In a recent post I asked “Do We Want A Standards-based Voice/Video Service?“. The post suggested that the failure of the JANET Talk service to gain significant support or interest provided evidence of the failure of a development approach based solely or primarily on support for open standards.

In a response to the post, Nick Skelton provided  his explanation for why JANET Talk didn’t take off – the lack of positive network effects. Nick pointed out that as network grow “its usefulness increases in proportion to the number of potential connections between people in the network – the square of the number of people“. Nick felt that JANET Talk’s failure was inevitable as it “was only for people in UK HE to talk to others in UK HE“.

Although Nick’s point specifically addressed telephone networks I feel his arguments are also applicable to social networks in general – an argument I made at the JISC Digitisation Conference back in July 2007 in a talk on “Globalisation Of Social Networks and Networked Services.

We are now beginning to appreciate the importance of the network effect in a range of application environments – saving bookmarks used to be a function of the user’s browser but now we are seeing advantages of social sharing services such as

But this seems to be missing from the approaches which have been taken to support IT development activities. In a post about the JISC e-Framework, for example, Andy Powell  questions whether the e_framework is of “any value to anyone“.  In a response Wibert Kraan felt that we can’t “forget about [the e-Framework] and pretend it never happened” – rather there’s a need to “look at what went well and why and what went wrong and why“. And this is equally true when considering the failure of open standards to live up to their expectations.

We need a better model for the adoption of open standards in our development activities since the current approach, which tends to assume that an open standard from a trusted and mature standards body will inevitably be accepted by the marketplace, is clearly flawed. And the network effect would appear to be a significant aspect in solutions which do become widely deployed and used.