free-specifications

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The specifications published on microformats.org are free specifications. Unlike many standards bodies, you don't have to pay to read microformats.org specifications. You don't have to pay to participate in the process, or be a member of any specific company or organisation.

Benefits

  1. Free specifications are implementable specifications. Standards bodies that require you to pay money to download a PDF of a specification prevent implementation, especially in contexts where having to pay 50–100 (or more) USD/EUR etc. to read a document is not feasible.
  2. Free specifications allow experts to inspect them. The principle of "many eyes make all bugs shallow" requires that people should be able to inspect the specification at any time. If you deliberately prevent them from doing so unless they pay to download the specification, that reduces the ability for people to find issues with the specification, or to validate the behaviour of a particular implementation against the specification.
  3. With free-as-in-libre (cc-zero/cc-by/cc-by-sa etc.) specifications, no permission is required to translate specifications into other languages. Microformats.org has specifications in multiple languages: see other-languages and how-to-start-a-new-translation—want to translate one of our specs into Greek or Hebrew or Korean? You don't have to get permission to do it. Specifications that do not allow for free translation impose the burden of only generally being available in one language—usually English—thus preventing useful contributions and implementations from speakers of other languages.
  4. Frustration. People are accustomed to not paying for things on the Internet. Paywalls prevent participation generally.
  5. Implementation documentation cannot easily reference non-free documentation. If you are writing an implementation of a free-to-read—or even better, a free-as-in-libre—spec, and you need to document why you made a particular implementation decision in, say, code comments or accompanying documentation, you better make sure you comply with the licensing rules of the standards body. Quote too much and you are infringing their copyright and are legally liable. But if the spec is publicly on the web, you can just include a URL pointing to the relevant section. And if the spec is free-as-in-libre, you can quote it verbatim and transform it to your hearts content.
  6. Simple refactoring into primers. If the standard is available under a free (libre) license, you can refactor it into a primer, tutorial or other form of documentation with extensive quotation. Readers of the non-normative documentation can also check it against the normative specification if that specification is free to read: putting a paywall or copyright-wall up around the specification means that it becomes harder for people to find errors and issues in the secondary documentation.

Frustrated implementors describe their frustrations

See also

free-specifications was last modified: Monday, November 10th, 2014

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