Open source CMS vendor Jahia intends to contribute a reference implementation for a standard protocol for the exchange of customer data between web servers, to the Apache Foundation as an incubator project, a Jahia spokesperson told CMSWire today.

Jahia’s aim, as the company’s CTO told us last month, is to advance the development of a system that enables a CMS or a user experience platform to exchange customer data such as purchasing history and preferences in an environment that also gives customers control over what gets shared and what does not.

Step Two

Earlier this month, Jahia began the process of coordinating with other industry vendors to produce what its architects call Context Server (CXS).  It launched a formalization process with the OASIS standards organization — the same one which stewards the OpenDocument (ODF) format used by the free office applications suite LibreOffice.

The initial meetings of the CXS technical committee (TC) have officially convened. Jahia is, of course, a charter member, along with open source CMS vendor Enonic. Other CMS vendors, including Hippo, Liferay, Typo3 and PaaS platform provider Progress Software have joined the TC as early-stage members.

OASIS has a long history as one of the early promoters of XML as a standard for data exchange. Today, OASIS is a frequent choice for a standards marshal, when the parties responsible for creating intellectual property seek to issue licenses based upon so-called “RAND” (reasonable and non-discriminatory) royalty terms.  This is often the case when multiple participants in the process may hold claims to intellectual property.

Back in February 2005, attorney and open source license expert Lawrence Rosen took a public stand against what was then OASIS licensing policy, which at that time was constructed to let members develop software under a free model but charge royalties for its implementation.

Wrote Rosen at the time, “The OASIS patent policy will encourage large patent holders to negotiate private arrangements among themselves, locking out all free software and open source developers.”

In 2009, OASIS responded to Rosen’s and others’ objections with the introduction of what it calls a non-assertion mode for technical committees.  The organization created this mode, it said, as “a way of reducing the burden of conducting extensive and expensive patent inventory searches as well as a needed relief from patent fear and uncertainty to implementers.”

Royalty Free

As Jahia’s spokesperson confirmed with CMSWire today, the company has opted to invoke the OASIS non-assertion mode.  This means "Jahia, Enonic and all the other players involved won’t get royalties on the standard,” the spokesperson said.

Under this mode of operation, each member of the TC agrees not to assert any IP claims against each other, or any third party, so long as that party refrains from asserting IP claims against it.

Version 2.0 of the Apache Software Foundation’s license adds an explicit patent non-assertion clause, effectively canceling an open source license for any licensee that takes legal action against a contributor to the licensed work.

How It Would Work

The basic concept of CXS, in its current form as a prototype, is that a simple protocol should exist for the publishing and exchange of customer preferences regarding which data can and cannot be shared.  The details of the implementation have yet to be worked out, although officials with Jahia and Enonic told us last month they built working models on their own servers.

In its full fruition, a CXS standard would enable a customer experience platform (or CMS) vendor to organize customer data in whatever ways it may see fit.  But customers would then have access to that organizational data, and would be given tools with which to set sharing policies.  Conceivably, we’ve been told, a customer would be given options not only about which data can be shared, but with whom, allowing customers control over the scope of their sharing.

Those policies would then be enforced by Context Servers acting on behalf of customers.  It’s clear that certain essential details, such as whose Context Servers customers may choose to use and how they’ll make those choices, have yet to be worked out among participants.

“The architecture of the prototype is entirely modular,” explained Jahia CTO Serge Huber, in a conversation with CMSWire last month.  “You can add new actions dynamically into it, you can add consequences that are basically the top part of a rule — all these things are pluggable.  So it’s very easy for people to just install the Context Server, and extend it in any way they need."

“That’s just the reference implementation, of course,” Huber added.  “We’re expecting that people will build some other implementations.”

Ideally, open-sourcing the reference implementation for CXS through an Apache license would grant anyone the right to test CXS without seeking permission or an express license first.

With other circumstances in the past, however, ironing out the differences between OASIS's terms and Apache’s has not been a seamless process.  The challenge with any open standard is determining whose definition of “open” best fits the ideal of the standard.  Certainly, working out these legal distinctions will be among the first challenges faced by Jahia and its new partners.