Open source crusade blocks geospatial standard

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Open source crusade blocks geospatial standard
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Rock the vote

After two years of discussions, the OGC invited members with voting rights to vote on the candidate standard in early May 2013, but the process stalled within a matter of days in the face of several ‘no’ votes.

Behind the scenes, both advocates and opponents of Esri’s proposed standard oiled up their lobbying machines, despite OGC overtures to avoid any inflammatory activity that would threaten the progress of the vote.

Esri employees, wising up to the opposition swelling around their proposal, took the extraordinary step of personally lobbying customers that were OGC voting members, insisting that any objections were without merit.

Shorter, meanwhile, grew increasingly concerned that government users of Esri software would not have the time to investigate the matter fully, and that many would yield to pressure from internal users wedded to the ArcGIS product. His fear was that while a ‘yes’ vote from these organisations would see Esri’s proposal approved, any decision to abstain from voting would also invariably tip the numbers in Esri’s favour.

Shorter embarked on some last minute lobbying of his own. A broad mix of competitors, open source advocates and concerned government officials  - most of whom were OSGeo members - were asked to consider signing an open letter to the standards body expressing their objections. This was eventually signed by some 135 individuals and stated a list of reasons why Esri’s proposal should be rejected.

These efforts now appear to have borne fruit.

Last week, a member of the OGC’s Standards Working Group (SWG) passed a motion to withdraw the specification from the OGC standards process - a motion which was unanimously accepted. 

If there are no objections from the OGC’s Technical Committee before Friday, June 7, the specification is withdrawn. (If there are objections, the motion becomes the subject of an electronic vote.) A representative of the OGC has told iTnews there have been no objections to date.

It has since been revealed that the SWG member that put the motion forward was an employee and official representative of Esri (Keith Ryden), and the motion was seconded by a key Esri business partner.

This has even Esri's most staunch critics wondering whether this was an act of grace or cunning.

Representatives from Esri have been contacted on several occasions by iTnews to ask why the company chose to withdraw the proposal, to no avail.

The wording of the SWG’s motion offers some clues.

“Considering the breadth of discussion both internal and external to the OGC process since the vote announcement, the SWG members feel that the vote cannot continue until the many questions raised have been addressed,” the SWG wrote in the motion to withdraw the Esri specification.

“Issues regarding OGC process, vendor advantage, duplication of capabilities, etc. have now overshadowed technical discussions of the merits of the specification. By withdrawing the OGC GeoServices REST API candidate standard, the necessary discussions regarding OGC process, policy, and position can continue separately.

“Over the coming months there will be opportunities for OGC staff, members and the general public to engage in discussions related to policy and procedures, such as clear statements on openness and interoperability, overlapping standards, backwards compatibility and so forth.”

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