Community and hall conversations

Ted Lemon <> Sat, 14 February 2015 12:32 UTC

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Subject: Community and hall conversations
From: Ted Lemon <>
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Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2015 07:32:40 -0500
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To: Larry Masinter <>
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On Feb 14, 2015, at 1:04 AM, Larry Masinter <> wrote:
> It’s a community activity, and for that to work there has to be a sense of community. And video links with remote participation aren’t enough to create a sense of community.

In my rather long experience in the IETF, what creates a sense of community is working together on things.

> There are groups that purport t to manage with minimal face-to-face meetings, but I think those are mainly narrow scope and a small number of relevant players, or an already established community, and they regularly rely heavily on 24/7 online chat, social media, open source tools, wikis which are requirements for full participation.

We are an already-established community.

> The “hallway conversations” are not a nice-to-have, they’re how the IETF preserves community with open participation.

I think the hallway conversations are great for getting things done, but I don't agree that they are essential to preserving community.

> One negative aspect of IETF “culture” (loosely, the way in which the IETF community interacts) is that it isn’t friendly or easy to match and negotiate with other SDOs, so we see the WHATWG / W3C / IETF unnecessary forking of URL / URI / IRI, encodings, MIME sniffing, and the JSON competing specs based at least partly on cultural misunderstandings.

The unfriendliness of IETF culture is to a large extent a bug, not a feature.   I say to a large extent because the willingness to say unpleasant things is necessary for technical excellence: you have to be willing to say "you are wrong, and here's why."   But we often don't even try to say it pleasantly, and we often don't bother to say "and here's why," and this creates unnecessary difficulties for newcomers and for people who aren't good at taking criticism (which is most people).

> The main thing nomcom  needs to select for is  technical leadership (the skill of getting people to follow)  in service of the common good). And nomcom members should have enough experience to have witnessed successful leadership. One hopes there might be some chance of that just by attending 3 meetings, although the most effective leadership is often exercised in those private hallway conversations where compromises are made.

One of the things that I tried to do during my tenure as AD was to communicate more than is typical on the IETF mailing list.   This is a double-edged sword: it's more public and more memorable than the other contexts in which ADs attempt to exhibit leadership, and you are less likely to get people to actually follow you.   That's okay, because leadership isn't actually about telling people what to do--it's about figuring out where the consensus should go, and trying to get it to go in one of the good directions it could go rather than a bad direction.   But when you do that in public and on the record it doesn't always look like leadership, and of course you don't always understand the consensus well enough or pick the right direction.

Nevertheless, the idea that nomcom people wouldn't be exposed to examples of leadership on mailing lists is completely wrong, IMHO.   If a candidate hasn't shown leadership in that context, they aren't a good candidate.