Kurt Cagle has a post entitled Open Standards and Organic Foods which begins

A question was posed to me recently concerning exactly what I meant when I talked about open standards, and how they differed from open source. In reviewing some of my previous postings, one of the things that I realized was that while I had offered up a number of definitions in passing, there really wasn't any single, stock answer that I or others had seen for what exactly open standards mean. Moreover, a lot of people tend to look at open standards with a somewhat jaundiced eye, as if it was simply one more marketing label in a field that is already way oversaturated with marketing buzzwords - they didn't understand why open standards were important, or they didn't understand the distinction between open source and open standards.

The software industry is now full of buzzwords and buzz phrases that are so ambiguous that if you ask five people what they mean you are likely to get ten different definitions. The problem this causes is that people often talk past each other even if they use the same words or even worse miscommunication occurs due to basic assumptions about the conversation which are incorrect. Examples of such ambiguous buzz phrases include; web 2.0, service oriented architecture and standards.

Some people I've talked to about this are surprised that I add 'standards' to this list. However the definition of what constitutes a 'standard' is in the eye of the beholder. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Are Standards in the Software Industry a Chimera? which stated 

The word "standard' when it comes to software and computer technology is usually meaningless. Is something standard if it produced by a standards body but has no conformance tests (e.g. SQL)? What if it has conformance testing requirements but is owned by a single entity (e.g. Java)? What if it is just widely supported with no formal body behind it (e.g. RSS)?

For every one of the technologies mentioned above (RSS, Java, and SQL) you'll find people who will argue that they are standards and people who will argue that they aren't. SQL is produced by a standards body and has a number of formal specifications but since there is no conformance requirements most database vendors have embraced and extended it. It is difficult to write non-trivial SQL queries that will work across Microsoft's SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle's databases and IBM's DB2. The Java programming language and platform is supported by a number of vendors and has rigid conformance tests which make the statement "write once, run anywhere" true for the most part, however it is a proprietary technology primarily controlled by Sun Microsystems. Content syndication using RSS 0.9x/RSS 2.0 feeds is the most popular web service on the planet but the specifications were primarily authored and controlled by a single individual and have no formal standards body or corporation backing them till this day. In each case, the technology is 'standard' enough for there to be thriving markets around them with multiple vendors providing customers with valuable services.

From a customer perspective, standards are a means to an end and in this case the goal of standards is to prevent vendor lock-in. As long as users can choose between multiple RSS readers or developers can choose between multiple Java implementations, there is enough standardization for them. Where things become contentious is that there are multiple ways to get to the same solution (lack of lock-in).

"Open standards" are even more ambiguous since [as an industry] we don't even have a clear idea of what constitutes a standard. I read through Kurt Cagle's post and he never actually ends up defining "Open Standard" beyond providing analogies and rationales for why he believes in them. An interesting statement that Kurt makes in his post is the following

I suspect that in many ways the open standards movement is, at its core, a reaction to the rather virulent degenerate capitalism that exists today, in which a person can profit far out of proportion to the amount of work that they do, usually at the expense of many others who lose disproportionately to their work load.

The notion of 'profitting in proportion to your work' is pretty bogus and foreign to capitalism. Capitalism is all about the value of your work to others not how much work you put in. A minor league baseball player doesn't work an order of magnitude less than a major league baseball player yet he makes that much less. A multiplatinum recording artist doesn't work an order of magnitude harder than local bands trying to get big but makes that much more. It may not sound fair but that's capitalism. In recent centuries humans have experimented with other socio-economic movements that are more 'fair' but so far capitalism is what has stuck. </digression>

Anyway, my point is that buzz phrases like "standards", "service oriented architecture" and "web 2.0" have such diluted and ambiguous definitions to be effectively meaningless in technical discourse. People who've been in the industry for a while eventually learn to filter out these phrases [and often the people speaking them as well] when engaged in technical discourse. If you are a technical person you probably should be more explicit about what you mean by using phrases such as "freely implementable and patent unencumbered", "SOAP-based web services" and "AJAX powered website" in place of the aforementioned buzz phrases. Oh, and if they don't match up to what you mean when you use those statements then that just proves my point about the ambiguity of these buzz phrases.