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What Does "standards" Mean?
Posted 06 April 2008 - 07:21 PM
I try to block out high school as much as I can, but even I can remember two lessons from from high school debating:
1. Being on a debate team does nothing for your reputation with the ladies.
2. You always start a debate with a definition.
So what the heck are "standards"? Not why do we need them. Just what exactly are they? What is involved? Is it taining? Is it moral? Ethical? What?
Confused in Sydney
Posted 06 April 2008 - 07:58 PM
Posted 06 April 2008 - 08:09 PM
Morals = Personal. Code of Conduct for the Self. (Religion, Philosophy)
Ethics = Social. Code of Conduct related to interactions with others. (Law, Etiquette)
Standards = Documented agreement on specifications, rules and norms. (Thou Shalt…, You Must…)
Guidelines = Documented agreement on general principles and processes, usually to clarify or provide context for Standards. (You Should…, Try To…)
I also had some thoughts on how to write some of these:
A Code of Ethics should be:
General enough to apply to both practitioners and researchers, while being clear to the public.
It should promote the welfare of all stakeholders while being respectful of each.
Protect the integrity and reputation of the industry
Professional Standards should be more specific than ethics and provide specific and measurable means of identifying compliance with the Code of Ethics.
Guidlines) should provide guidance (aka Best Practices) for dealing with unclear or controversial issues related to Ethics and Standards.
Posted 07 April 2008 - 03:52 AM
Lastly, on the for side, what is the "payoff" for having standards? The cynic in me says that it raises the cost of entry (that's kinda a good thing for those of us already here) but surely there is more.
Posted 07 April 2008 - 11:58 AM
This is almost always the first argument that comes out, but you are right, it's a false one. Typically, the proficiency required by standards is that necessary to prevent harm to others or something similar. It's a minimum acceptable level of competence, not an average or high level. It's unethical to offer your services as a professional in a field you know little or nothing about. Ethics statements generally have little to say about being more skilled than this, other than recommend that it's a good idea to aspire to being better than the bare minimum.
It's not unethical to be at the bare minimum, however - students and newbies have to start somewhere. Which brings me to my next point:
Professional standards apply to... professionals. People who offer their services to others for a fee and promote themselves as experts to the public. If you are Joe or Jane webmaster and find yourself needing to do SEO on your site, professional standards are not really intended to apply directly to you, any more than you need a medical degree as a mother placing a bandaid on her child or giving birth. But if that mother decides that she could now become a midwife or nurse and start charging for the service, at that point the medical profession (and the public) would want to have some assurance that she met at least a certain level of training and professionalism.
Professional standards do help amateurs indirectly, though. Many amateurs are of course very interested in doing a job properly and will look to find "tips from the pros" and to follow the accepted best practices of the industry while doing their work. I know I do, whether it's wiring my basement, looking for dieting information or writing HTML.
There are 3 direct ways standards "payoff":
Guidance - Guidance can include several things, but the two most common are training and risk assessment. Standards and guidelines help people (including both SEO's and potential employers) know what things you should know before calling yourself a professional. This helps everywhere from setting wage scales to designing courses.
For risk assessment, which is the most key distinction between "white hat" and "black hat", the ability to accurately determine risk, (or at least be able to show your client you did due diligence) is based mostly on experience, which is typically reflected in "Best Practice" statements. If you don't have experience and are not aware of the best practice guidlines, you are not really making informed decisions about risk. The "hat" involved at that point is more of a dunce cap if you ask me.
Finally, it helps assure that everyone is on the same page, which can be very important when subcontracting, hiring and contracting.
Credibility - Credibility is directly related to what the public, other professions and SEO's themselves think about SEO/SEM. This can have an impact on the type of people attracted to the profession (a profession seen as a scammers heaven will tend to attract...scammers), it can impact the willingness of companies to hire consultants VS doing things in-house, it can affect salaries and fees, and it can even affect things like whether or not you can get a student loan for the subject when a course is offered.
Protection - Like to be sued? Me neither. But it's a fact that if you are a consultant (especially in the US) there is a pretty good chance someone will sue you eventually. Or decide to not pay you because they don't think you did what you promised in the contract, or you mislead them about the risk involved (some companies will tell a consultant to be aggressive and take chances, then blame the consultant when the risk doesn't pay off or backfires) .
If you can show that you followed or exceeded generally accepted best practices, then it's up to the plaintiff to show that those best practices are wrong, which will often bring you help from the rest of the industry, and is much, much harder to do. This is a far safer legal position than "winging it".
Standard definitions are also useful in contracts in order to prevent confusion and miscommunication. If you have a different definition than the industry standard, then you can outline that definition in the contract (I do this all the time).
If you just assume that the client will read your mind, then you are writing a bad contract. If you are assuming that the SEO will have the same definition for every word you do without there being some sort of common reference, then you are signing a bad contract. I suppose SEO's could attach their own personal SEM dictionary to every contract, but that's a real pain and tends to scare clients when you hand them a 200 page contract.
As for enforceability, it's enforceable in the same way that W3C standards are - by virtue of their existence and acceptance, not by force of law. I do think that people who feel that standards need to be enforced at the point of a police officers gun or the actions of some other government official are missing the point: for most of human history, we've had rules and guidelines that were enforced by their acceptance of society, and little else. Overall, it seems to have worked very well, in spite of the fact that it's not as perfectly enforced as a dictator or theocrat would prefer.
Edited by mcanerin, 07 April 2008 - 12:12 PM.
Posted 07 April 2008 - 09:36 PM
Well written Ian!
Last question: are there any proposed standards being discussed anywhere?
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