What Makes A Standard?

John Lovett [Posted by John Lovett]

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Something rather amazing happened yesterday in the Web Analytics realm that was enabled by social media. A longstanding conversation regarding all things Web analytics has been playing out in Twitter under the hashtag #wa. [If confused by this already, you may want to drop off here.

Recently, Washington state has jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and was creating "noise" on #wa. Thus, a number of Tweets ensued to shift the conversation from #wa to something we Web Analytics wonks could call our own.

While @dustinwallace claims credit for conceiving the idea, the market was effectively moved by @ericpeterson. At the speed of a few Tweets, I watched this saga unfold via Tweetdeck yesterday. It went something like this:

1)      The idea for change was seeded

2)      @ericpeterson proposed new terminology (#measure)

3)      A few Tweets volleyed with alternative suggestions (including my own)

4)      @ericpeterson responded, acknowledged the resistance and declared his intentions

5)      A new standard was born (#measure is the new #wa)

6)      The results are flying around in Tweets all day today

Let’s put aside the fact that reading this preamble only a year ago would have sounded utterly ridiculous…and it still may read like jibberish to many…but this change and the speed with which it occurred is remarkable.

Thus, it got me thinking about standards, which is a topic I visit often. A standard on Twitter is something that a group can agree on collectively. In Web analytics, we’ll now use the hashtag #measure to discuss Web analytics. Similarly, #MVT is used when discussing multivariable testing, #waa is used for reference to the Web Analytics Association and #analytics is commonly associated with Google Analytics.

But how do standards evolve for more consequential matters? The WAA has been rallying for standards for years. They’ve gone to great lengths to establish standard definitions for Web Analytics and open their thoughts and process to public scrutiny for the greater good. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) also works towards developing standards for measuring Web site traffic to guide advertisers in their financial planning. There are numerous other examples of standards which exist. In fact, there’s so many to choose from that they lack effectiveness. Further, given that new standards can emerge in the flurry of a few tweets, what really constitutes a standard?

I have my ideas, and welcome your input. This topic is one that I’ve invested time and thought into. At the upcoming X Change conference in San Francisco on September 10th, I’ll be leading a discussion on Standards and welcome all interested parties to attend.

When moving at the speed of tweets, standards will become increasingly important. Don’t you want to be a part of the conversation?

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