IETF turns introspective with new wiki

A new IETF wiki documents the successes and failures in developing protocol standards

The Internet Engineering Task Force has set up a wiki to document which of its standards were successful and why.

"Some of [IETF's] standards have succeeded on a very large and visible scale. Others are successful, but visible only to a more limited community. Others have fared poorly," the IETF Successes and Failures wiki home page reads. "This wiki lists technologies and services that were developed in the IETF and represent notable successes or failures."

Assessing how successful an IETF standard has become should help the Internet standards body, and its working groups, better understand the impact of the work it is doing, said Dave Crocker, an IETF member and a principal at the Internet consulting firm Brandenburg InternetWorking. Crocker led the creation of the wiki.

"Our measure of success is that we publish standards. [But] We don't measure how effective they are in the marketplace," Crocker said. This wiki will allow IETF members to qualify the success of their projects, he said.

"What I had in mind was getting some concrete dialogue about the particulars of what worked and what didn't," Crocker said.

The heart of the wiki is a number of different tables listing standards IETF has published. The tables list the success of each standard on a preset scale, and offer a section for comments to justify the success, or lack thereof. Contributors may also create a unique page for each standard, in case further discussion is warranted.

As the wiki shows, some of IETF's standards have achieved ubiquity, such as the DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) and BGP (Border Gateway Protocol). Others, however, such as IMPP (Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol) and ODV (Open Distance Vector), have languished, seemingly little-used.

Only a small portion of the many standards that IETF has created are now on the site, Crocker admitted. Any IETF member can edit the site, and Crocker is encouraging members to fill in details about their work.

"Hopefully, there will be lessons learned from this activity that will influence future developments by IETF working groups and other standards bodies as well," said IETF Chairman Russ Housley in an e-mail interview.

Grading the success of the IETF standards can also serve several other functions, Crocker pointed out. It could help working groups focus their thinking on how their standards may get implemented, acting in effect a bit like a report card. A secondary benefit of the wiki is that it could serve as an aid in public relations, a place for the standards body to tout its successes.

This is not the IETF's first foray into deriving lessons learned from its own work, Housley said. In 2007, Microsoft software architect Dave Thaler gave a talk at the IETF 70 meeting, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in which he outlined some of the factors that make a protocol a success.

Thaler later wrote his observations up into an informational RFC (Request for Comments), which addressed the same points, and provided an appendix of successful standards.

"A single snapshot in time was very useful, but we hope that watching this over a longer period will provide additional insights," Housley said.

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