The prestandard phase...

...is the most exciting. This period is marked by tremendous innovation, high hopes, and grand ambition. "Aha!" ideas flow readily. Since there are no experts, everyone can compete, and it seems as if everyone does. Easy entry into the field draws myriad players. For instance, when telephone networks began, there were few standards and many contenders. In 1899, there were 2,000 local telephone firms in the American telephone network, many of them running with their own standards of transmission. In a similar vein, in the 1890s, electricity came in a variety of voltages and frequencies. Each local power plant chose one of many competing standards for electrical power. Transportation networks, ditto. As late in the railroad era as 1880, thousands of railway companies did not share a universal gauge.

Two examples of networks in the prestandard stage today are online video and e-money. You have the choice of many competing protocols with equal prospects. With both domains, the uncertainty level is high, but the consequences of being wrong are minimal. Little is locked in, so it's easy to change.



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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK