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Created: September 22, 2008.
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Open Web Foundation Formed to Support Community Specification Development.


The formation of the Open Web Foundation (OWF) was announced on July 24, 2008 at the OSCON 2008 Conference. OWF is "applying the open source model of seeing a common pain point and trying to patch the system by creating an 'organizational library' that makes it easier to go through a collaborative specification process and come out of it with clean IPR, leading to faster implementation and adoption."

Speaking on behalf of thirty-some individual collaborators and with promised support from several companies (BBC, Facebook, Google, MySpace, O'Reilly, Plaxo, Six Apart, SourceForge, Vidoop, Yahoo!), David Recordon of Six Apart presented the rationale and key points of focus for the new foundation: Incubation: creating new open specifications for the web; Licensing: or really no licensing, use of non-assertion agreements; Copyright: Creative Commons for each specification; Community: diverse collaboration of individuals and companies held accountable to support the Open Web.

According to the OWF web site: "The Open Web Foundation is an independent non-profit dedicated to the development and protection of open, non-proprietary specifications for web technologies. It is an attempt to create a home for community-driven specifications. Following the open source model similar to the Apache Software Foundation, the foundation is aimed at building a lightweight framework to help communities deal with the legal requirements necessary to create successful and widely adopted specification. The foundation is trying to break the trend of creating separate foundations for each specification, coming out of the realization that we could come together and generalize our efforts... The Open Web Foundation is made up of individuals who believe that the open web is built on technologies that are created in the open by a diversity of contributors, and which free to be used and improved upon without restriction."

David Recordon's inaugural presentation on OWF referenced three major open specifications which have gained popularity the past year: OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial. "They are quite similar: (1) They represent community efforts that include individuals and companies; (2) They are occurring outside of formal standards bodies: people are just working on mailing lists; (3) They use Open Source reference implementations in many languages; (4) They are enjoying major adoption at an increasing pace; (5) They are open specifications designed to be freely implementable by anyone. Non-assertion agreements are used. They share a lot of the same goals and views. These are core pieces of technology for the Open Web which must be free to implement by anyone. Formal standards organizations normally take care of that, but for a variety of reasons these communities and others are working in adhoc fashions. They are moving quite quickly, with weeks between drafts and [a few] months to ship... Yet OpenID, OAuth, and OpenSocial share problems: there is no clear licensing for these specifications; each one chooses its own licenses. They have no standard way to deal with IPR. No overarching community transcends the projects. There are no social contracts in terms of saying 'this is how you play well on the open web'."

The Open Web Foundation members are seeking to solve some of these problems by designing a common solution applicable to community-based specification development efforts. The OWF principals have clarified that the intention "is not to create a new standards body; rather, OWF will help communities develop open specifications which can later be contributed to standards bodies like the IETF, OASIS, or W3C. OWF will help ensure that an open specfication gains adoption and has clean IPR so that it can be worked on by a standards body."

The Open Web Foundation announcement initially met with some skepticism, as reported by Danese Cooper at OSCON 2008: "I was involved in the Open Web Foundation, and talking to them about what I thought they should do. I spent yesterday on the phone with big companies, briefing them on that was about to happen... And most of them freaked out... they didn't want to see it just happen, they wanted to think about it a while, and cogitate a while..."

Support for the goals of the Open Web Foundation is now growing. Participation is noted on the OWF web site and discussion list for Ajaxian, Apache Software Foundation, BBC, Creative Commons, Digital Reasoning Systems, Facebook, Fast Wonder, Google, IBM, Intel, Joost, Microsoft, MySpace, Nokia, O'Reilly, Plaxo,, Rosenlaw & Einschlag, Six Apart, SourceForge, Stake Ventures, Sun Microsystems, Vidoop, and Yahoo!

Governance for the Open Web Foundation is gradually taking shape: it is now incorporated as a Section 501(c) non-profit organization in accordance with the approved Bylaws. An initial Board of Directors includes Ben Laurie (Google), Chris Messina (Vidoop), David Recordon (Six Apart, Initial President), DeWitt Clinton (Google), Eran Hammer-Lahav (Yahoo!), Gabe Wachob, Scott Kveton (Vidoop, Initial Treasurer), and Brady Brim-DeForest (Initial Secretary, ex-officio).

