Re: "why I quit writing internet standards"

David Meyer <> Mon, 14 April 2014 15:57 UTC

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Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2014 08:57:14 -0700
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Subject: Re: "why I quit writing internet standards"
From: David Meyer <>
To: "George, Wes" <>
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On Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 8:08 AM, George, Wes <> wrote:
> I’m surprised that no one has sent this out yet:
> "Summary: After contributing to standards organizations for more than seven
> years, engineer Vidya Narayanan decided it was time to move on. Although she
> still believes that these organizations make the Internet a better place,
> she wonders about the pace of change versus the pace of organizations."
> My thoughts-
> There are some nuggets of truth in what she says in this article, and in
> some of the comments. I think that the problems are real, so there’s value
> in taking the criticism constructively, despite the fact that the author
> chose to focus on the problems without any suggestions of solutions.
> "while the pace at which standards are written hasn’t changed in many years,
> the pace at which the real world adopts software has become orders of
> magnitude faster."
> …
> "Running code and rough consensus, the motto of the IETF, used to be
> realizable at some point. … In the name of consensus, we debate frivolous
> details forever. In the name of patents, we never finish.”
> …
> "Unless these standards organizations make radical shifts towards
> practicality, their relevance will soon be questionable.”
> I don’t have too many big ideas how to fix these problems, but I’ll at least
> take a crack at it in order to spur discussion. My paraphrase of the problem
> and some discussion follows.
> - We’ve lost sight of consensus and are too often derailed by a vocal
> minority of those willing to endlessly debate a point.
> Part of the solution to that is reiterating what consensus is and is not,
> such as draft-resnick-on-consensus so that we don’t confuse a need for
> consensus with a need for unanimity. Part of the solution is IETF leadership
> helping to identify when we have rough consensus encumbered by a debate that
> will never resolve itself, without quieting actual disagreement that needs
> continued discussion in order to find a compromise. I don’t have good
> suggestions on how to make that second half better.
> - We don’t have nearly enough focus on running code as the thing that helps
> to ensure that we’re using our limited cycles on getting the right things
> out expediently, and either getting the design right the first time, or
> failing quickly and iterating to improve
> The solution here may be that we need to be much more aggressive at
> expecting any standards track documents to have running code much earlier in
> the process. The other part of that is to renew our focus on actual interop
> standards work, probably by charter or in-group feedback, shift focus away
> from BCP and info documents. Perhaps when considering whether to proceed
> with a given document, we need test as to whether it’s actively
> helpful/needed and ensure that we know what audience would be looking at it,
> rather than simply ensuring that it is “not harmful” and mostly within the
> WG’s chartered focus.

My friend @colin_dixon pointed this out to me yesterday, and I've been
giving it quite a bit of thought since then (I have a nascent blog on
the topic of how open source and standards orgs might
productively/efficiently work together; follow up to

What I can say is that after seeing the kind of progress that several
open source communities make (they do epitomize the best of the IETF's
running code/rough consensus ethic), one does have to wonder if
traditional standards making is either obsolete or in dire need of a
make over. What is needed, IMO, is a reimagining of how the standards
process interacts with the open source movement specifically focused
on how they can compliment one another.