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Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks (Cambridge Studies in the Emergence of Global Enterprise) Paperback – July 3, 2014
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"This book contributes significantly to our understanding of the current state of affairs in information technology and governance, while also making original contributions to our understanding of the evolution of business institutions across the long twentieth century. Drawing on substantial original research, Andrew L. Russell argues that processes for setting industry standards have embodied broadly felt (and often competing) values regarding American governance. ... In the process, we come to see how the current enthusiasm for open systems and standards fits in a larger story of American governance. The current situation is neither a radical break nor an idealized state, as much contemporary literature insists and celebrates. Rather, it is a refinement in the face of shifting economic conditions that reflects and draws on a persistent commitment to economic liberalism. This is an important point that will garner considerable attention from historians and contemporary business analysts."
Steven W. Usselman, Chair of the School of History, Technology and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology
"Andrew L. Russell's book describes how we got to the twenty-first-century information society, the 'Open World', through focusing a standardization lens on the history of American communication and information technology as it evolved from the late nineteenth century. Russell's book is the first history of American communication and information technology to focus on standardization and its processes and implications. Understanding how standardization has evolved is critical to understanding our commercial world today, and Russell provides a key contribution by exploring its evolution in the realm of ICTs. ... a real contribution to the literature. He also adds to the field by showing that the notions and values of open standards, open systems, and the Open World have a long prehistory."
JoAnne Yates, Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Managerial Communication and Work and Organization Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management
'This book is a major contribution to both the history of the Internet and the role of technical standards. Russell deals with a set of complex issues, grounding these in the prior work of historians of technology, using language that makes this book accessible to a larger audience than just experts on the Internet or computing. Tightly argued and well informed, this book constitutes a major step forward in our understanding of three issues: how the Internet evolved, the role of technical standards in American communications, and the complexity and collaborative activities of diverse individuals and institutions. Russell provides a useful explanation of how the modern world acquired key components of its contemporary communications infrastructure. ... this is an important book that deserves to be read by historians of computing, communications, modern technologies, business, post-1865 American society, and by those concerned with our current governance of technological issues.' James W. Cortada, The American Historical Review
'Open Standards and the Digital Age is a densely written book based on a significant number of primary sources and a rich, multidisciplinary bibliography. Andrew L. Russell paints on a big canvas, but ... summary sections for each chapter, as well as the introduction and conclusion chapters, bring the main threads together to provide a refreshing view on the history of the early communications networks, and particularly of the more recent digital ones.' Dov Lungu, Isis
How did the idea of openness become the defining principle for the twenty-first-century Information Age? This book answers this question by looking at the history of information networks and paying close attention to the politics of standardization.
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The book provides a fascinating historical look (1900+) at how, and why, the various standards organizations came to be, what drove them, and where they've succeeded and failed. Andrew Russell has clearly done his homework: the book is very well researched and provides plenty of historical vignettes and stories - a great read. And there are lots of stories to tell since standardization is very much a political process that is dominated by colorful personalities.
Curious to understand how the internet as we know it today came to be? What did David Clark really mean when he (now famously) said "We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code." Who were the players, what were the disputes about, and why and how did we arrive at the current architecture? Well, then you've found your book. Great read.
As a historian the author does not pick "right" viewpoints but presents what is known. As example, the different concepts of openness are not discussed but are referenced, because there is no common agreement of openness. The author does an excellent job of including the references that have proposed different ideas of what openness might mean. This is the greatest strength of this book. It offers the most complete bibliography of 20th Century standards and standardization journal articles, reports, oral histories (some collected by the author) and books this reviewer has seen. The text includes even more references than the bibliography.
Chapters 2 and 3 offer an excellent history of the development of the American standardization system. These Chapters should be required reading for anyone planning to attend a US standardization meeting. The author recognizes that standardization is a process balanced between the ad hoc flexible nature of markets and the hierarchal regimented nature of government and offers the term, "industrial regulation".
Chapter 4 provides a history of standardization in the monopoly Bell System before World War II (the most complete this reviewer has seen). The Bell operating companies, each serving specific markets, had very different requirements than the research groups or manufacturing company (Western Electric). This explains the give-and-take internal standardization process even in an organization (AT&T) that was seen to be monolithic. This history also identifies the separation that AT&T maintained between its internal standardization activities (often considered proprietary) and the growing national standardization organizations (e.g. American Engineering Standards Committee).
Chapter 5. The rise of concerns about the monolithic nature of AT&T prompts the formation of the Federal Communications Commission in 1934 and the first antitrust action against AT&T in 1949. This anti-trust action was settled with the Consent Decree in 1956 which limited AT&T to being a common-carrier. Beginning in this Chapter the history of communications protocol layers 3 (network) and above are presented. As example, this book does not address the physical interface at layer one (RS-232) used to separate early computer and common-carrier systems. RS-232 (~1960) marks the beginning of independent electronic compatibility standards.
Chapter 6 provides the early history of Arpanet and packet-switching offering a good (non-technical) understanding of how the virtual circuit (e.g., CCITT X.25) and datagram (e.g., Internet TCP) modes of packet-switching divided communications and computer companies respectively. This chapter does not address the concept of a "spanning layer" (as identified by David Clark [Internet engineer] after the Internet was deployed) which proved to be so important to establishing and maintaining compatibility of the Internet. The spanning layer in the Internet is the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP – layer 3) and aspects of the Internet Protocol (IP) layer 4 above it.
Chapter 7 presents the history of the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) development in ISO (an international standardization organization) noting the major difficulties that emerged in maintain compatibility between different OSI systems. Such compatibility problems did not occur using the Internet TCP/IP protocols due to fixed spanning layer protocols. The lack of compatibility of the OSI implementations destroyed the credibility of OSI implementations, as the author notes. The options in the OSI layer 3 and 4 (transport) protocols caused the gravest incompatibilities. Such options did not exist in the Internet TCP/IP protocols.
The author explains in concluding Chapters that openness had little to do with the success of the Internet and the reverse might be closer to correct. In summary, this book is the best history of 20th Century communications systems and the standardization processes that created them, that is available. The author is to be complemented for presenting clearly and fully what is know and avoiding the more technical and speculative issues of why.