Standards

 

traffic at night

A sea of red taillights on Sunset Blvd at night.

One of the finest examples of a stated and enforced standard is the specifications written for the automobile.  Every aspect of the automobile is specified so that every manufacturer is required to provide the same features and quality.  Every consumer can expect those same features and quality.  It is a tribute to our society for having created and enforced these standards. Most people do not appreciate what this body of work does or why it is so important.  The automobile industry is over 125 years old and it’s taken much of that time to sort out these standards.

 

Picture yourself driving down a busy highway at night.  Before you are several hundred cars going in the same direction.  What you see are rows and rows of red tail lights.  That’s is to say not just any tail light but the red color specified under Title 49: Transportation, PART 571—FEDERAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS, Subpart B.  Looking down the highway you see each and every red tail light lens’ color matches every other precisely.  Wow.  When we glance down the road we can see in an instant that everyone is headed the same way.  If one of those 100 cars were coming at us, we would spot that in an instant.

Imagine what we would see if there were no standards; if every automobile’s owner decided for his or herself what he wanted for a tail light color.  Looking down the highway we would see something more like a Christmas tree then a column of red.  Is the car ahead of you slowing or stopping?  No one would know. Chaos would ensue.

New technologies take decades before manufacturers and consumers can agree on and set standards and rightly so. To set standards too quickly in the life cycle of a new technology means quashing inventiveness and creativity.  To wait too long before setting standards allows the biggest players in the space monopolistic control over the marketplace which drives up prices and further limits choice and ultimately hurts consumers.  Until standards are set and enforced that new space might behave like the wild West where anything goes.  The law is slow to catch up to the reality of the times, too.  Price gouging, failure to supply the promised value of a new product, and lack of truth in advertising are rampant. Misalignment of consumer expectations with manufacturer’s deliverables is common.  The resultant feeling is one of mistrust and disappointment.

With cryptocurrencies, we’re experiencing the early days of a new technology, characterized by much of the same.  There is a general feeling of mistrust and disappointment with software that doesn’t work as expressed or expected, and developers (the manufacturers, in this case) who are too quick to make promises and not experienced enough to understand why they should not cut corners or speed production in a trade-off with quality assurance and testing. Unfortunately, until standards are set and maintained, we can expect more of the same.  Furthermore, standards take a long time before they are written and ratified.  Until then, expect cryptocurrencies to feel like part of the wild, wild, West.