Document (#33264)

Author
Lynch, C.A.
Title
¬The Z39.50 information retrieval standard : part I: a strategic view of its past, present and future
Source
D-Lib magazine. 3(1997) no.4, xx S
Year
1997
Abstract
The Z39.50 standard for information retrieval is important from a number of perspectives. While still not widely known within the computer networking community, it is a mature standard that represents the culmination of two decades of thinking and debate about how information retrieval functions can be modeled, standardized, and implemented in a distributed systems environment. And - importantly -- it has been tested through substantial deployment experience. Z39.50 is one of the few examples we have to date of a protocol that actually goes beyond codifying mechanism and moves into the area of standardizing shared semantic knowledge. The extent to which this should be a goal of the protocol has been an ongoing source of controversy and tension within the developer community, and differing views on this issue can be seen both in the standard itself and the way that it is used in practice. Given the growing emphasis on issues such as "semantic interoperability" as part of the research agenda for digital libraries (see Clifford A. Lynch and Hector Garcia-Molina. Interoperability, Scaling, and the Digital Libraries Research Agenda, Report on the May 18-19, 1995 IITA Libraries Workshop, <http://www- diglib.stanford.edu/diglib/pub/reports/iita-dlw/main.html>), the insights gained by the Z39.50 community into the complex interactions among various definitions of semantics and interoperability are particularly relevant. The development process for the Z39.50 standard is also of interest in its own right. Its history, dating back to the 1970s, spans a period that saw the eclipse of formal standards-making agencies by groups such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and informal standards development consortia. Moreover, in order to achieve meaningful implementation, Z39.50 had to move beyond its origins in the OSI debacle of the 1980s. Z39.50 has also been, to some extent, a victim of its own success -- or at least promise. Recent versions of the standard are highly extensible, and the consensus process of standards development has made it hospitable to an ever-growing set of new communities and requirements. As this process of extension has proceeded, it has become ever less clear what the appropriate scope and boundaries of the protocol should be, and what expectations one should have of practical interoperability among implementations of the standard. Z39.50 thus offers an excellent case study of the problems involved in managing the evolution of a standard over time. It may well offer useful lessons for the future of other standards such as HTTP and HTML, which seem to be facing some of the same issues.
This paper, which will appear in two parts, starting with this issue of D-Lib, looks at several strategic issues surrounding Z39.50. After a relatively brief overview of the function and history of the protocol, I will examine some of the competing visions of the protocol's role, with emphasis on issues of interoperability and the incorporation of semantics. The second installment of the paper will look at questions related to the management of the standard and the standards development process, with emphasis on the scope of the protocol and how that relates back again to interoperability questions. The paper concludes with a discussion of the adoption and deployment of the standard, its relationship to other standards, and some speculations on future directions for the protocol. This paper is not intended to be a tutorial on the details of how current or past versions of Z39.50 work. These technical details are covered not only in the standard itself (which can admittedly be rather difficult reading) but also in an array of tutorial and review papers (see <http://lcweb.loc.gov/z3950/agency> for bibliographies and pointers to on-line information on Z39.50). Instead, the paper's focus is on how and why Z39.50 developed the way it did, and the conceptual debates that have influenced its evolution and use. While a detailed technical knowledge of the operation of Z39.50 is certainly helpful, it should not be necessary in order to follow most of the material here. Some disclaimers are in order. I have been actively involved in the development of Z39.50 since the early 1980s and have been a participant -- and on occasion, even an instigator -- of some of the activities described here. This paper is an attempt to make a critical assessment of the current state of Z39.50 and a review of its development with the full benefit of hindsight. It recounts a number of debates that occurred within the developer community over the past years. In many of these, I advocated specific positions or approaches, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully. What is presented here is one person's perspective - mine --, which is sometimes at odds with the current consensus with the developer community; I've tried to represent opposing views fairly, and to differentiate my opinions from fact or consensus. However, others will undoubtedly disagree with many of the comments here.
Footnote
Vgl.: http://dlib.ukoln.ac.uk/dlib/april97/04lynch.html.
Theme
Datenfernübertragung
Object
Z39.50

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