Trevor and myself attended the IAnnotate web annotation conference in Berlin this week, having been kindly alerted to it by colleagues at EUSCREEN. Having previously encountered the image annotation standard IIIF with colleagues from Digirati in the UK. Previous experience with standards had made us a little wary as sometimes standards work can lose contact with practical everyday experience and become an expensive end in their own right, consuming vast resources but leading nowhere, – my own experience with educational interoperability standards confirms that :-).
So, we were beware of getting entangled in a standards runaway – as it happens some of the other participants had similar reservations about past standards initiatives, including W3C ones. However, our experience of attending the W3C working group briefing on the development of the web annotation standards was like a great of fresh air. One statement in particular stuck in my mind – it went something like
“Look, we don’t care what you do inside your own [web annotation] systems, but when you come to share your data with the outside world it makes sense to do it in a standardised way – so that others can make sense of it and use it”
This was the turning point for me – the little thing that revealed the intent – that and the fact that the proposed standard is admirably practical, light weight and makes useful reuse of other W3C standards such as media fragments. Believe it or not I have seen developers and designers trying to adopt a heavy standard internally in their systems in a slavish and sometimes pedantic manner – leading to what might be most charitably described as ‘sub optimal outcomes’.
So, a great result for us from attendance at the conference – we also get a ready made data model that we can adopt and build on without having to dream up our own that also makes compliance with the emerging W3C web annotation standards easier and more useful.