jump to navigation

La normalisation au XIX siècle December 9, 2005

Posted by Iglika in Normalisation.

The relationship between standards and technology, the fruit of invention and innovation is tightly coupled. Technical standards, in all their forms public and private, are the means to codify technology for a segment of society. Invention and innovation are also closely linked to the progress of society. Because of these connections, the waves of progress, technology and standards are related.

The same as invention and technology, standards follow an evolutionary path. Multiple standards are created and over time winnowed down to the most desirable and culturally acceptable standards that codify the technical requirements developed during the preceding wave. Future waves build upon the previous technical work, by reference to the standards. Standards developed during one wave thus become the foundation upon which the technologies for the next wave are built. Each of the great waves of society can be identified in a related wave of standards.

Unit and Reference Standards

The first wave of civilization, the agrarian wave, begat the need to define units of weight and measure as early as 3500 BC. The definitions of such unit standards were kept by a primary authority, such as the king or temple by 3000 BC. Centuries later, after a long expansion of similar but different unit and reference standards in each geographic area, the various different national and regional unit standards began coalescing into the metric system . Originally the king’s forearm became the length of a cubit. The king’s foot, the length of a foot measure. Unless of royal birth, there was little room for innovation with unit standards. In fact, unit standards gain in value to society as a whole when more people use the same standard: a concept economists describe as increasing “externalities”. So the gain in the value of unit standards is inversely proportional to the variation (or innovation) allowed.

While unit standards can certainly be shown to inhibit innovation of additional unit standards, unit standards were a significant factor in the development of early civilization. Taxation is a more reliable form of income than tribute. Unit standards provided the weights and measures used for taxation and therefore assisted in the rise of the first great city states of Babylon and Egypt.

The early history of unit standards shows that unit standards usually inhibit invention of redundant unit standards but do assist in the development of more complex societies.

Similarity and Methodology Standards

The next strata of standards is similarity standards. Similarity standards define common properties. While unit standards may define the carrying capacity of a barrel, similarity standards define how similar (construction) one barrel is to the next. Making each barrel similar offers significant economic advantage in manufacturing as well as distribution and selling. Similarity standards codify the second great wave of civilization, the industrial revolution. Initially similarity standards were only private standards. The barons of the emerging 18th century industrial age were supportive of “standards” so long as they controlled them. They created rail systems of many different gauges so as to prevent the operation of their competitor’s trains on their right-of-way (tracks).

In the early 19th century, the growing use of mechanized process instigated the powerful concept of interchangeability. Interchangeability of parts was originally conceived for the rapid repair of guns after a battle. In the earliest systems interchangeability was possible only among the guns from one manufacturer. In this manner, interchangeability was privately controlled and competition was limited. Examples of private products with interchangable parts that preclude competition: guns, train track spacing, fire plug flanges, custom nuts and bolts. Given the technology of the period, these products with interchangable parts were made using custom jigs developed by each manufacturer. So different manufacturers using different custom jigs and inaccurate measuring systems could not successfully make interchangable parts for the same product.

By the mid 19th century, machine tools and measuring devices had progressed sufficiently that it was practical to create a drawing (specification) and machine parts to match. By using these specifications, multiple companies could manufacturer interchangable parts. These specifications were, in effect, early standards. During the same period, society realized the importance of having all train tracks or all nuts and bolts or fire plug flanges the same and the result was the beginnings of the systems for standardization in use today. Now even products that do not need any form of interchangeability have similarity requirements (public and private) for safety, usage, environment, shipping, etc.

The early history of similarity standards demonstrates that proprietary products with interchangable parts were a form of barrier to market entry, but did serve to increase a company’s profits. Converting proprietary products to public similarity standards allows others to compete and the public is better served.

Compatibility Standards

The third strata of standards is compatibility standards. Compatibility standards define a form of interworking. Interworking of dissimilar parts or systems is closely related to the interchangeability of similar parts and systems, but it is distinct. The plug and socket are not similar, but they can interwork (be locally compatible). All properly built plugs are also interchangable with each other. Properly written, a similarity standard for the plug could be compatible with a properly written similarity standard for a socket. But when the necessary aspects of both the plug and socket are described in one document – that is a compatibility standard.

Compatibility standards are fundamentally required for any form of communications. Possibly the first technical communications standard was a common number system. Communications systems, which implement compatibility standards, have developed as public systems (telegraph and telephone) as well as private systems (data communications systems). Given the sophistication of electronics and other complex communications technology, it is no longer practical to define compatibility using only separate similarity standards.