A Resolution to Establish a Legal Affairs Committee was approved by the Board of Directors of the Open Web Foundation on September 18, 2008. Its members include Ben Laurie (Google), David Rudin (Microsoft) DeWitt Clinton (Google), Eran Hammer-Lahav (Yahoo!) Gabe Wachob, Geir Magnusson (Joost) Jim Jagielski (Apache Software Foundation), Lawrence Rosen (Rosenlaw & Einschlag) Pelle Braendgaard (Stake Ventures) Simon Phipps (Sun Microsystems), and Stephan Wenger (Nokia). The OWF Legal Affairs Committee is responsible for establishing and managing legal policies based on the advice of legal counsel and the interests of the Foundation.

Supporting the Open Web

Several accounts of OWF origins are provided in blogs written by the principals, presented in the document section General: News, Blogs, Commentary (July 2008). See especially "Announcing the Open Web Foundation" by Scott Kveton. The following adaptation from David Recordon's presentation is probably the most useful.

Supporting the Open Web. By David Recordon (Six Apart). 20 slides. An inaugural presentation announcing the Open Web Foundation, representing the ideas of a community. This slide set complements the video recording of the OSCON 2008 presentation. Excerpt (adapted from slides and notes) follows.

At OSCON, we've been talking a lot about open source: there are far more Open Source projects than I can even imagine. SourceForge alone is hosting nearly 200,000 open source projects. Open source has been very successful. But let's talk about the evolution of the web. The Browser Wars have helped turn the conversation from open source to the data and markup behind it, and popularized the term "open web". Originally it was IE vs. Netscape, but we're more interested in the "second browser war" with WHATWG (HTML 5, Gears). With Tim O'Reilly (OSCON 2007): "Open Data is increasingly important as services move online." Hosted services (the cloud) change the "open" game. Data is becoming as important as source. The Open Web is all about the data, protocols, etc. behind web services... 'The Open Web' isn't a new term, really brought forth by Mozilla and their quest to continue building the web on open standards. Lots of companies are advocating for and supporting the Open Web... Many of the same faces you see supporting Open Source.

The Open Web needs Open Data. Open Data needs Open Specifications. We now have a pretty good understanding of how to create open APIs. The interest is now shifting to proprietary specifications versus open specifications. We need interoperability and simplicity, not specifications that are 600 pages long. We also need to evolve the definition of the "Web"; e.g., XMPP is now a part of the Web. The web needs to be accessible everywhere. It's like flying on an iPhone! — The Web has to be accessible from anywhere, even a tin can 30,000 feet above the ground. Mashups are far more complex than they ever were before (iPhone "locate me"). The Web has to be accessible by anyone as network effects and collective intelligence matter.

Something happened in 2007: We now have an understanding of what services in the cloud look like. "The Web as the platform" makes openness valuable. Value of openness: let's not repeat the desktop: 'view source' matters. VCs are validating this argument: they are starting to care about more than just lockin. Social applications following UNIX philosophy. Lots of technologies and companies are fighting the battle for the Open Web, plus ECMA Script 4, WHATWG... The "Open Web" encompasses more than just HTTP, but today want to focus on a specific pain point...

Example for today: Three major open specifications came about and gained popularity the past year. Different backgrounds for each, all gaining widespread adoption. OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial.

OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial now have wide adoption. They are quite similar: (1) Communities ranging from individuals to companies; (2) Occurring outside of formal standards bodies: people just working on mailing lists; (3) Open Source implementations in many languages; (4) Major adoption at an increasing pace; (5) Open specifications designed to be freely implementable by anyone. Non-assertion agreements are used. They share a lot of the same goals and views. These core pieces of tech for the Open Web must be FREE to implement by anyone! Standards orgs normally take care of that, but for a variety of reasons these communities and others were working in adhoc fashions. Moving quite quickly, weeks between drafts and months to ship (OAuth: 9 months to Google shipping).

And these three [OpenID, OAuth, OpenSocial] share problems.... There is no clear licensing for these specifications. Each one chooses its own licenses. No standard way to deal with IPR. No overarching community that transcends the projects. There are no social contracts in terms of saying "this is how you play well on the open web."

But Open Source solved this (well, a lot of it)... OSI, Creative Commons, Apache. Formal organizations like the IETF, W3C, ISO, and OASIS are creating standards, doing great work. Then you have Open Source Initiative (OSI) for software licenses: defining/refining the term "open source" so that companies can understand what it means to download source code which says it's BSD. The Creative Commons (CC) is creating copyright licenses, making copyright more understandable. Apache Software Foundation for building successful open source projects and communities.

