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More and more virtual interims

2017-07-19 14:15:57
During the plenary, there was a strong pitch made for a
significantly increased number of virtual meetings, maybe even
every few weeks..  I want to play devil's advocate and point out
the downsides:

(1) We have usually thought that the IETF is at its best when
the vast majority of participants are designers, implementers,
and people with primary product responsibility rather than, at
the other extreme, professional standardizers.  For at least
some organizations, having to commit regular blocks of time (or
very long blocks of time) to specific standards work will
trigger the same sorts of "are those people too valuable to do
this or can we commit fewer or less valuable people" reviews
that are sometimes triggered by meetings in resorts or other
exotic and/or other places that are perceived as exceptionally
expensive or attractive to tourists.   In many other standards
bodies, including several whose work the IETF has treated with
some contempt in the past, there is a repeated pattern in which
the first generation of work actually engages those who
understand the architectural, design, and implementations but
later generators tend to be taken over by people whose jobs (and
skills) are in developing standards as a procedural matter
and/or protecting company interests in already-developed product
plans.  If we are inclined toward shifting toward more interim
meetings rather than emphasizing asynchronous email
communication, we should ask ourselves about the risks of
thereby shifting the profiles of the participants and the
possible consequences of doing that.

(2) Historically, we have considered active cross-area
participation and review as one of the strengths of the IETF.
As part of that, we've cited meetings that pull everyone
together for much of a week as an opportunity to get people to
drop in on WGs with which they aren't actively familiar.  That
doesn't work as well with remote participation although, if I've
set a week aside for IETF, dropping in on a WG about which I'm
merely curious is fairly easy and maybe likely.  It is quite
subjective, but my sense is that we've seen a rising percentage
of people participating in the IETF who are interested in a
single topic or even a single WG.  If we are interested in
crossfertilization across sets of skills and interests (not
merely the fallback of "area reviews" near or during IETF Last
Call), then, while we probably cannot resist tendencies toward
extreme specialization, we probably should not encourage them.
In that context, isolated interim WG meetings that people are
likely to sign up for or participate in only if they are
specifically interested in that WG and its subject matter are
likely to reinforce isolation and work that isn't seen from
other perspectives until IETF Last Call (if then). 

(3) For those for whom listing to, or expressing themselves in,
spoken English is not comfortable, an all-remote virtual interim
meeting may be even more of a barrier to full participation and
input than a mostly f2f one.  Noting other recent conversations
about slides and slide contents, that situation is even worse if
the same requirements about early posting of meeting materials
that apply to IETF f2f meetings don't apply to interims.  I note
that the IESG Statement on Interim Meetings
( does
not appear to impose that requirement on virtual interims (I
believe its coverage of f2f interim meetings is adequate for
that set of special issues.

None of those concerns is an argument against an occasional
interim meeting, especially when a real-time conversation may
help resolve controversial issues (and more especially where it
is possible that those issues result from misunderstandings or
miscommunication).   But, to the extent to which people are
advocating more and more interim meetings (either virtual or
f2f) as a normal way of doing business), we need to be careful
about possible side effects, most of which are not mentioned in
the IESG Statement.


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