Open Standards as a Core Internet Value

The remarkable growth of the Internet and the limitless variety of Internet applications follow directly from the open model of Internet connectivity and standards development. Any individual, organization, or company can develop and distribute a new Internet application that can be used by anyone. The many-to-many architecture of the Internet makes it a powerful tool for sharing, education, and collaboration. It has enabled the global open source community to develop and enhance many of the key components of the Internet, such as the Domain Name System and the World-Wide Web, and has made the vision of digital libraries a reality.

The Internet standards development process is by far the best in the business. More than just a standards process, it is a distributed collaboration and innovation engine that has produced a thriving new field of electronic communication and a ten-billion dollar global marketplace growing faster than any communications technology yet devised. Its very uniqueness, however, suggests that it may not be easily applied to existing standards making organizations and their proceedings.

It’s worth examining the attributes of the Internet standards and the associated processes.

Individual participation. From the outset, the Internet standards process was based on individual as opposed to organizational participation. In fact, organizational views are not introduced or discussed. This significantly alters behavior a t meetings emphasizes substantive issues.
Direct open participation by experts and innovators. Anyone may immediately access all relevant information and standards, or may participate in any Internet standards-making activity. This may be done via the global Internet at no cost, or by attending any of the triannual meetings at nominal cost. These meetings are also multicasted live on two audio and video channels to more than 500 sites in nearly 20 countries. This exceptional accessibility has proven a magnet for experts and enthusiastic innov ators, who freely share their ideas, expertise, and even their computer code. Many students and low-level researchers-who freely invent, criticize, and produce concepts and products-are also drawn into the activity. Much of the work itself progresses on the Internet-day and night. Much of the work itself progresses on the Internet – day and night.

Output consists of demonstrated working standards. Before Internet standards reach a certain point, at least two independent implementations must have been completed. This emphasis on working code and demonstrated interoperability is consider ed central to the process.
Emphasis on meeting real user needs. The use of preliminary interest groups to initiate a standards making activity, combined with participants who actually use the technology and the development of real implementations, produces products that generally meet actual user needs. This occurs predominantly through “bottom up” rather than “top down” standards-making.

A well managed development process. Standards-making is closely followed by Area Chairs and forced to proceed rapidly or face termination. Minimum institutional ossification. Working groups are created easily and terminated quickly upon completion of their specific tasks. This constant turnover prevents permanent committees, rigid institutional infrastructure, or semi-permanent individual roles.
Internet standards must be accepted by both the Internet Engineering Steering Group and the Internet Architecture Board. This peer consensus is reached by people who are intimately familiar with the technology and have one principal motivation -making sure the standard will work. All formal standards actions are published electronically and on paper by the Internet Society – which also takes global international organization responsibility for the s tandards and peer liaison with other international organizations.

Standards and related materials are universally and instantly accessible and browsable. Internet standards (and frequently the associated code) are distributed and made available instantly on international Internet servers by mail-based and ftp services. Recently, the IETF Secretariat has advanced the state-of-the-art in standards making support by providing gopher-based and WWW-Mosaic hypertext browsing capabilities.
Activities are network based. Standards-making on the network also involves rather considerable support requirements. For each Internet Standards meeting, this support includes constructing a rather substantial enterprise internet, obtaining s cores of computers, providing docking stations, and assembling a multicasting facility. However, this allows attendees not only to accomplish their work, but also continue their personal professional endeavors. Creating the right culture. Having the right institutional ambiance is very important to attract the best and the brightest in computer programming and networking. The right ambiance includes informality, network access, and the presence of a large peer group. Culture is also an occasionally troublesome as programmers and networkers have low thresholds of tolerance controls and influences perceived as unnecessary. Nevertheless, culture is often a critical factor in determining productivity a nd innovation.

The Internet standards process-although close to an ideal development model-is quite different from most existing standards making bodies. While it might be possible to adopt many of these Internet practices for a new organization, it is quite different to make over existing organizations to assume all of these attributes.

Standards bodies are more often homes for specialized industry or government constituents than they are neutral technological forums. As a result, even purportedly open governmental standards forums are usually effectively closed with no incentives to ad mit outsiders. All of these factors limit propagation of the Internet model-even though its adoption would clearly be beneficial.

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