Reading through the comments on voting I am struck by a difference in
the approach people take to what the IETF is for.
* One school of thought is that the reason for starting a working
group is to arrive at a better engineering outcome than is possible
* Another school of thought is that the endorsement of a respected
body will lead to deployment
* The position I do not see argued is that the point of a working
group is to establish the constituency required to deploy the
These are not mutually exclusive, and the last point is more dubious
than the first two. While deployment is a necessary condition for
success, so is technical soundness. Our broader purpose is not just to
create new protocols - it's to keep the Internet working well.
As far as the first two positions go, I have made the mistake of
beleiving in them in the past. These days I recognize that there are
very few occasions where the way to arrive at an optimal solution is
to get a group of 40 people together to work on it.
On the contrary, there are very many occasions where the way to
understand the solution space to a problem is to involve a large number
of people with varied concerns related to that problem. You don't want
so many people involved in the actual design - but you do want them in
on the problem definition and to provide feedback to design proposals.
I've seen very few occasions where a design that was done in isolation
- even by very intelligent people - held up well on the Internet.
I don't think that the imprimataur effect exists, if it did we would
all be using IPv6, IPSec and DNSsec.
IETF's imprimatur does have an effect, in the sense that if there's a
perceived need for a solution to some problem an IETF document is more
likely to be seen as _the_ solution than a competing solution from, say,
a vendor. IETF's imprimatur has less effect in cases where there is not
a perceived need, or the solution doesn't seem like a good fit for the
perceived need. People don't buy new hardware or software just because
IETF has a spec for it. And IPv6 and IPsec are certainly being used,
though perhaps not in the way _you_ think they should be used.
The real point of a working group process is to establish the
coalition of support you need to get the work deployed.
I strongly disagree. And treating this as the real point of a WG is
a good way to produce garbage. What is really needed is a balance -
get the right people on board to produce a good solution that meets
a wide variety of needs, AND who will help get the result deployed.
That's not the same set of people, but often there is some overlap.
All a hum tells me is who makes most noise. If I am sitting in a WG
meeting and I vote for a particular proposal then the meeting knows
that I have a level of commitment to that proposal. If the group votes
the other way and I stay in the group even so there is another data
That's why, in my experience, we don't rely entirely on hums. We do
hums and straw polls, but we also take individuals' input into account.
People will adjust their hums and votes according to which individuals
support the proposal and which ones oppose it, and they'll even take
those individuals' affiliation into account. People will say to
themselves, if the FemtoSoft or TransCo guy is that opposed to this
proposal, it doesn't have a chance of being deployed, so I'm going to
withhold my support also. I've seen it happen lots of times. I'm
very opposed to giving FemtoSoft and TransCo more votes than anyone else
but I don't have a problem with individuals considering that certain
contributors input carries more weight than others.
In my book people who actually write code and deploy code have a
rather bigger say in the typical decision than those who do not. If
someone makes a proposal and the authors of the six major
implementations and all the ISPs in the room vote against it then in
my view the proposal isn't happening regardless of what the
'consensus' might be.
And in all my IETF experience I've never seen anyone declare consensus
when the authors of six major implementations and all of the ISPs in
the room were opposed to it.
The other really big problem with hums is that they can be very
corrosive of trust in the chairs. The vote might have been in favor 40
to 10 and the chair assesed the hum as in favor and ten people still
go to the bar thinking that the system is rigged. Hums lack
auditability and as recent experience of machine voting in several
countries has demonstrated auditability is the single biggest issue
for a voting system as far as most voters are concerned. Large scale
intimidation is pretty easy to pick up.
We do rely on our chairs to not abuse their positions. And we often
have multiple chairs to reduce the risk of this happening. When chairs
do abuse their positions, there's a process for that. I do think that
we have too many cases where chairs are also document authors so that
there is an almost inherent conflict of interest.
Why can't we elect the WG chairs? Why can't we elect the ADs?
Say for the purpose of argument you're running a business, or maybe
a large non-profit organization. Would you let your employees elect
their managers? Do you think that would be a good way of choosing
people who would carry out the organization's strategic goals?
The last thing that iETF needs is to let organizations buy votes by
having their employees become members or sending them to meetings.
We have too much influence from two or three large corporations these
days, and far too little input from operators and users. Yes we need
the input from the corporations, but we don't need more input from them
that we have now. What we need is more balance.
I could see a place for voting in some things - like choosing people
who decide or oversee how the organization's money is spent, and
maybe in choosing ombudsmen who would help in dispute resolution.
I don't think voting has a place in IETF's technical decision-making.
absolutely no responsibility or duty towards officials that I have no
part in electing and I don't think many other people do. There is a
reason why the IESG is generally treated as if it was some sort of
politburo, that is how people will relate to a body that is formed by
a proceedure whose clear purpose is to distract the masses.
On the contrary, the purpose of popular elections is often to distract
the masses by making them think they have buyin when they actually
Nomcom works much better than that.
If people want to deploy IPv6 or IPSec or DNSsec or any of the other
decades overdue technologies the IETF has grown infamous for delaying
the only way it is going to happen is to hold a meeting with the
stakeholders whose buy in is needed to deploy and to negotiate.
If you had tried to identify the parties whose buyin were needed to
deploy IPsec and IPv6 you'd have gotten it wrong. In both of those
cases a big part of the reason for the delay is that the people
developing the protocols didn't understand their target market. (this
may still be the case to a large degree) And it's not because the
presumed-to-be major players weren't involved, it's because the
participants didn't fully understand and anticipate how the Internet
was changing. Voting wouldn't solve that problem.
Contrary to what some people believe the problems are not going to be
solved by a more perfect document. Nor is refusing to hold such a
meeting under IETF auspices going to stop such meetings happening, in
fact they are going on already and the IETF is not being invited.
People say such things like it's some sort of threat or reality check.
That's silly. Everyone should understand that there will always be
other standards organizations (including both those that try to be
fair and balanced, and those that are shills for a particular vendor)
with different agendas than IETF. They have their own goals and
agendas. That doesn't mean that IETF should abandon its goals.
The biggest problem with 'voting' is the tourism factor. A group can
have a carefully worked out possition on a topic and then have it
wrecked by a group of people coming into the room because they have
heard about 'the issue' through the totally unbiased and accurate lens
of a story on Slashdot.
The way the system works in OASIS is that there is a con call every
week or two weeks and members of the group have to attend the con
calls to maintain voting rights.
That's a really lousy way to ensure broad input and a really good way
to make sure that the group works in isolation and produces irrelevant
The fact that people can leave and take their ball with them is the
thing that makes the standards process work. It is absolutely not a
failure of process that a group whose idea is rejected by the IESG can
go off and work on it elsewhere. It is the only check to balance the
I agree with that much. Competing organizations help keep IETF honest.
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