ARC Regenerative Communities Study of the IETF

1. What did you accomplish last week?

Kaliya and Day went over the initial set of notes on index cards Kaliya wrote after attending IETF 118(SF) and 119(Prague). These were on index cards each associated with a Group Works Deck Pattern Language. The deck was alphabetical and it was re-sorted by meta-category Intention, Context, Relationship, Flow, Creativity, Perspective, Modelling, Inquiry & Synthesis, Faith. So like cards are now with each other. All the cards and notes have been digitized for easy access by the team this summer for the research. One of the key goals is to have a really crisp set of specific questions related to the practices (already observed) that make real the patterns in the deck that we will use to inform our in person week at IETF the 3rd week of July.

(Day) I listened to a book on cultural differences (a little bit) and thought about it in terms of protocols, which revealed an interesting line of inquiry. I also mused about emojis as a communication protocol of sorts and reflected on how the current set seems inadequate. I spoke with various communities I’m participating in about the possibility of my including them among the subjects of our research. When I listened to the Montessori preschool teacher describe the table cleaning protocol, the chair moving protocol, the work material retrieval, use, and return protocol, I again imagined a rich line of inquiry on pedagogy as protocol.

(Kaliya) I really dove into assessing the literature on Internet Governance and literature on Standards Development Organization. I both did an overview of my own book shelf and ordered quite a few books online and downloaded some academic and think tank papers.

I read these essays from Summer of Protocols 2023 and saw a lot of connections several of the essays I have learned new things and made me think . I also wrote a lot of side notes about the text and IETF as an organism - some highlights of those are below too as bullet points.

I think it is powerful to have a dialogue between digital and physical and social protocols. I am very happy to have found my tribe.

The Unreasonable Sufficiency of Protocols

“In many situations, a protocol is all you need to turn a seemingly impossible problem into a tractable one…protocols herd collective problem-solving behaviors away from tragedies of commons into regimes of serendipity.” ← I think this is true about IETF protocols

“Good protocols do not just treat solutions to problems as works-in-progress, with bugs and imperfections to be worked out over the long term, but the specifications of the problems as works-in-progress as well. Good protocols learn, grow and matures in ways that catalyze thoughtful stewardship and sustained generativity.” ⇐ this is what we are doing this research to understand more about how the IETF as an institution does this.

“Bad protocols on the other hand, if they avoid early mortality, tend to become increasingly neglected over time, leading to extended periods of sterility and stagnation, and succumbing to capture and corruption.” ←ITU!!!

“They inspire just enough voluntary commitment and participation to overcome the centripetal forces of defection to exit, and establish a locus of continuity and history.”

Exit Loyalty Voice - The IETF not only avoids “exit” but really has both loyalty and voice happening quite strongly.

We hope to help catalyze a broader, deeper, richer, and more optimistic conversation about all aspects of protocols, from the highly technical and mathematical, to the social, political, and cultural. Protocols, we believe, deserve to be first-class concepts in any discussion.” <-YES YES AND YES

“The literacy, capability, and imagination we bring to the invention of protocolized futures will determine whether those futures are good or bad.”

“2. What is the relationship between protocols and agency? Do protocols assume or require a set of participating agenda with autonomy or free-will?” ← Protocols are both freeing and constraining. Good protocols have broad expressive capacity.

“What determines the generativity of a protocol;how does that generativity change over time?”

“3. How protocols mutate, and what are the limits on mutability of protocol beyond which it begins to lose coherence, identity and utility?” ← the protocols of protocols change this is what we are exploring in this POG

“Good protocols, however, seem to trigger virtuous cycles that help mitigate their own externalities over time, giving rise to better descendants.” ←book to read that makes this very clear is War in the Age of Intelligent Machines by Manual Delanda → it also shows how important the adjacent possible is.

“The idea that the presence of active and attentive stewards and curators willing to “muddle through” for a long time is arguable not just an option but a requirement for a healthy protocol, at least until it reaches some level of maturity.” ← lots of muddling through happening at the IETF.

Key Question: Can protocols be made evolvable enough to keep pace with the problems they targe? ←IETF YES! ITU No

“Strong emphasis on backwards compatibility” ← very true about IETF protocols that are layered so one layer changes and still interacts with the previous

“In computer-mediated protocols, this normative tendency is often explicitly articulated as an explicit value. For example, The Internet Engineering Task Force operates by the principles “We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.”"

