I’m big into the use of structured information, particularly for information exchange and in getting multiple groups to share. There are loads of excellent reasons for the use of structured information but quite often new formats and schemas are created on the fly, resulting in a massive amount of work for everyone. The successful systems I have been involved with or observed have used standards to ensure that everyone uses the same formats. I’ll ramble on about that in the future, as I’m passionate about it. For now though I want to throw out an analogy that I kind of stumbled upon.

A few months back I started looking for a new vehicle (the current one was getting older and would do weird things like spontaneously open its sunroof). I looked around at various vehicles and stumbled upon the Jeep Wrangler while looking at the Grand Cherokee. I had no plans to get one.

Then I went home and did some research.

I joined multiple forums to see what people thought of the various Jeep models. One forum (www.jeepforum.com) is broadly Jeep and has 324,000+ members. The Wrangler forum (www.wranglerforum.com) has almost 90,000 members. I thought that the numbers were artificially high – then I noted that between those two forums there are over 14,000,000 posts in over 1.1 million threads – that’s a very, very active community.

I did some more reading and realized that the Wrangler folks on both forums were the most rabid and verbose. Typically the discussion was about modifications (mods) that have been done, are being done, or will be done. That seemed pretty heavy to me: why is everyone modding their vehicle?

From the number of modifications being done (literally hundreds per day often) I realized that something was different about the Wrangler platform. I’ve used platform here in the form that Detroit uses it, but that will change before the end of this article.

Let’s take two areas where many different modifications occur:

  • Bumpers – there are kits ranging from the very basic (plastic cover that are put on after lopping of the ends of the front bumper) to the very heavy and complex (full integration of lights, winch, recovery points, bush/bull/spider bars, etc.)
  • Lift Kits – there are budget boosts (BB), body lift kits, suspension lift kits, and more – all ranging in the lift height (0.5″, 1.0″, 1.5″, 2.0″, 2.5″, – you get the picture)

Under both categories I can find at least 20 large vendors that provide solid kit over a vast range of prices. When you factor in the small fabrication shops that are very local the bumper market alone must have hundreds of vendors in North America alone.

I started wondering what could possibly warrant such a large ecosystem of manufacturers. What was it that made so many companies jump in? They’ve been around, in many cases, for decades – so this isn’t a fad.

Then it donned on me – the Wrangler platform is a STANDARD. My model is a JKU. The major standards/platforms of the past few decades have been the JK/JKU, TJ, YJ, and CJ (newest to oldest).

What does a platform mean it is when considered it a standard? It means that a manufacturer can build products based on it – there won’t be massive changes made for some period time. The Jeep standard only goes through major changes (new platform) about every 10 years or so. This means a manufacturer can plan a product line, based on a known standard, that has life to it.

Sure, there are slight changes through the standard lifecycle, much like in the information standards I work with. Let’s take the current platform (JKU) bumpers and compare this to the OASIS Common Alerting Protocol which I work with.

CAP started out as version 1.0 (2004) and has evolved slowly (1.1 in 2006, 1.2 in 2010). There haven’t been major changes yet but adjustments have been required by the open-source and vendor community that supports CAP.

The JK/JKU platform hasn’t changed wildly since it’s release in 2007, but there have been changes. Lately for example, many bumper manufacturers have had to make recommendations to their customers about moving a vacuum pump that showed up in a new location when Jeep changed the engine. Think about that – the full engine, and all of its supporting parts and functions, was changed – and the net result is that people had to learn where to move the vacuum pump to accomodate the standards-based bumper. In essence a mini-standard (a standards “Profile” is what we would call this in OASIS) was created, on-the-fly, by the industry – and multiple manufacturers are recommending the same approach.

That’s just one area – bumpers. The lift kits, the roof covers, the seat covers, and many more sub-industries have grown out of the Jeep Wrangler standard. The known rate of change and the known specifications of the Wrangler standard has the same industry effect as the information exchange standards that I see all the time. Vendors and open-source applications don’t have to go and reinvent things.

I’ll leave a future topic for the minor adjustments that standards require to “fit” properly, and I may use a Jeep analogy there too (some bumper installs require a bit of grinding for optimal fit apparently).

For now, I’ve rambled on too long – I’ll likely revisit many of these topics over time and dig a little deeper.

Oh – Wrangler owners have another standard – they wave at each other on the road (the Jeep Wave). It’s not a hard and rigid standard (some don’t even do it) and it has various permutations on technique (two finger lift from wheel, full hand wave, wave out window, and the best – wave out the roof). It is definitely widespread though. There’s an addendum to the Jeep Wave standard – you have to smile after you do it…