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How open are ‘open standards’ exactly?

VP_EAs you may (or may not) know I’m quite passionate about so called modeling languages; modeling standards which are often used within the field of software design. Some languages which I use on a regular basis are UML, BPMN, ERD and some diagrams which are specific for my modeling tool of choice: Visual Paradigm.

This week marks a bit of a milestone for me because quite recently I gained access to the Enterprise edition of Visual Paradigm which introduced me to Enterprise Architecture.

Although I was already roughly familiar with the concepts I never really followed up on those because I didn’t see the need. But now that I can get hands-on experience with Enterprise modeling languages and frameworks such as ArchiMate, TOGAF and BMM I figured I should do some research. ArchiMate for example is described as an “open and independant enterprise architecture modeling language”. It’s even developed by the ‘Open Group’ so surely this is as open and transparent as it gets, right? Well… maybe not.

What is an Open Standard?

The first problem we need to address here is “what does open mean?”. In this day and age you really can’t just assume that when someone describes something to you that you and they will both have the same concept in mind. For example: when someone tells you that they are being harassed online then this sounds pretty grim at first, right?. However… it wouln’t be the first time that someone speaks of harassment while the only thing that actually happened was other people commenting on something shared online while mentioning that they didn’t agree.

As bizarre as this sounds but according to some people out there harassment is basically similar to telling someone that you don’t agree with them.

But back ontopic: so to counter for this we first need to determine what ‘open’ actually means. Well, unfortunately that’s not very easy because the definition can be used in dozens of ways. Open can refer to the standard being publically available, but it can also mean that the drafting process was open, or that there was an “open membership” in place. And of course there’s also the influence of the open source movement which often states that something can only be considered ‘open’ if it’s fully accessible. So; people can adopt a standard, implement it as they deem fit and maybe even extend on it.

Language specifications

One of the things which fascinates me about modeling languages is the way they’re being used and portraited. In many cases you can truly speak of an actual language with the main difference that it’s not a spoken language but one which consists of drawings, or ‘model elements’. And before we dismiss this as being silly: you do realize that Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese consist of dozens of small ‘drawings’ which make up for the (written) language, right?

So I really don’t think that the idea behind a modeling language is all that strange.

Now, maybe I’m oversimplifying things but for me there is one very important aspect of a language: the dictionary. So basically a reference which you can use to look up the details of the language which you’re interested in.

And guess what? Those also exist for modeling languages. If we look at one of my all-time favorite modeling languages UML (which stands for: Unified Modeling Language) then we’ll find that it has its own website here. It is basically described a “general purpose development modeling language”. And in 1997 UML was adopted as a standard by the OMG, the Object Management Group.

Note: an adopted standard, not necessarily an open standard. And this is where things get bizarre…

See, another thing thing I deem important with languages is that they should be freely accessible. After all: isn’t communication one of the most important aspects of them all? And how do we do that? Using languages. Surely you want to be inclusive when it comes to a language: you want people to use it, right?

Different language motivations?

See, and this is where my bias might get in the way of things but one of the reasons why I’ve always been quite an advocate for UML is because although it’s no where proclaimed as an open standard (or an open language) it actually is. Depending on your definition of ‘open’ of course.

But for me ‘open’ means just that: something which is (openly) accessible and therefor usable by everyone. As I mentioned before: shouldn’t a language be inclusive first and foremost?

And if we once again take a closer look at UML then we’ll discover that the specification is as open as it can get. Just check this website. We’re given full access to the specification; free for everyone to download, free for everyone to read and no weird or strict limitations. Sure, there is such a thing as copyright, and there is also mentioning of patents, but in the end the language itself is fully accessible and we’re free to use the specification for what it was intended.

Which brings me to: what is the intention of UML anyway? Well… I quote: “The objective of UML is to provide system architects, software engineers, and software developers with tools for analysis, design, and implementation of software-based systems as well as for modeling business and similar processes.”.

Each to their own, but I think they’re doing a pretty good job here. See: although it might not be very easy you could actually teach yourself UML by studying this specification alone. Because it will tell you exactly how the language is supposed to be used, in every possible detail.

So when they claim that the objective is to provide us, the engineers, with tools for analysis, design and implementation then seriously: I believe them.

I think it’s also noteworthy that UML dates from a time where people could truly be passionate about technology and really wanted to learn as much about it as they can and often share that experience with others. And with learning I don’t mean dry theory perse: but actually learning and understanding what makes things tick.

As mentioned in the header above: I believe that the underlying motivation is fully just and honest.

So now for an open standard…

As I mentioned before ArchiMate is said to be an open and independent modeling language. It is developed and maintained by the Open Group so lets see what this is all about. If we go to the Open Group website then things seem pretty transparent at first: when I visit the Enterprise Architecture standards (use the menu) I can find an overview of the ArchiMate standards.

And here we can see the first issue: the specification has a 90-day evaluation license?

You see: ‘open’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘free’ nor does it have to mean ‘open access’. And that also doesn’t seem to be the case here as well. First they falsely claim that we’re allowed to download the specification for non-commercial use and it will be “free of charge”. The only problem: you need to register on their website before you can download it.

Sorry, but that’s not “free of charge” at all. They want your personal information and in return for that you’ll get permission to download this specification.

And that brings us to even more problems. When you’re on the publications section (the section which tells you that you need to register and all that) you don’t get access to any privacy disclaimers at all. Only on the main Open Group website (and the registration window itself) will you find a link at the bottom which points you to their privacy policy.

And to be honest I’m not impressed: “The Open Group uses your Data such as name, physical address, telephone number, email address, and company/institution to engage in interactions with you, including contacting you about your membership, event participation, download publications, and to fulfill orders.”.