“Successful protocols invariably face endemic legitimacy challenges face endemic legitimacy challenges from influential voices, yet manage to maintain sufficient legitimacy.”

BDLFs are mentioned BUT… not understood. It would be worth reading the Success of Open Source to better understand the natural tension between a leader (the BDLF) and their community - they will defect if the BDLF doesn’t listen to them.

“Good protocols offer problem-solving contexts that resist the anomie of both oppressively coercive and bureaucratic order on the one hand, and anarchic bleakness on the other. As a side effect they appear to serve as engines of meaning making.” ← amazing thing to consider about the sense of meaning making that the IETF has/provides for folks.

“Key Question: What is the nature of the balance of power between attackers and defenders of a valuable protocol, and what maintains it?” ← iETF protocols are defensible vs. ITU

Atoms, Institutions, Blockchains

We built institutions for groups of humans who work together, who behave in predictable ways over long periods of time. We learned to design the institutions to become reliable [how is the IETF reliable] so that we could give an instruction to an institution, [you can’t give the IETF “instructions”] and be sure that those instructions would be followed - even years, decades or centuries later. [ the IETF is in the decades phase of its life - it does a lot to replicate itself and to have good systems to respond to its environment.]

“A contract is only “hard” if there is an institution that makes it so. Groups of people - lawyers, judges, police officers”

But what about protocols as a source of “hardness” the internet works because of these…the voluntary choice to implement the protocols that work best for solving network problems.

Most institutions, and the things that they can make hard, are bounded by nation-state boarders. There is one set of rules in one place and another set of rules in another place. This introduces complexity and cost for a civilization and economy that spans many international boards. Relying only on institutions for hardness means access to that hardness is demarcated along nation-state boundaries.” ← this is not something the IETF relies on.

“Many institutions depend on a central state of some kinds.” >> the state is an assemblage not “one thing” what does it mean to look at the IETF as an assemblage?

“Institutions are often very opaque” ←true about ISO & ITU not true about IETF.

“Institutions are extremely expensive and difficult to create. The institutions that we rely most on for institutional hardness that we have today evolved over centuries and millennia. We cannot easily experiment, invent, or test new institutions, which means the rate of innovation proceeds slowly over decades” ←IETF is quite iterative, it would be interesting to do a cost analysis that compares between ITU/ISO and IETF.

“The problem with software eating the world, is that behind most software is an institution.” (is this a problem? Protocols are actually behind a lot of networks/software.)

“The internet has let us build the early stages of a global, digital, civilization. But today it is built on weak foundations. The internet we have reflects the shortcoming of institutional hardness. It is increasingly balkanized, carved up along nation-state boundaries. It is a fragile and unstable foundation, as the individual companies that control the rise and fall. And most of it is owned by a handful of companies, controlled by a small group of people who live in one country.”

I disagree with this whole heartedly. The IETF is an amazing institution and its resilience and dynamism to “resist” the ideas of the institutions that are driven by ‘states’ and their “hardness”.

“Think of atoms, institutions and blockchains as a system of checks and balances. Using them together to build our civilization’s critical infrastructure make it more resilient and less exposed to more limitations of any one of them. They are a set of building materials that, used together in aggregate, make a stronger whole.” ← but what are we building? System A or System B

“But also what sources of hardness should be used to construct those systems.” ← nature isn’t hard!!!

“Increasingly backlash against “big tech” is that it has become clear that the institutions that control the internet today are not suitable sources of hardness and the casts we try to make with them keep breaking.” I wonder what they are talking about because the protocols that run the internet are doing great. We could have VCs do a strategy around funding a whole group of companies around open protocols - but they don’t they complain (as Chris Dixon did) there have been no successful protocols at internet scale since the HTML. They didn’t fund support or move forward protocol development around say RSS or activity pub.

Protocols in (Emergency) Time

“For all projects, the researchers made an important distinction between the moment of inception of protocols and their continuous reproduction and their continuous reproduction during the period of operation.” The IETF does this type of reproduction.

“Whether protocols transition to this state of second nature or remain perceived as impositions is not straightforward to ascertain at the inception of a protocol. When the participation is conscious (but hence also optional) and allows for flexibility, a loose coupling between protocol and actor, protocolization can facilitate slow but steady evolution. The contradictory duality in protocol rhythms tempers enthusiasm about the inherent change-making potential of protocols.”

This is a very good description of IETF and how they really are clear they don’t know how well a protocol will turn out - they also work on steady evolution of protocols and have a good system in place to manage iteration of all of their protocols technical and organizational.

