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These reports, written by volunteers, summarise information for people not able to attend the sessions. Their comprehensiveness and accuracy are not guaranteed. For more information, please contact the presenters directly. Their e-mail addresses are available at

Track 1: New Applications

Panel: Can standards survive the success of the Internet?

By Julian Albert Kilker, 22 July 1998

This review summarises the panel's responses to the questions of the moderator Ken Klingenstein. Members of the panel were Fred Baker of Cisco Systems, Brian Carpenter of IBM (replacing Erik Huizer, who was not able to attend), Scott Bradner of Harvard University, and Robert Shaw of the ITU.

Ken began by asking for a brief history of the Internet standards making process. Panel participants noted that standards are created by consensus; there must be enough consensus to build, test, and iterate through a standard. The process has changed only slightly since the beginning of the net. At present, it is more difficult to get to the RFC stage when a proposed standard is published for discussion. This is both because standards are much more complex (the example of router standards was given), and because there are many more players in the process, and thus more "squeaky wheels" to accommodate. While the standard processes have been generally successful, members of the panel raised concerns about the broadening attention given to standards making, and that developers might end up "trying to satisfy constituencies that [they] shouldn't be trying to satisfy." In particular, Brian noted that standards organisations do not appreciate being handed "ready-made" standards by outside interests.

When asked whether the speed of standards development has changed, panel members argued that it is about the same; the differentiated services process suggests that the process can be quite rapid.

The panel noted several problems currently facing standards making: the heavy workloads of people involved in the process, which particularly affects the evaluation of complex standards requiring detailed analysis (such as security standards) and reduces people's participation in the many stages of the process. There have been cases, for example, where it would have been helpful if people had attended IETF meetings before commenting on its mailing lists. Introducing new people involved in the standards process to the 25-year history and social norms of net standards is difficult. Additional problems included keeping in touch with the many standards groups now involved at some level (or wishing to become involved) in standards relevant to the Internet, bringing companies productively into standards development (panel members noted that

Microsoft has recently understood the benefits of collaborative approaches to standards development), the increasing politicisation of standards development because of the Internet's success, and the associated concerns that technical standards will increasingly be seen as a way to restrict rather than support internet working.

The overall point was that the nature of the Internet has influenced the standards development processes. Fred noted that standards development must be collaborative because "no one vendor supplies everything, and no one has all the best ideas". Scott noted that, with respect to standards development, the "power of the Internet is that you can experiment", that the apparent chaos of the net is its greatest advantage.

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