My thoughts about the problems of the IETF

Brian E Carpenter brian at
Thu Apr 17 11:59:10 CEST 2003


Margaret Wasserman wrote:
> I generally agree with the problems that Harald has
> identified in his message, but I do have a few comments.
> At 11:45 AM 4/11/2003 +0200, Harald Tveit Alvestrand wrote:
> [...]
> >Problem: The IETF runs on personal relationships
> >[...]
> >   The fact that we trust each other, and are able and
> >   willing to act on that trust, is a great strength of
> >   the IETF.
> >
> >   The fact that we have so little institutional memory
> >   outside of the memories of the people in the process is
> >   a weakness.
> Scaleability and institutional memory are not the only problems
> associated with organizations that run on personal trust.  While
> such organizations can be highly effective, and extremely fun
> to work in when things are going well, they don't tend to be
> objectively fair, and they are seldom as diverse (across all
> axes) as they should be.

In terms of fairness, I think that is exactly why we put in the
checks and balances that exist in the appeals, NomCom and
recall processes. Given that we have no known way to move to
a fair membership/voting model, I don't see any alternative to
augmenting the checks and balances if we think we have residual

Diversity is an input problem to a large extent. Do we have any
reason to believe that the IETF is *less* diverse than the technical
community as a whole? If it is, we would be wise to fix it. But
it would be very ambitious to attempt to be *more* diverse than
the community as a whole.

> The personal nature of the organization also makes it hard for
> newcomers (even well-qualified newcomers) to become effective
> in the IETF, unless they already know an established player.

Yes. I believe we should have an active mentoring program for
newcomers. (Part of my day job is to do this for colleagues,
but I think we could do it as an IETF activity.)

> IMO, it is oxymoronic to claim that the IETF values fairness
> and openness AND to claim that it is desirable (or even acceptable)
> that the whole organization runs on personal trust -- these are
> incompatible concepts for an organization with the size and
> visibility of the IETF.

Hence my point about checks and balances.


> >Problem: Technology "Focus" is Designing for Stagnation
> >
> >   The IETF, I like to quip, currently has a very scalable
> >   management structure; it scales all the way up to 700
> >   participants.
> >
> >   One classic response to this is of the form that "The
> >   IETF should focus on its core technologies and tell the
> >   other 800 people to take their work somewhere else".
> I agree with this entire section.  Organizations either
> continue to grow to meet the demands of their "customers",
> or they die...

I've thought for years that chartering new activities is the
most critical thing the IESG does (and that the IAB reviews).
IMHO we are too slow to say "no" and this is mainly because
we don't have a snappy definition of IETF scope to pull out
and consult. This isn't trivial at all, but I think it's desperately
needed, either as a global document or per Area.

> This rather stinks for those of us enjoy working in smaller
> organizations.
> >Problem: The AD job can't be done well
> >
> >   In the way the IETF and the IESG is currently
> >   structured, I personally believe that the job of Area
> >   Director is impossible to do satisfactorily. The fact
> >   that we still have some people who do a good job of it
> >   is a miracle, not something we should depend on for the
> >   future.
> I think that this is the most important point in Harald's
> message.  We need to come up with some way to solve this,
> as this is the core scaling problem of the IETF, IMO.

The algorithm for getting rid of too much work is to abolish 
some of it, or give some of it to someone else. That means the 
ADs and collectively the IESG have to give up some of their 
power to somebody. If we can swallow that, we then need to
discuss whether the power is given to the WG chairs or
somebody else. (And as noted above, checks and balances need
to be augmented appropriately.)


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