Why yes we have seen that cartoon, many times, thanks– but no, it doesn’t show that efforts to develop standards are futile. To the contrary! We encourage skeptics of standards to take a closer read.
The XKCD cartoon identifies a collective action problem, which is only further entrenched by each unilateral effort to solve the problem by competing to ‘beat’ all other standards. Collective action problems can be solved, however, by cooperation! If a new standard is designed to enable interoperability among other standards – voila! We can have many different but compatible standards.
Open Referral takes this cooperative approach. It may seem less heroic, but it’s more effective. Instead of one standard that ‘beats’ them all, HSDS is now an industry standard for resource directory data exchange – the only such standard for exchange, but one designed to enable cooperation across any system using any other relevant standard for any other purpose. One way to think of it is as an ‘interlingua’ – a tool for translation. By creating capacities for translation, we don’t have to solve everyone’s use case! We just make it easier for different actors using systems with different standards to work together, so anyone can have a range of compatible options for developing a solution to their own use case.