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   ISO/IEC Standardization Activities: Procedural Background

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  • From: "W. Eliot Kimber" <eliot@dns.isogen.com>
  • To: xml-dev@ic.ac.uk
  • Date: Sat, 14 Nov 1998 10:17:14 -0600

[Warning: boring but important standards stuff. Please read to the end if
you can.]

The ISO group responsible for the SGML family of standards was recently
promoted from a working group to an ISO subcommittee (SC). What was ISO/IEC
JTC1/WG4 (nee SC18/WG8)is now ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 Information Technology -- 
Document Description and Processing Languages (see
<http://www.ornl.gov/sgml/sc34/sc34home.htm>).  We had our first meeting as
an SC this last week. At this meeting we approved the organization of SC34
into three working groups:  WG1 covers representation languages (SGML,
SDIF, etc.), WG2 covers fonts and styles (DSSSL, etc.),  and WG3 covers
"relations", that is, hyperlinking and the like (HyTime, ISO HTML, ISMID,
Topic Maps). Note that this does *NOT* include media formats like MHEG or
JPEG, APIs like CORBA, or networking protocols.

I am acting convenor of WG3 (and will likely be accepted as convenor when
permanent convenors are selected).

As convenor of WG3 I'd like to stress the desire of WG3 that the standards
we produce be both compatible with and useful for XML-based data and
applications. I'd also like to stress our desire to be as open and
inclusive as we possibly can be within the constraints ISO imposes.

The constraints on us are entirely procedural--we have no secrecy
requirements as far as I know (but I could be wrong--this is a bit of a
bureaucratic morass). The only real limitation on participation is the
ability to attend the formal ISO meetings.  However, anyone is free to
review and comment on any of the standards under development and published
as official SC34 documents.  It is up to the editors of each standard to
define how they do their development and can involve anyone they feel like.  

The procedural constraint is on how comments get officially communicated to
the editors. Once a standard has reached a state of near completion, the
ISO policies are designed to ensure that the editorial process is as
visible as possible.  It is designed to make last-minute changes visible to
the voting member bodies (and observing public) and help ensure that major
design decisions are not made at the last minute.

The current ISO stages for draft standards are "committee draft", "final
committee draft", and "draft international standard" (DIS). Committee
drafts are works in progress and can be quite dynamic as the editors do
their work. Final committee drafts are supposed to be true final drafts,
requiring only minor changes before progressing to draft international
standard. However, several final committee drafts can be issued before a
standard goes to DIS stage [I know, it's doublespeak--I didn't make this
stuff up, I just try to work within the rules I've been given.]

The key thing is that once a standard reaches final committee draft stage,
the editors are constrained to only making changes that correspond to
comments submitted by member bodies.  The member body comments are formal
SC34 documents that everyone can see.  This helps ensure that there are no
surprises when the DIS draft is sent for ballot.  Unfortunately, it also
slows down the editorial process because each new FCD requires a new ballot
period of 2-4 months.

What does this mean to you, the average XML-Dev techie?

It means that if you are interested in one of WG3's standards and have some
constructive comments on it AND that standard is in final committee draft
state, THEN you must forward your comments to a member of one of the
national delegations to SC34.  If the standard is just a committee draft
then you can communicate with the editors directly. If you don't know how
to contact the editors, send me mail and I'll hook you up.

If you are not in the U.S. and you do know who your SC34 representative or
head of delegation is, then you can just forward your comments to them.
They should evaluate your comments and, if they are factually correct and
also consistent with the overall national opinions on the standard,
integrate them with any others they have and submit them as part of the
formal process. If your comments are not consistent with the national
opinion, they should work with you to understand the technical issues to
make sure your concerns have gotten a fair consideration.  They should also
give your name to the editors of the standard so that they can communicate
with you to better understand your comments. [Note: the time order of these
actions is not exposed by the formal process.]

NOTE: Each national body defines it's own rules and policies for how it
develops its responses to ballots and requests for comment.  The above is
the suggested policy for WG3 participants. I can't guarantee that any
particular member body will be receptive to unsolicited comments. However,
I think it's safe to say that the currently active member bodies are all
receptive to comments from anyone with legitimate and constructive
technical insight.

If you are in the U.S., or you don't know who your SC34 delegates are (and
I don't know why you would--we're not exactly international celebrities),
you can forward your comments to me in my capacity as a member of the U.S.
delegation to SC34 and I will either incorporate your comments with ours or
pass them on to the appropriate national body, if there is one (not all ISO
members send delegations to SC34).

Our interest in WG3 is to produce standards that are relevant, useful, and
technically sound. I want to make the process of developing our standards
as open and productive as possible.  To that end, I will periodically make
announcements here of WG3 activity that I think is relevant or of potential
interest to the XML developer community.


Acting Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34/WG3 
<Address HyTime=bibloc>
W. Eliot Kimber, Senior Consulting SGML Engineer
ISOGEN International Corp.
2200 N. Lamar St., Suite 230, Dallas, TX 75202.  214.953.0004

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