Telegraph and telephone companies, initially through invention and innovation and later via regulation as a public utility, maintained control of their standards and markets. Public utilities are often termed “natural” monopolies, because of the difficulty defining all of the standards required to support unbiased competition. In fact, the need for regulation of telegraph and telephone companies was an outgrowth of the need for public compatibility standards. Public utility systems represent another means to ensure that public standards are used for public good, not private gain. However, public utilities severely limit the inventor’s chance for private gain. The inventor has no means to compete with a public utility, so the avenue with the most potential for private gain, commercial enterprise, is thwarted. Even the gain from selling an invention to a public utility is very limited since with only one customer there is little room for negotiation. This loss of the inventor’s advantage appears to be responsible for the slow pace of innovation in public telephone and telegraph companies.

Public voice communications was recognized to be a public good (e.g., universal service) very early in its development. Public voice communications required a similarity of equipment and systems for compatibility Such compatibility was seen to force a monopoly, so governments decided to control the telephone and telegraph companies via a regulated monopoly (public utility). Data communications evolved through its development and use in large organizations and was not until recently recognized as a public good (e.g., the Internet). IBM pioneered data communications systems and developed many proprietary compatibility specifications (under the system Synchronous Network Architecture) but these, often technically superior private standards, have been obsoleted by the markets desire for public data communications compatibility standards as exemplified by the Internet. The history of private and public compatibility standards for communications identifies the importance of public compatibility standards.

There are two significant paths to public standards – government intervention (via regulations and public utilities) or consensus standardization. Public voice communications systems are evolving away from public control and moving toward commercial control, i.e., publicly available for a fee and privately funded. This trend is partially made possible through the use and acceptance of voluntary (consensus) public standards to define compatibility. The privatization of most major Public Telephone and Telegraph organizations is one indication of the growing acceptance of consensus standardization. Consensus based standardization does not in itself strike a balance between private motivation and public gain. One of the problems with voluntary consensus based public standards is how to accommodate patented invention in such standards. Currently, consensus-based standards organizations use a doctrine requiring that patent holders offer to license their inventions on “reasonable, fair and non-discriminatory” terms. This has the effect of reducing the maximum royalties that an inventor can receive but defining that the invention will be available to multiple developers.

The early history of compatibility standards demonstrates that private compatibility standards were a very significant barrier to competition. Initially public utilities were used as a means to prevent private communications market domination. More recently, consensus based standardization is being used to avoid creating public utilities yet prevent market domination. However, compatibility standards tend to reduce the means available to a communications systems inventor to gain a commercial advantage.


The latest wave of change, the adaptive information wave, refers to the use of changeable programmable processors for all seven layers of communications. Programmable processors provide the means to implement basic communications yet allow proprietary communications technology. Once all communications functions are programmable and changeable, they can be adapted to support any new invention and still allow prior compatible operation. What is necessary is a simple protocol that shuttles back and forth between the communicating ends and negotiates which specific layer processes will be used for compatible operation. Such a “protocol of protocols” is termed etiquette.

The advent and wide spread use of digital signal processors (DSP, a specific form of microprocessor) to support the programmable operation of even the physical layer communications function of modulation (previously associated with fixed function circuit design) is the last step to making etiquettes practical. DSPs provide the programmable operation at the first (physical) OSI layer; programmable controllers and host software on ever faster hosts can provide programmable operation of the remaining six layers.

Etiquette standards create new ways to design, control and add value to communications systems. The concepts of etiquettes can also be applied to the local interfaces between software processes in a single system. However, in such local interfaces, the functions of etiquette are often integrated into the software processes, making the specific functions of etiquette more difficult to identify.

Examples of etiquettes used to negotiate with remote systems include the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) V.8 used by telephone modems to negotiate compatible operation with the remote modem. This is how older and newer telephone modems (e.g., V.34 and V.90) find a common way to communicate. In Group 3 facsimile, the negotiating protocol ITU T.30 is an etiquette that has also been very successfully extended (e.g., from 4800, to 9600, 14400 and 28800 bit/s) for over thirty years. In the IETF, draft RFC Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a new etiquette to negotiate multimedia communications.

Etiquettes between remote systems become desirable when programmable processors and changeable memory (new forms of technology) are available to support all of the OSI layers used for remote communications. With the introduction of such adaptive technology, a new wave of standards is emerging. As DSP become economically viable to support the physical layer of communications, it becomes practical to employ etiquettes to negotiate communications between systems. This negotiation can support all types of compatibility, and can also support proprietary “branded” enhancements.

A proper etiquette is a serial structure containing the etiquette revision level, negotiated parameters (what the etiquette is negotiating, usually which protocol, associated revision level and options), and proprietary enhancements. Etiquettes require a serial structure to ensure that revisions remain fully backward compatible. The proprietary enhancements section of the etiquette would include the legally controlled identifier (branded ID), market segmentation fields, and any proprietary enhancements (or a pointer to them). Adding new protocol identifiers to etiquettes allows the support of additional protocols without affecting the compatible operation of existing protocols. Over time, desirable proprietary enhancements may become standard and may be added to the standardized parameter sets. Ricoh, a Japanese facsimile machine manufacturer, offered proprietary higher speed facsimile to its corporate customers. Then, years later, similar higher speed operation to what they pioneered, was included in the G3 facsimile standard.

