November 18, 2009

Open Web Foundation Speeds Protocols' Legal Contracts

On Tuesday, the Open Web Foundation released an agreement aimed to speed new specifications' ability to be adopted by downstream users, with the intent of spreading open tools throughout the Web. Though occupying the always-complicated intersection of both the legal world and the tech world, the agreement is very interesting. The non-profit organization, featuring leading geeks from many of Silicon Valley's best known and most-respected companies, is hoping to promote data portability and open Web standards, no matter their source. Tuesday's agreement makes it easier for others to implement specifications without requiring lengthy bureaucratic legalities, and already features 10 major protocols and services as having signed up.

Among the services that have committed to using the new agreement include Yahoo!'s Media RSS standard, OAuth, Microsoft's WebSlice, and my often mentioned personal favorites, the PubSubHubbub and Salmon Protocols, being promoted by employees from Google.

As explained on the Yahoo! blog, on Facebook's Developers' blog and at Standards Law, services such as OpenID and OpenSocial were both forced to spend a great deal of effort working on legalities, taking their sharp engineering resources away from doing what they do best - code. The hope is that by setting a standard for approvals and access, much of these headaches can be eliminated.

The agreement itself is lightweight, compared to many legal tomes, and essentially mirrors standards set by Apache and Creative Commons, both of which have much history in the Web community. It covers how to handle attribution, that users can be trusted to leverage the work without fear of patent lawsuits, and that downstream users will not lay claims to others' efforts.

It could be yet another important step in making sure the Web is open, and that users can expect similar behavior and access capabilities from site to site and service to service. See also:
The Blurry Picture of Open APIs, Standards, Data Ownership
from October 29th.