The Ecology of Standards Processes: Lessons from Internet Standardization
MIS Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 5, pp. 467-488, (2006)
55 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2012 Last revised: 23 Feb 2013
Date Written: 2006
In order to create Internet standards, people and ideas move across many institutions. By drawing upon the new institutionalism and on organizational ecology, we develop an ecological approach to studying this movement. The approach examines the birth and death of standards bodies and the ideas they cultivate. We apply the approach to the history of Web services choreography standards, in which over 500 participants traversed nine institutions during a 12-year period. We explain critical aspects of this history by analyzing patterns of movement of standardization ideas. We show that standard-making institutions refuse to legitimate standards by utilizing bylaws which reflect the values of the institution; these values reflect the design legacy of the Internet. We formulate conjectures about the dynamics of the birth and death of working groups inside larger institutions that form a population ecology. We discuss plausible explanations for why specific Internet standard-making efforts do not resolve quickly. The theoretical implication of the study is that an ecological approach will apply well to inventions that have been incubated, such as the Internet. The pragmatic implication is that changes to institutional Internet governance, particularly to the bylaws of standards bodies, can have drastic and unintended effects that will reshape the standard-making ecology.
Keywords: standard making, legitimacy, organizational ecology, institutionalism, Internet standards, web services choreography
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