Wolf Ticket
Vendor Lock-in Wolf Ticket

 

Mini-AntiPattern:  Wolf Ticket

Background

The term wolf ticket originates from popular slang. In slang, a wolf ticket is an unofficially
issued event pass (e.g. for a rock concert) that is sold by unscrupulous ticket scalpers.

AntiPattern Problem

There are many more information systems standards than there are mechanisms to assure conformance. Only 6% of information systems standards have test suites. Most of the testable standards are for programming language compilers: FORTRAN, COBOL, Ada, and so forth.

A wolf ticket is a product that claims open-ness and conformance to standards which have no enforceable meaning. The products are delivered with proprietary interfaces that may vary significantly from the published standard. A key problem is that technology consumers often believe that open-ness provides some assumed benefits. In reality, standards are more important to technology suppliers for brand recognition than for any benefits that the standards provide to users. Standards do reduce technology migration costs and improve technology stability. However, differences in the implementation of the standards often defeat their assumed benefits, such as multi-vendor interoperability and software portability. Many standards specifications are too flexible to assure interoperability and portability. Other standards are excessively complex. Complex standards are implemented incompletely and inconsistently in products. Frequently, different subsets of the standard are implemented by different vendors.

Wolf tickets are a significant problem for de facto standards. A de facto standard is an informal standard established through popular usage or market exposure. Unfortunately, some de facto standards have no effective specification. For example, a nascent database technology has become a de facto standard that is commercially available with multiple proprietary interfaces, unique to each vendor. 

Refactored Solution

Technology gaps comprise deficiencies in specifications, product availability, conformance, interoperability, robustness, and functionality. The resolution of current technology gaps is necessary to enable for the delivery of whole-products. A whole-product comprises the infrastructure and services that are necessary for the realization of useful systems. In the 1960’s, a sophisticated user group called SHAPE, advised industry to stabilize technology and create whole products for the computer mainframe market. Stable, whole-products are required for the realization of successful non-stovepipe systems.

Technology gaps are political issues for consumers, including: end-users, corporate developers, and systems integrators. In other words, politics is the exercise of power. Consumers must demand the resolution of technology gaps before they will be effectively addressed. For example, consumers must demand guarantees of merchantability and "fitness for purpose" before they will be offered by commercial suppliers, as they are now offered in vertical markets such as telecommunications.

The core strategy of grass roots politics is heightening the contradiction. By spreading awareness of the contradictions in a system (such as the technology market), the establishment (technology suppliers) will respond to resolve the issues. The combination of three elements provide an effective political message. With these three elements, the message has a good chance of being reported by the media:

The message must be controversial,

The message must be repetitive, and

The message must be entertaining.

Currently, we are working on our own initiative in technology consumer politics. What is needed are whole products supporting mission-critical system development. A whole-product enabling the construction of any mission-critical system comprises 5 key services: naming, trading, database access, transactions, and system management. These services apply to mission-critical systems in any domain.

For emphasis, you can count these on one hand. Naming is a white pages service that allows the retrieval of object references for known objects. Trading is a yellow pages services that supports system extensibility through retrieval of candidate services based upon attributes. A standard database access service is needed for retrieval and updating of information resources. Transactions provide robust access to state information, and orderly cleanup in case of failures. System management is needed for maintaining heterogeneous hardware and software environments. Because developers cannot buy these whole-products today in a robust, internetworking form, developers are forced to recreate these services or build stovepipe systems.

Variation of this Solution

Any computer technology consumer can participate in improving the technologies that they are currently using. Simply, call the vendor with your questions, complaints, and support problems. For shrink-wrap products, the profit margin is less than the resources required to answer a phone call and address your support questions. Most vendors track the support issues and incorporate relevant changes into their products in future releases. The priority for changes is usually based upon the frequency and urgency of the problems that are reported.

 

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Copyright 1999 William Brown, Raphael Malveau, Hays McCormick, Thomas Mowbray, and Scott W. Thomas.  All rights reserved.
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Last updated: January 25, 2000