[governance] another interesting IG piece in Forbes

John Curran jcurran at istaff.org
Thu Jan 26 08:28:26 EST 2012

On Jan 25, 2012, at 4:11 AM, McTim wrote:

> http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2012/01/25/who-really-stopped-sopa-and-why/
> Those seeking to understand what kind of governance Internet users are
> willing to accept would do well to start by studying the engineering
> that establishes the network and how it is governed.  The key
> protocols and standards that make the Internet work—that make the
> Internet the Internet–are developed and modified by voluntary
> committees of engineers, who meet virtually to debate the merits of
> new features, design changes, and other basic enhancements.
> The engineering task forces are meritocratic and open.  The best ideas
> win through vigorous debate and testing.  No one has seniority or a
> veto.    There’s no influence peddling or lobbyists.  The engineers
> are allergic to hypocrisy and public relations rhetoric.  It’s a pure
> a form of democracy as has ever been implemented.  And it works
> amazingly well.

As Karl points out, the above is not always true.  Indeed, in the 
vast majority of cases (where the IETF philosophy might be summed
up as "let a thousand protocols bloom" & "let the market decide"),
it's true that every vendor idea is revised based on technical input
and generally allowed to continue to fruition, with the result being
hundreds of working groups and thousands of new internet drafts every 
year.  Since generally everything gets to move forward, the eventual
real world implications are considered to be the fallout of market 
decisions to use or not use a given technical protocol, and hence 
not a subject for the IETF's concern.

However, it is in cases where there needs to be a small or unique
solution set to a problem where things get interesting. In the ideal 
world, the IETF first writes clear technical documents stating the 
requirements for the chosen protocol (without consideration of the 
potential candidates), and then has a technology bake-off with the 
various proposals to select the best fit based on rough consensus
and running code. What actually happens can be quite convoluted, and
while I will say that while it is generally a fair and reasonable 
process, it is neither free of political/commercial considerations 
nor does it always maintain the goals of openness and transparency
that one might desire.

Selecting one protocol over another turns out to be very difficult,
and that's likely one of the major reasons that the IETF avoids making
such decisions unless absolutely necessary.  The result is that we have 
many, many competing standards adopted which then have to prove their 
actual worth in the darwinian marketplace.  It is left to the reader
whether selection via marketplace should be considered a "pure form 
of democracy" or not.


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