Who makes the standards?
One of the biggest challenges associated with forming a new standard is getting it adopted. So from the start, a big goal of our group was to get as many different companies involved as possible (the idea being that anybody with an "ownership" stake in the standard would be more likely to actually use it). So a bunch of technology vendors, advertising networks, ad aggregators, and a whole host of others -- over 50 in all -- sat down at the 2008 Digital Signage Expo to detail some of the things that we thought could really advance the industry, if properly standardized and agreed upon.
POPAI, a group better known for its work in retail marketing than technical standards development, agreed to host our digital standards effort and provide support in the form of teleconference lines, meeting rooms and (most importantly) legal review. As a non-profit organization with a global presence and very long operating history, our group felt they provided the reach and stability we'd need to get the standards adopted widely.
With the basic foundation in place, we started holding weekly conference calls to discuss business issues, implementation challenges, and, of course, the development of the standards themselves. For the most part, we've been pretty quiet about what's going on, since the general agreement among our members was that there's enough hype in the industry without us touting some almost-ready standards that might still be six months away.
What's the current status?
Image credit: Woodley Wonderworks
The group is also working on a standard for play list interoperability, which I'm pleased to say is really coming together. This first version is going to be fairly straightforward, supporting only basic functionality, but it's meant to be useful for passing playlist information between two servers (for example, a CMS and a digital signage management server), or between a server and simple player. Our current schedule has the functionality being finalized by early June, with a vote shortly thereafter. Beyond that, we have schedule interoperability and data transport interoperability on the agenda. While the extent to which these standards get adopted remains to be seen, we've gotten confirmation from several of the more credible players out there that interoperability and standards compliance is a key priority.
Is this the only standards game in town?
When it comes to technology standards specifically targeting the digital signage industry, I believe it is. (Please leave a comment below if you know otherwise.) However, there are plenty of other groups covering other aspects of the business. For example, OVAB has been working on guidelines for audience metrics and measurement that are already proving important to many network owners and advertisers. Likewise, the W3C provides standards for things like SMIL, XML and HTML that many of our underlying technologies use.
What does the future hold?
Aside from continuing down the technology path and building standards that will allow more products to work together, a secondary goal of our group is to actually expand the ecosystem of companies connected to digital signage. Our hope is that by making our interfaces open and standard, we'll start seeing more activity from service providers that might not have had the time or inclination to tackle our market one vendor at a time. For example, think of the news provider who could suddenly provide his news feeds in a way that could be easily injected into a standard play list. Or the embedded media player manufacturer whose products will suddenly work with a content management server from any standards-compliant vendor. Or the social media company who could provide ready-to-use widgets that work on dozens of digital signage platforms.
Of course, the direction that we take will continue to be shaped by the industry at large. If a new gizmo or doodad becomes the next must-have feature, you can be sure it's something that will be discussed in detail during our weekly calls. While I couldn't possibly guess what we'll be working on a few years from now, I'm sure that it will continue in the vein of finding ways to reduce inefficiency and hyperbole in a way that's conducive to fostering industry growth and acceptance.
Are you interested in getting involved with the standards effort? Is there some area that you think would benefit from our attention? If so, leave a comment below.
Or, if you're one of those die-hard naysayers who thinks we'll never accomplish anything (I know who you are), I'd like to hear about that too :)