“Importantly, stating that protocols are conservative is not a political assertion.”

There is a saying about IETF protocols - be conservative in what you produce and liberal in what you accept.

Protocols don’t Build Pyramids.

How buildings learn - “a building is not a building per se, but “several layers of longevity of built components” “Brand’s framing offers a broader understanding of how systems evolve over time and how humans live with those systems.” ← what are the pace layers of the IETF?

Broadly, protocols can be understood as infrastructure plus behavior

“Cities…are places of constant compromise at every scale, full of externalities that must be managed, boundaries that must be negotiated and conflicts that must be resolved.”

My comment - protocols are boundary negotiation tools.

“A city is an information system.” <-wow. So how is the IETF like a city?

Protocol definition. “A structured processes that organizes participants’ behavior of the interest of achieving a collective goal”

“When a protocol fails, it does not fail according to external criteria, but according to its own internal objectives.” ← IETF protocols are not failing according to internal

Protocols are often generative, catalyzing an array of unforeseen outcomes beyond the specific problem they address.

Two books that came in the mail that relevant chapters were read this week:

Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet by David Day

The Political Economy of Digital Ecosystems: Scenario Planning for Alternatives Futures by Meelis Kitsing.

  1. What do you plan to do next week?

Get really clear on an overall research plan together.
Meet with two folks to consider the novel research approach we are taking using the Group Works Pattern Language Deck as a basis for how we look at the IETF processes.

  • Rosa Zubizarreta a researcher focused on deliberative and democratic process
  • Kavana Tree Bressen who was one of the leaders developing the Group Works deck to see if what we are talking about doing has been done with others and to get her feedback.

What tasks/questions will be considered focused on this coming week

What am Kaliya is looking for in reading the literature that exists about internet governance and in particular any particular mention of the IETF. I will be focusing on the Physical books that Kaliya need to get through before travel sets in and I am only able to read off my remarkable.

Books that arrived in the mail that are in the pipeline:

  • Global Standard Setting in Internet Governance: by Allison Harcourt, George Christou, Seamus Simpson (2020) This was started and will be completed next week.
  • Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology and Networks by Andew L. Russell (2014) This arrived in the mail.
  • Internet Core Protocols: The Definitive Guide by Eric Hall.

List more

Books off the shelf:

3. What (if anything) is blocking your progress?

Considering what the best medium to take notes and track research is. It needs to be significantly virtual because of the amount of travel this summer (three weeks in Europe in June). What have other folks used. Considering Zotero.

4. Fun insight/tidbit, link, or idea?

I (Kaliya) learned what a snowclone is!


That’s a big pile of books :smile:

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  1. What did you accomplish last week?


Project Overview
Our research project focuses on the exploration of ‘metaprotocols’—the protocols used in the creation of other protocols. These metaprotocols can be formal and explicit or informal and implicit. An interesting aspect is viewing metaprotocols through the lens of governance. The recursive nature of metaprotocols, where protocols are established through other protocols, raises the question: how far down does this recursion go?

Literature Review
To support our research, I am currently referencing two significant books:

1. The Culture Map by Erin Meyer:
Meyer explores how cultural differences impact communication and collaboration. She introduces dimensions such as communication, evaluation, persuasion, leadership, decision-making, trust, and scheduling. Understanding these cultural dimensions helps in navigating and bridging gaps between different cultural protocols.

2. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind by Geert Hoftede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov:
This book delves into the concept of culture as “software of the mind” that distinguishes the members of one group from another. The authors introduce dimensions of national culture, such as power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term vs. short-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint. These dimensions provide a framework to understand how underlying cultural protocols shape behavior and expectations.

Key Insights

  • Cultural differences serve as the substrate for formal protocols. These underlying cultural protocols, though often invisible, influence interactions and can lead to misunderstandings, friction, and conflict when mismatched.
  • Global standards bodies, such as the IEEE and IETF, exhibit different approaches to protocol development. The IEEE’s bureaucratic processes contrast with the IETF’s “rough consensus and running code,” reflecting cultural differences in governance and decision-making.

Reflection on Our Research Approach

  • Considering Meyer’s Persuasion dimension, cultures can take a principles-first or applications-first approach. Reflecting on our methodology, we seem to be taking an applications-first approach—examining existing protocols and generalizing from specific instances to understand broader patterns.
  • This introspection prompts us to question if we have a thesis to prove or if we are open to discovering emergent themes through our exploration.

