IETF

25 years of rejecting kings, presidents, and voting

“We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code,” David Clark spoke those famous words, and for 25 years those words guided the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in how it sets technical standards on the Internet. The IETF is a standards body made up of… wait for it… anyone. There is no membership to speak of, well except if you join their mailing list, and everyone is welcome to join.

Ars Technica wrote an excellent read if you want to know more about the IETF. Here’s a snippet:

The Internet Engineering Task Force turned 25 yesterday. In that quarter century, 79 meetings were held in 15 countries and 4,500 RFCs (requests for comment) were written, resulting in 70 Internet Standards and 155 current best practices. Many more protocols are proposed standards and are often widely used, but haven’t made it to standard status—yet. This includes HTTP, for instance.

The IETF grew out of a group for government contractors working on the ARPANET who got together a few times a year to discuss what needed to be done to improve the network. In the intervening 25 years, it turned into a standards organization that creates standards related to the technical operation of the Internet.

Rough consensus translates to what is the dominant view point of the group. The interest of the IETF is that it is interested in “practical, and working systems that could be quickly implemented.”

Is there something, we Filipinos could learn from rough consensus?

The rough consensus is that we are not a rich nation and that incapacity exists. Looking at it under the context of charter change, In many ways, the answer has always been making the best with what we got, and building on top of it. In search of the most bang for the buck; and it will never be a perfect system. And politics would always be a series of compromises, imperfect.

Engineering and politics have one thing in common. In both spheres, the world is imperfect and every implementation is already partly a failure. The world is imperfect and while we attempt to build perfect systems, there will always be flaws in everything we do.

The second important quote that describes what the IETF is, and how it does business is known as Postel’s Law: “Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you accept.” In my humble opinion it also works in a democracy.



Image credit: xkcd, some rights reserved.