Advice for Researchers Regarding The IETF

NOTE: These are the personal opinions of the Area Directors, not formal IETF policy,

Numerous people are always trying in various ways to prod and poke the IETF to find out what makes it tick. Some of this is labelled "liaison operations", some of it is labeled "scholarly research". All of it has the potential to irritate the prodee.

We are not against such activity; if we knew why the IETF works, we would do more of it, so we would like to know too!

However, there are certain things one should keep in mind:

  • ALL active IETF participants think of themselves as mission-critical, overworked, under-appreciated and contributors to the common good. Therefore, a missive that demands an hour of questionnaire work with no perceived benefit will most likely meet with 90% oblivion and 10% violent flames.
  • To quote Proverbs: "Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife." (Proverbs 30:33, KJV)

    Asking questions at a critical moment about why a bad situation got the way it is may actually make it worse. And the main business of the IETF is standardization, NOT being prodded.

  • An IETF working group may have several hundred participants. The entire IETF has several thousand. How many of these do you wish to annoy?

Based on this, here are some words of advice:

  • One animal is easier to look at than the whole pride.

    Get to know one or a few groups reasonably well by scanning its archive (public record) before asking questions. (If you don't understand the problem, how can you understand the interactions?)

  • Dead lions are more easily dissected than live ones.

    In particular, there is no scarcity of working groups that are finished with their work, and where the participants can now evaluate (but NEVER objectively; that would be non-IETF-like) how the results compared to what they expected at the start.

  • Binoculars are less harmful than syringes.

    Working groups leave LOTS of tracks, including public mailing list archives which will give you trails of drafts written, revised and re-revised, problems found and rejected, quarrels started and settled. Researchers who use these sources diligently will have a much greater chance of finding out just who to ask about what than just a blind mailing of questionnaires.

  • Red wolves are not rhinoceri.

    The problems and pressures faced by (for instance) a working group developing web rating services will be completely different from the problems and pressures faced in the working group on standardizing IP multicast over an ATM backbone.

(If you are thinking, having read this far, that these Area Directors unfairly favor qualitative research over quantitative research in social science, I can only congratulate you on your perceptiveness.)

In conclusion (and what you really came here for): The IETF Applications Area Directors will NOT:

  • Attempt to hinder any researcher bombarding the IETF working group with inane questions of vague purpose.
  • Attempt to shield any such researchers from the rightful wrath heaped upon their suffering heads by saying that "it was OKed by the Area Directors".
  • Interfere with any study that uses publicly available material about the IETF and its working groups.
  • Make any statement of approval on the outcome of research on the IETF in their roles as Area Directors.
  • Promise to use any time at an IETF meeting to discuss research on the IETF (if you have seen ADs at the end of an IETF week, you will know why).

If, on the other hand, a researcher sends a politely worded E-mail request for some discussion time with us, it MIGHT happen that it hits us at one of our few free moments, and we can take the time for a response. But there are no promises!