"why I quit writing internet standards"

"George, Wes" <wesley.george@twcable.com> Mon, 14 April 2014 15:08 UTC

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From: "George, Wes" <wesley.george@twcable.com>
To: "ietf@ietf.org" <ietf@ietf.org>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:08:10 -0400
Subject: "why I quit writing internet standards"
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I’m surprised that no one has sent this out yet: http://gigaom.com/2014/04/12/why-i-quit-writing-internet-standards/

"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.


Wes George

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