The blind men and the elephant

As we should’ve expected (and maybe did?), the dispute around ODF and OOXML is gearing up. There are probably some out there that thought that NOW this issue is dead. We have two formats, what more is there to discuss. Well, a lot it seems. There are open letters in the media, people are protesting against OOXML and the conflict seems as hard as ever. For example has Gisle Hannemyr from the University of Oslo written a little answer to a report that came in February. Actually he pretty much rips it apart. For those of you that read Norwegian and is interested in this issue I refer you to his essay "Formater til besvær – Hvor mye koster det å ta i bruk ODF?"

His main point is that the report is based on one view of the world, and does not include all the facts. He claims that if you want a better model of the world you need expertise from multiple fields of knowledge. You cannot use only economists and not computer experts if you want to model the impact of some new computer technology on the world. Well, I think I agree with him on that at least.

His final words are probably most interesting. He refers to a poem called "The blind men and the elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe. That poem is probably based on one or more of several parables that all tell a somewhat similar story. Several blind people feel up different parts of an elephant and make up their mental model of the animal based on their limited view. Afterwards they disagree fervently on what the animal looks like.

You cannot model something based on only knowledge of a part of the whole. And if you do, your model is highly likely to be wrong.

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