A lot of people from many different backgrounds have been suffering through this pain and thinking about it over the past months. We want to highlight the involvement of Scott Kveton and DeWitt Clinton. And the expertise of people like Geir, Tim, Joi, Sam, Alex, Danese, Dirk, and others who have lived through similar situations before, helping us not make same of the mistakes of the past.

So we announce formation of the Open Web Foundation. Today we're going to start to solve some of this for open specifications, for the Open Web. We are forming a non-profit foundation where these communities can start to come together, where they can do work together. What does it mean when you go and get a specification from the Open Web Foundation? What does it mean for these communities or individuals who want to get involved don't have giant companies behind them to pay dollars to participate or to understand all the various intellectual property agreements going in? Yes we aren't the first nor will we be the last. We will make mistakes, but the landscape is evolving and are actively listening to those who came before. So it's in the spirit of open source, largely modeled after a hybrid of the Apache Software Foundation and things like the OpenID foundation. We want to learn from those who have done this before. Instead of creating half a dozen more foundations over the next year, let's try to create one more...

Four key points of focus of the Open Web Foundation:

  • Incubation: creating new open specifications for the web
  • Licensing: or really no licensing, prefer non-assertion agreements
  • Copyright: Creative Commons for each specification
  • Community: to support the Open Web

We have modeled a lot of the incubation process after the Apache Software Foundation, because obviously what they are doing works. We need to have diversity in the development community, creating great open source reference implementations. Across the board, the specifications should have copyright licenses from Creative Commons, making it simple to understand. A very similar set of core things are needed for open specifications and for open source. Yet, some different ways they work are important, and there's far less understanding: think about open source before there were easily understood open source licenses. So we're thinking about how to create community responsibility and recognition for defending the "Open Web."

The Open Web Foundation is focused on individuals, but we are blown away to see the level of support from companies who are feeling the need for this sort of non-profit organization as well, and need for a change in IP process for developing open specifications. All of these companies are invested in keeping the web open; this organization — this community — is responsible for keeping them all honest. Examples: BBC, O'Reilly, Facebook, SourceForge, Six Apart, Google, Yahoo!, MySpace, Vidoop, Plaxo... watch for, we have the domain now...

Community Specifications

This section presents a collection of references for development projects, specifications, and initiatives mentioned at least once by the OWF supporters in 'Introduction' messages to the Open Web Foundation Members List. Many of these are or were initially community-based specification development efforts of the kind described by the Open Web Foundation as candidates for OWF process compliance.