Now sure: they also mention that communication is only done with our permission and that we can unsubscribe from all that (but.. opt-out instead of opt-in?). Still, by itself all this doesn’t sound too unreasonable I think.

However… Have we already forgotten what we came for here? All we wanted was access to the ArchiMate specification, but before you can download anything the Open Group wants to know pretty much everything about you.

Sorry, as said before: that’s not free and it’s also not a very open structure in my opinion.

You’re not allowed to download, but here you go anyway…

So as it turns out you cannot download the PDF document of their specification without giving them all your personal data and accepting their 90 day non-commercial license. They claim that it’s all open and free but that’s obviously not true.

But there is something weird going on. When I search Google for “archimate 3 specification” one of the first hits I get is…  an Open Group website publication containing the full ArchiMate 3 specification.

If that isn’t facepalm worthy then I don’t know what is. Because riddle me this: didn’t we just download the contents of the ArchiMate specification? Without having to agree with any license what so ever?

And aren’t we basically downloading the specification one page at a time for every link we follow on that page? I mean… how else can we read HTML pages if they’re not being downloaded?

I don’t know about you but I think this is bizarre, and in my opinion the specification and standard is hardly as free and open as they want to make us to believe. It gets hilarious if you check out the copyright statement of the HTML specification itself: “No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.”.

But… by opening that website I already transmitted it in electronic form to my computer. So… am I now safe to conclude that I can fully ignore this particular statement? I mean: if the copyright owner wouldn’t have given us prior permission then surely we wouldn’t be able to access this document in the first place?

And the contradictions continue…

I don’t really get what they’re trying to do here. All those contradictions and weird statements are really cringeworthy I think.

Take for example the objective of ArchiMate: “This standard is the specification of the ArchiMate Enterprise Architecture modeling language, a visual language with a set of default iconography for describing, analyzing, and communicating many concerns of Enterprise Architectures as they change over time. The standard provides a set of entities and relationships with their corresponding iconography for the representation of Architecture Descriptions.

That looks more like a statement than an objective to me. I mean, the UML specification shared a true objective: to provide developers with tools (the short version). But this is not an objective, this is a statement describing what ArchiMate stands for.

But it gets even more bizarre… If we check 1.3 ‘Conformance’ then it tells us the following: “The ArchiMate language may be implemented in software used for Enterprise Architecture modeling. For the purposes of this standard, the conformance requirements for implementations of the language given in this section apply.

Yet no where in that specification does it mention extra requirement to obtain a license of some sort. Even the previously mentioned copyright claim clearly states: “The intent of publication of the specification is to encourage implementations of the specification.”.

However, what they are doing is advising us readers to check the Open Group website for additional conformance and certification requirements. Requirements like the need to register before we can download the specification I guess? Even though we’re now downloading it one part at a time?

Now, I get what they’re trying to do here but even so… Being the nerd I am it almost looks to me as if they don’t even understand how this whole Internet thing actually works (or can work). Not to mention the sheer amount of contradictions.

ArchiMate is impressive… seriously. But also looks a bit shadey :/

Now, don’t get my critical comments wrong here. I am definitely not trying to disrespect the massive effort that must have gone into ArchiMate (and the other standards such as TOGAF). Having hands-on access to these standards through Visual Paradigm (my favorite modeling tool) has been a really impressive experience for me so far.

However, what I don’t like is that they’re basically trying to sell the whole experience while pretending that it’s all open and free. That is simply not true. If it was open and really freely available then I should be able to download the specification without having to provide them with all the information they might need to spam me.

Which is another one of my concerns. I’m the kind of guy who actually reads privacy statements. And well… I don’t think this sounds very transparent at all: “We will not sell or lease your Data. We will not distribute, or reveal your Data to parties outside our business associates unless”.

Wait a second here: they will not distribute / reveal our data to parties outside of their business associates? But what about inside? And who are those business associates anyway?

This is even mentioned a second time: “We do not provide user account or Data outside The Open Group and its associates for the purpose of advertising, independent telemarketing, or direct mail marketing of any products or services.”.

Note how they specifically mention not to share our data outside of the Open Group and its associates? But they don’t mention anything about not sharing the data on the inside. Weird. So associates could receive my personal data? And then optionally use it for their own purposes?

And guess what? => “At times, The Open Group may receive or transfer Data to/and or from partners that work with The Open Group in order to provide products and services. We shall seek your consent to transfer minimal Data such as your name and email address through which the third-party provider can contact you to obtain more information to complete the service; at which time you can make an informed choice as to whether or not share your information with that party.

Partners? So what’s the difference between an Open Group partner and an associate? And what if a partner is both? Then this last statement really doesn’t add anything useful I think, because in the statements before they already stated that your information could be shared within the Open Group and its associates.

See, this is why most legal documents begin with a clear definition of anything mentioned within the document. Not this one obviously, we’re simply left to guess about the exact meaning of terms such as associates and partners.

Closed is open, and open is closed?

Ok, maybe I am a bit too critical here but even so… If you describe something as open and free while you then more or less hide behind a wall of somewhat contradicting and not fully transparent legal statements then I can’t help but wonder how transparent your business model actually is. It doesn’t provide me with the sense of trust I need to convince myself that registration might be beneficial for me.

Like I said before: the OMG doesn’t mention anything about open or free, but they simply provide the information to anyone who is interested.

And in this day and age you can never be too careful, because everyone seems to want a piece of the pie that is user data.

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June 21, 2018 - Posted by | Editorial, Visual Paradigm | , , , , , ,

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