Keeping revisions fully backward compatible in very complex protocol stacks or software processes is impossible, because it is not possible to identify or test all the ramifications of a change. Thus changes to add features or fix “bugs” can result in more “bugs.” Since etiquettes can negotiate protocols (including different revisions), it is possible for an etiquette to negotiate the “best” protocol or revision for a specific application. The logic describing what is “best” would need to be previously uploaded to each of the communicating systems.

As companies develop unique communications features, they can add them to the proprietary enhancements field, as Ricoh did with higher speed facsimile. In this manner, companies can add value yet support compatible communications or interfaces. In the proprietary enhancements field, the use of a branded ID (SIP uses a reverse domain name) may provide a legal way to control the proprietary enhancement and therefore may represent a new form of intellectual property.

Such enhancements are not limited to allowing private inventions such as higher data rates or better compression. Etiquettes can also control market segments to increase profits by offering specific capabilities to specific market segments. For example, the banking industry may negotiate better encryption, the radiologist market may negotiate higher resolution or the wireless market may negotiate better error control. Market segmentation via the etiquette can also be applied to the sales channel, allowing individual dealers and distributors to automatically poll their specific customers’ equipment for usage billing (copier market), problem analysis, and maintenance support (automatic ordering of replacement parts).


La normalisation et les trains

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the increased demand to transport goods from place to place led to advanced modes of transportation. The invention of the Railroad was a fast, economical and effective means of sending products cross-country. This feat was made possible by the standardization of the railroad gauge, which established the uniform distance between two rails on a track. Imagine the chaos and wasted time if a train starting out in New York had to be unloaded in St. Louis because the railroad tracks did not line up with the train’s wheels. Early train travel in America was hampered by this phenomenon.

During the Civil War the U.S. government recognized the military and economic advantages to having a standardized track gauge. The government worked with the railroads to promote use of the most common railroad gauge in the U.S. at the time which measured 4 feet, 8 ½ inches, a track size that originated in England. This gauge was mandated for use in the Transcontinental Railroad in 1864 and by 1886 had become the U.S. standard.

Federal Railroad Administration,
an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation,
the Association of American Railroads and the
U.S. Dept. of Defense’s Defense Standardization Program Office


What is a standart ?The word ‘standard’ is used frequently in everyday speech, most often in an imprecise descriptive manner: “That’s fairly standard for the time of year” or “standard English”. But as a published specification, a Standard has to have a very precise meaning. We believe the following definition best describes a contemporary Standard.

A Standard is a published document which sets out specifications and procedures designed to ensure that a material, product, method or service is fit for its purpose and consistently performs the way it was intended to.

So Standards are vehicles of communication for producers and users. They establish a common language, which defines quality and establishes safety criteria. Costs are lower if procedures are standardized; training is also simplified. And consumers accept products more readily when they can be judged on intrinsic merit.

In the English-speaking world, the process by which a Standard is developed is known as standardization. It is interesting that in French, the word used for what we describe as a Standard is a Norme, and the process is known as Normalisation. So another way of looking at technical standardization is as a process which normalizes a product, process or material.

History of standarts

Standards have been around a long time. Relics from ancient civilizations such as Babylon and early Egypt provide ample evidence that standardization was being used as far back as seven thousand years ago. The earliest Standards were the physical Standards for weights and measures. They provided a single reference point against which all other weights and measures in that society could be standardized. As trade and commerce developed, written documents evolved which set down mutually agreed Standards for products and services such as agriculture, ships, buildings, weapons and so on.

Initially, such Standards were unique documents, part of a single contract between supplier and the purchaser. Later, the concept of common Standards evolved, where the same Standard could be used across a range of transactions. This portability, offering a uniform set of criteria, is the basis of modern standardization. It uses common knowledge, common requirements, and common needs to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Standarts after the industrial revolution

After the rapid industrialization of the early nineteenth century, the general absence of national standardization caused huge inefficiencies. Lack of conformity was a major cost, and evidence of this is still around today in the number of different railway gauges that exist. After the Industrial Revolution, occupational injury also became a major issue. For example, explosions in boilers and pressure pipes were a terrifying reality. Workers rightly approached any nineteenth century machinery with a legitimate degree of fear. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), one of the first voluntary standardizing bodies, was established in 1880, at a time when, according to their records, over 50,000 fatalities a year were being caused by explosions in pressures systems on land and at sea.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: