enjoying the game play instead of spending time deciding what game to play in the first place. Cartwright introduced the game to various clubs in the United States during his travels, and the game took hold and flourished. Today baseball is played at the national level in countries around the world, and one of the top spectator sports enjoyed by millions annually.

Without standards, none of this growth could have occurred. It simply could not rise to a national level if there were still disagreements on how the game should be played. The same thing could be said of many computing standards, which replace the often contradictory implementation of proprietary protocols that make integration so difficult to do. In part II of this blog, we’ll take a look at the realm of email and how standards helped it move from a intra-business method of communication to one that spans the globe.