  • Atom. "XML-based Syndication Format used for web feeds along with the HTTP-based protocol Atom Publishing Protocol for creating and updating web resources"
  • Attention Profiling Markup Language (APML). "Allows you to share your own personal Attention Profile just as OPML allows the exchange of reading lists between News Readers"
  • Contextual Query Language (CQL). "A formal language for representing queries to information retrieval systems such as web indexes, bibliographic catalogs and museum collection information"
  • DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC). "A set of extensions to DNS designed to protect the Internet from certain attacks such as DNS cache poisoning"
  • DSpace. "DSpace digital repository system captures, stores, indexes, preserves and redistributes an organization's research material in digital formats"
  • Data Portability Project. "Technology to use your personal data between trusted applications and vendors"
  • Digital Archive Services (DASE). "a lightweight PHP5/MySQL web framework for creating, cataloging, and sharing collections of digital images, audio, video, and documents"
  • DiSo Project. "An umbrella project for a group of open source implementations of these distributed social networking concepts"
  • Email Address to URL Translation (EAUT). "An open protocol to allow standard email addresses to be transformed into URLs for services like OpenID"
  • Friend of a Friend (FOAF). "An open, decentralized technology for connecting social Web sites, and the people they describe"
  • Identity Commons. "A community of groups working together on the creation of an open identity and relationship layer for the internet"
  • Information Cards. "Personal digital identities that people can use online, each with a card-shaped picture and a card name enabling people to organize their digital identities and select one for any given interaction"
  • Jabber. "An API to provide instant messaging and presence functionality independent of data exchanged between entities"
  • LID. "Light-Weight Identity helping individuals to keep control over and manage their on-line digital identities"
  • Linked Data. "Using the Web to connect related data that wasn't previously linked, or linking data currently linked using other methods"
  • Limited Lifetime Ubiquitous Protocol (LLUP). "A decentralized messaging protocol which facilitates the ability to broadcast notifications of the existence of time sensitive content related to a given subject matter, addressing this message to any person, place, or thing"
  • Linked Product Action Service (LPAS). [TBD]
  • Metalink. "A cross-platform and cross-application open standard/framework/file format for programs that download, including download managers, BitTorrent clients, Web browsers, FTP clients, and P2P programs"
  • Microformats. "A set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards"
  • OAI-PMH. "Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting, a low-barrier mechanism for repository interoperability using a set of six verbs or services invoked within HTTP"
  • OAI-ORE. "Standards for the description and exchange of aggregations of Web resources — sometimes called compound digital objects that combine distributed resources with multiple media types"
  • OAuth. "An open protocol to allow secure API authorization in a simple and standard method from desktop and web applications"
  • OEmbed. "A format for allowing an embedded representation of a URL on third party sites"
  • OpenID. "A free and easy way to use a single digital identity across the Internet"
  • OpenMicroBlogging. "Allows users of one microblogging service to publish notices to users of another service, given the other users' permission"
  • OpenSearch. "A collection of simple formats for the sharing of search results, extending existing syndication formats such as RSS and Atom"
  • OpenSocial. "A common API for social applications across multiple websites using standard JavaScript and HTML"
  • OpenURL. "A type of URL that contains resource metadata, for use primarily in libraries"
  • OPML. "Outline Processor Markup Language, providing a way to exchange information between outliners and Internet services"
  • OWL. "Web Ontology language that builds on RDF, RDF Schema, and URIs for naming to add more vocabulary for describing properties and classes"
  • Portable Contacts. "Providing users a secure way to access their address books and friends lists without having to take their credentials or scrape their data"
  • RDF. "Resource Description Framework providing a lightweight ontology system to support the exchange of knowledge on the Web using XML as an interchange syntax"
  • RSS. "'Really Simple Syndication' Web content syndication format that uses XML"
  • SIOC. "Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities provides a Semantic Web ontology for representing rich data from the Social Web in RDF"
  • SKOS. "Simple Knowledge Organization System supporting use of knowledge organization systems (KOS) such as thesauri, classification schemes, subject heading systems and taxonomies"
  • SPARQL. "SPARQL Protocol and RDF Query Language (SPARQL) is a query language and protocol for RDF, where the protocol uses WSDL 2.0 to describe a means for conveying SPARQL queries to an SPARQL query processing service and returning the query results"
  • SRU. "Search/Retrieve via URL (SRU), a standard search protocol for Internet search queries using CQL Common Query Language (CQL)"
  • Shibboleth. "A standards based, open source software package for web single sign-on across or within organizational boundaries"
  • XFN. "XHTML Friends Network providing a simple way to represent human relationships using hyperlinks"
  • xFolk. "A simple and open format for publishing collections of bookmarks"
  • XMPP. "XML-bases Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol defining technology for presence and real-time communication"
  • XRDS. "Extensible Resource Descriptor Sequence, an XML format for discovery of metadata about a resource"
  • XRDS-Simple. "A format and workflow for the discovery of resources metadata, and other linked resources"
  • XRI. "Extensible Resource Identifier scheme and resolution protocol for abstract identifiers compatible with URIs and IRIs"
  • Yadis. "Provides a general purpose identifier for a person and any other entity, a syntax for a resource description document, and a protocol for obtaining that resource description document, given the identifier"
  • Z39.92 NISO Information Retrieval Service Description Specification. "Defines a method of describing Information Retrieval oriented electronic services, including services made available via the Z39.50, SRU/SRW, and OAI protocols"

Non-Assertion Covenants

OWF principals recognize that the self-executing non-assertion covenant (NAC) and license waiver are becoming increasingly common for technical specification development, offering advantages over "to-be-negotiated" RAND license terms required in executable IP/patent licenses. Initial presentations on OWF uniformally suggest that the two forms of protection desired for 'OWF-compatible' specifications are non-assertion covenants and Creative Commons copyright licenses (standardized, easy to understand). Some general references:

Principal References

A project description and major collection of references for the Open Web Foundation are provided in a Cover Pages technology report: Open Web Foundation (OWF). Other key references:

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