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A view from too near


By Scott Bradner


Don't try to say no to Johna Till Johnson.  I ran into her at a party the other day and got to talking about the state of the world (the technical world that is, the real world is too much of a downer for parties) and I mentioned that, after 10 years, I was leaving the IESG.  She said, in effect 'so, write about the IETF,' while hinting that the IETF just might not be the place where future Internet standards would be coming from.  I replied that I wanted to wait a while because I was still too close to be able to have a reasoned view.  She would have none of that, and the result is this column.


In early 1993 I was asked to join the IETF's Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG).  Every two years since then I've been asked to continue until this year.  The IESG is what passes for management in the IETF. The IESG tries to ensure that the IETF documents are clear, problem free and timely.  How effective the IESG is at these tasks, and in fact what tasks the IESG should be doing, is currently under review within the IETF. 


Obviously, quite a bit has changed in the Internet world in the last 10 years.  Most of what the world thinks of when they think of the Internet, particularly the World Wide Web, ubiquitous email (accompanied by ubiquitous spam), and search engines were, at best, in their infancy in 1993.  The number of people on the Net has grown from a handful of millions to more than half a billon.  Since 1993, the IETF has published over 2,000 RFCs, including over 600 standards track documents.  Being on the IESG, I read, or at least skimmed, most of these documents -- that is a lot of technology that, at this point, blurs together all too well.  


Maybe to goad me, and maybe seriously, Johna hinted that she thought that time and technology were beginning to pass the IETF by.  I truly do not know if this is the case, it may well be.  But I'm far too close to the action to be able to objectively judge.  I'll revisit the topic in the next few months when I can pull back some.


But one thing I do believe is that it will be hard for the IETF to tell early enough if Johna is right.  This is not just because of nearness to the source but because the IETF has had a number of very big successes in the last few years, and the glare from these successes makes it hard to see past them. The IETF's IP telephony technology is dominating the world of convergence, there is no real competition for the IETF's email, routing, web transport, network monitoring, and security standards.  In the light of these successes it's hard to carefully evaluate the rest of the 600 standards RFCs, or the efforts that never made it to publication.  I'll look again in a few months.


Meanwhile, I will continue to be actively involved in the IETF but now I will be able to pay attention to the things I want to rather than what I need to. 


disclaimer:  And I'll be more involved at Harvard, but that does not mean that they share this evaluation.