A question as to whether I'm the only one who is bothered by a
trend and, if not, if it is time for the community to give the
IESG and the RFC Editor some advice.
I note that my concern is _only_ about standards-track
documents: they are widely referenced and cited by title as well
as number, they are IETF work products, and the IESG presumably
has, or should have final authority about what they are called.
It seems plausible, indeed likely, that other conventions and
issues might reasonably apply to non-standards-track documents.
The RFC Editor has a policy about "abbreviations" in titles and
body text. The title part of that policy, from 2223bis, is
" 2.9 Titles
Abbreviations (e.g., acronyms) in a title should
generally be expanded; the exception is abbreviations
that are so common (like TCP, IP, SNMP, FTP, etc.) that
every member of the IETF can be expected to recognize
them immediately. It is often helpful to follow the
expansion with the parenthesized abbreviation, as in
While perhaps not as explicitly stated, this has been the policy
for as long as I can remember. And, for whatever my opinion, it
is a policy I strongly support for "real" abbreviations. In
years past, it has been applied with considerable discretion.
It appears to me that we are now going too far in the direction
of expansion. In our industry, there are many occasions in
which a name is formed from an abbreviation, but the original
expansion rapidly loses meaning (or had a very contrived meaning
to start with). In those cases, the string is a name, not an
"abbreviation", regardless of its origins. The expansion of it
as an abbreviation doesn't provide significant information and
may, indeed, add to confusion.
We have been exploiting that mechanism for years in the names of
IETF WGs: they are almost all abbreviations for something, but
some of those abbreviations are from strings that are so
contrived that many active participants in the relevant WGs
would have trouble either expanding the string or recognizing
the name of the WG if spelled out without the abbreviation.
Quick, what is "lemonade" and, based on the expansion, what does
the WG do?
I suggest that, for standards-track documents, if there are
terms that are almost always used as words, with little or no
information value in treating them as abbreviations (even if
they were derived that way), we should just treat them as words.
An explanation in the body text (not the title or abstract) as
to where the term came from might well be appropriate, but
forcing a long title is, I believe, not in IETF's best interests
in these cases.
To take an example --not because it is an especially good one,
but because it showed up in my mailbox today-- the RFC Editor
recently announced publication of RFC 3839, "MIME Type
3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Multimedia files".
Now, as far as I have been able to tell, everyone who has
anything to do with 3GPP or its standards knows it as "3GPP".
The RFC that defines the original cooperation agreement from
which this work presumably derives, RFC 3113, uses "3GPP" as a
name. If one writes out "Third Generation Partnership Project"
(I believe that "3rd..." is not even correct), the active users
of those standards are likely to have to stop to think about
what one is talking about. So we are not adding information
value by this expansion: we are being fussy (never a good
property for an engineering body) and we are making the title
much longer, which, in turn requires a short form which is a
potential source of confusion. If we treat "3GPP" as a name,
which is how it is used, we would have had "MIME Type
Registrations for 3GPP Multimedia Files".
Our problem in this example is further illustrated by the
observation that, if it is an abbreviation, we can't figure out
what the abbreviation is. It is "Third Generation Partnership
Project" in RFC 3314 and 3589, "3rd-Generation Partnership
Project" in RFC 3445, treated as a name in RFC 3574, and
apparently "3rd Generation Partnership Project" in the most
recent case. Perhaps the inability of experts to agree on what
the "abbreviation" stands for is further evidence that it has
become a word.
Again, am I the only one who is bothered by this? And, if not,
can we ask the IESG to think a bit about this matter going
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