People Power

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As the FIX Protocol itself evolves to meet the demands of its global, and increasingly diverse constituency of users, industry leader, John Cameron of Cameron Edge, looks at the democratic roots of FIX and how FPL is carrying that tradition forward through the use of online ‘wiki’ technology.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” – Abraham Lincoln. He could have been talking about FIX.
FIX was, and is, designed and managed by the people who use FIX in their everyday business. It is a solution to real life problems and its continuing close connection to the people and organizations that it serves is, and always has been, its greatest strength. The challenge is how best to manage that vital grassroots connection.
The traditional management structure that drives the development of the FIX Protocol has been very successful. As advised on the FPL website, the protocol’s management is led by “Technical and business professionals from FPL member firms”, these representatives “coordinate their activities and organize their work through a series of committees, subcommittees, and working groups, all overseen by a Global Steering Committee that aims to ensure consistency of protocol application as it is extended into new markets, asset classes, and phases of the trade lifecycle.”
In addition to this structure, it was recognized early on that technology had an important role to play in keeping FIX in close touch with the industry. The FPL website introduced public discussion forums back in the mid-90’s, where members of the financial community can post questions and comments regarding FIX, which are responded to by other members of the community. These forums, www.fixprotocol.org/discuss, along with their search capabilities, form a wealth of invaluable information about the interpretation of the FIX specification. They are a natural complement to the FIX specification documents.
For example, if someone is unsure of some aspect of the protocol, maybe the exact meaning and intended use of a particular FIX field value, they normally start by consulting the FIX specification. If the specification is not clear, they can search postings in the forums using appropriate keywords. If still unsure, they can post a question to a forum, which will normally be answered by other members of the community. Once answered, that query and its answer are a matter of public record on the forum, which may be useful to others in the future. This open, transparent, collaborative process has been essential to the success of  FIX. It has meant that FIX has remained in close contact with the industry it serves and has enabled it to react quickly to changing industry demands.
In more recent years, we have seen this public collaborative process popularized and validated in a number of areas: notably the open source movement and, perhaps most strikingly, Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org). Wikipedia is particularly interesting because it popularized the “wiki” – a technology specifically developed to support exactly the kind of collaborative process that has been at the core of FIX since its beginnings. The traditional FIX collaborative culture and wiki technology are a marriage made in heaven. Enter FIXwiki.
Located at www.fixprotocol.org/fixwiki, FIXwiki is a FIX-specific wiki website that provides a comprehensive and authoritative view of the FIX specification. There is a FIXwiki page for each FIX message, component, field, value or type. In addition to definitions taken from the specification, each page also has an area for user comments, clarifications, corrections, examples or suggestions. It enables representatives from FPL Member firms to actively contribute additional information, provide comments, and share knowledge and insight to support the future development of the FIX Protocol messaging standard and is viewable by the broader FIX user community, providing a valuable reference tool for all market participants.
FIXwiki is not intended to replace the existing FIX forums. The forums are ideal for discussions and it is likely that FIXwiki postings will contain many references to those discussions. A wiki, however, provides a better repository for capturing the clarifications, interpretations and examples of the FIX Protocol that come out of such discussions.
FIXwiki is generated automatically from the official FIX repository, which is the computer readable database underlying the FIX specification. Therefore, FIXwiki and the FIX specification can never drift apart – they are derived from the same underlying data. In fact, it is even possible that FIXwiki could eventually become the specification. Currently, the FIX specification is in the form of a series of Microsoft Word or PDF documents. However, the full text of those documents could be ported to FIXwiki.
As a trial, a significant part of the specification has been converted and is now available on FIXwiki for general review. There are a number of clear advantages to having the complete specification in wiki form, but there are also advantages in keeping it in its current form. Members of the electronic trading community are encouraged to take a look at the trial pages and share their  thoughts.
It is clear that FIXwiki is a valuable collaborative tool for keeping FIX close to the industry it serves, but it is no silver bullet. No matter how good your tools and processes may be, any highly collaborative process, such as that used in the development of FIX, will have its challenges. In the end, the most important resource behind FIX is the people comprising the FIX community. However, people are fallible and mistakes will be made. The community review process will sometimes fail and things will enter into the standard that should not – needing to be deprecated and removed in later versions. The more engaged our community is with the development of FIX, the fewer mistakes will be made but this democratic model isn’t perfect and it never will be.
Winston Churchill said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” He could have been talking about FIX.
If you are interested in finding out more  about FIXwiki and the FPL Discussion Forums please visit: www.fixprotocol.org.