Re: "why I quit writing internet standards"

Alia Atlas <> Mon, 14 April 2014 16:08 UTC

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Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2014 12:07:41 -0400
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Subject: Re: "why I quit writing internet standards"
From: Alia Atlas <>
To: David Meyer <>
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On Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 11:57 AM, David Meyer <> wrote:
> 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.

[Alia] It would be very useful to have a functional model for how the
two can compliment each other.  We also tend to talk about open-source
as a single monolith - when it can have very different models for
accepting in changes, how and who runs the community, who is really
participating (open source doesn't mean non-corporate) etc.   Some of
what the IETF does is the architecture and requirements thinking about
how the solution should fit in - while some of the open-source is
about getting a solution implemented ASAP.   IMHO, a spiral is useful
with an easy way of interaction.  With I2RS, as a WG chair, I
suggested having experimental drafts describing solutions that were
being implemented - but haven't seen any.   A question is what is
needed to encourage the interactions.

[Alia] Diversity of implementation is important as is stability of a
standard and it being understood how to change/upgrade for different
versions.  These don't come automatically via open-source.