Access to data is something that every molecular biologist takes for granted nowadays, but data alone is of little use unless it is made available in a useable form through the development and global uptake of data standards. The challenge of standards development has been taken up by grass-roots movements working within several different branches of the biomedical research community. Many of these initiatives are proving extremely successful; for example, the Gene Ontology, which provides a controlled vocabulary for describing the properties of gene products, the Microarray Gene Expression Data Society's standards for describing microarray experiments, and the emerging standards developed by the Proteomics Standards Initiative are gaining broad acceptance. Standards development now faces its greatest ever challenge-the integration of diverse data types to fulfill the goals of systems biology. Now is the time for the communities that are developing these standards, the funding bodies that have invested so heavily in high-throughput data generation, and the publishers of biomedical research papers to cooperate fully to make the goals of integrated data analysis a reality. This paper is part of the special issue of OMICS on data standards.