Faith In the Small Things

Two words guaranteed to bore the crap out of anybody are standards and governance. Of course, these two things make our world pretty much bearable - without standards, bridges would collapse and cars wouldn't run, there would be no internet or web, or phone, or electric lighting. And governance is what makes standards work.
I'm not going to argue about the relevance of standards in book publishing, etc. - I think that ship sailed a long time ago. We know. We know, okay, Mom? Jeez.
Governance is what determines the success or failure of any given standard. How is it applied? How is it used? By whom? What for? It's the nitty-gritty details, the rules. And there...lies the devil in the details.
ISBN governance means that ISBNs cannot be used for more than one product. (Fight me.) ISBN governance dictates that an ISBN is now 13 digits long and begins with a 978 or 979. Etc. Most of us in publishing know how the ISBN is governed - how it works. We agree on its rules, fundamentally. The rules work for us.
Other standards are not so clear. Or are open to debate. ISTC is a good example of this. The ISTC's rules are: anyone can apply for an ISTC to tie a group of editions (ISBNs) together, and the ISTC registration agency would decide if that grouping was valid, based on the criteria that the applicant supplied.
The applicant could be a library. A literary agent. An author. A publisher. A retailer. A distributor. Just an interested party - the author's mother.
Needless to say, this caused no small amount of consternation among stakeholders in the book supply chain when ISTC was introduced in the early 2000s. We were all just getting used to the idea of customer reviews. The potential for a standard to be, essentially, crowdsourced was problematic. And for the ultimate arbiter to be a registration agency (which may or may not have the best interests of publishing or bookselling at heart)?
There may yet be a way to salvage ISTC and make it into something that everyone can agree on using. But to date, different stakeholders define ISBN groupings in different ways, and some of those are proprietary. And as long as there are seven different ways of describing an elephant (or "work"), governance is near-impossible.
This is a huge lesson as the industry moves forward into adopting other standards, such as ISNI, or We all have to agree on the rules. Those rules have to work for us. Or the standard is a solution without a problem. Which is a huge waste of time, and makes us less likely to invest time in developing actual problem-solving solutions.
We're in an interesting period these days. The pain of digital's impact on publishing is by and large manageable now. We're in an era of the "nice to have". Sometimes that leads to investment. More frequently, it leads to reification, which brings on later pain and disruption. I'm also not here to argue the wisdom of investing in infrastructure to avoid pain later. We know, Mom. Ugh. Stop being boring. You're not cool and you're embarrassing us.
The pain will come, inevitably. It always does. As sure as we get out of bed in the morning and wince, there will be plenty of pain to go around. When it does, we'll need to pull together quickly and develop a standard to solve/salve it. As with most salves, it won't be perfect. The pain may never entirely go away. But it will be a point we can all come to agreement on. Which, these days, is a rare and heartening thing.