Questions for Further Research

  • How do cultural differences influence the effectiveness of different protocol development approaches?
  • Can we measure the quality of protocols? If so, what criteria should we use to determine which approach yields better protocols?
  • How do implicit cultural protocols shape the explicit formal protocols within global standards bodies?

Next Steps

  • Continue reading and synthesizing insights from the referenced books.
  • Analyze case studies of protocol development within different global standards bodies.
  • Reflect on our research methodology and consider if adjustments are needed to align with a principles-first or applications-first approach.

This week’s exploration has provided valuable insights into the cultural dimensions that underpin metaprotocols and has raised important questions for further investigation.

Kaliya: I dove into the literature on Internet Governance and Standards more broadly.

Step one is to understand the perspective of the author and two is to see if they mention the IETF and then considering how they “see” the organization given their perspective or lens.

Some authors like Balleste in Internet Governance keep casting about to find “management models of Internet governance” as if something as complex and emergent as the internet can be “managed” in the conventional way that a company or even government can be.

Global Standard Setting in Internet Governance gets to a better surface explanation of how IETF works but it is explained in terms of other SDOs and organizational forms/structures.

The authors continually talk about how it is companies and commercial interests who are in the IETF and driving it.

Opening Standards the global Politics of Interoperability does mention the IETF but doesn’t really explain how it works in contrast to other SDOs they are all lumped together.

Constructing World Culture has a whole chapter about SDOs broadly (those for all kinds of things) and traces the history/origins of ISO. It makes it very clear it is private organization that has “standards bodies” at the national level as members. However it is NOT states that are members of ISO. They also touch on the history of how technical standards were originally made in the US amongst industry players without government involvement and how aspects of this model still the basis of most global standards setting.

Extrastatecraft is a great book contextualizing standards development to the time between 1815 and 1915 what Karl Polanyi calls the great peace - there were no major wars and there was extensive industrial development in the US and Europe and the development of standards coming out of industry in this time period. The book covers the founding of the ITU in this window and how it transcended states because it worked through the wars. It also never mentions the IETF once!

A Brief History of the Future: The Origins of the Internet really does an amazing job of telling several different threads of human confluences and research and innovation that lead to the development of the internet. It ends with the story of how the very first HTML/Browsers were created. It has a depth to the history that I didn’t really know/have before and really gets at the heart of the “shape” of the internet protocols we have today and keystone moments that led to their creation. This storytelling also gets to the heart of the starting point/ emergence of key aspects of IETF culture that continue to this day. Including the “not knowingness” that the had when working on solving the next challenge needed to make a functional network of networks.

The language also touches on organic metaphors for what was being created but in just a few subtle spots.

2. What do you plan to do next week?
Finishing up reading the internet governance and standards setting literature.

Book things (Before Kaliya is traveling for 4 weeks)- focus on considering the literature about regeneration, permaculture, Panarchy, Christopher Alexander’s work, Commons, Thrivability, Chaordic, Systems Change, Polarity Management.

Pick an additional Jury member.

3. What (if anything) is blocking your progress?

The limits of time with the books before travel begins.

4. Fun insight/tidbit, link, or idea?

Why the RFC?

By the writer of the first RFC.
Quoted from A Brief History of the Future: The Origins of the Internet

I remember having great fear that we would offend whomever the official protocol designers were and I spent a sleepless night composing humble words for our notes. The basic ground rules were that anyone could say anything and that nothing was official. And to emphasize the point, I labeled the notes “Request for Comments” I never dreamed these notes would be distributed through the very medium we were discussing in these notes. Talk about the Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

Stever Crocker’s first “Request for Comments” went out by snail mail on April 7, 1969 under the title “host software. RFC1 described how the most elemental connections between two computers - the ‘handshake’ - would be achieved.

The name RFC stuck, so that even today the way the Internet discusses technical issues is still via papers modeled on Crocker’s RFC idea. It wasn’t just the title that endured, however, but the intelligent, friendly, cooperative, consensual attitude implied by it. With his modest, placatory style, Steve Crocker set the tone for the way the Net developed. ‘The language of the RFC’ wrote Hafner and Lion was ‘warm and welcoming. The idea was to promote cooperation not ego. The fact that Crocker kept his ego out of the first RFC set the style and inspired others to follow suit in the hundreds of friendly and cooperative RFCs that followed’

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