From 2001-2005 UKOLN and the AHDS provided the Technical Advisory Service for the NOF-digitise programme.  Our initial task was to summarise the open standards which funded projects should be using in order to ensure interoperability and  to support the long-term preservation of the digitised resources.

The technical standards (which are no longer available on the People’s Network Web site) provided information on various open standards including standards which had been developed by the W3C, including SMIL and SVG.  However, as I’ve described previously, these standards failed to achieve significant acceptance in the market place and so, in order to ensure that the projects could deliver engaging services, the requirement to make use of open standards was relaxed, with such proprietary formats being acceptable provided documentation was provided on the reasons for the use  of proprietary solutions.

That was the position around 2001-2002. But now, as we’ve heard in a TechCrunch post on Scribd’s Decision To Dump Flash Pays Off, User Engagement Triples, there is a growing believe that Flash is on its way out with HTML5 providing a more effective standards-based solution.

You may think that the lesson is that open standards are better than proprietary ones – but I would suggest that this example shows the danger of mandating use of open standards at too early a stage and that alternative open standards may eventually emerge as winners.

The difficulty will be in learning from such lessons and avoiding requiring use of open standards if this will eventually be seen to be a mistaken decision.  Perhaps the lesson from the open alternatives to Flash is that it can take over 5 years before such alternatives are mature enough for wide-scale deployment?