Monthly Archives: May 2013

Permissionless Innovation


I would like to talk about standards and what kind of approaches are suitable for developing them when it comes to Internet technology and applications.


An engineering organisation such as the IETF with many implementors and operators is obviously very interested in ensuring that its technology actually works well, can be easily built into devices, and behaves well in the presence of other use of the network. Another obvious core value of the IETF is ensuring interoperability across implementations and the globe.

But there is a third goal that may not be equally obvious, yet it is very important, particularly for the role of the Internet in creating economic growth and supporting all communications needs. I call this goal the strive for permissionless innovation, the ability of others to create new things on top of the communications constructs that we create. Most new applications in the Internet are the results of grass-roots innovation, start-ups, and research labs. No permit had to be applied, no new network had to be built, and no commercial negotiation with other parties was needed when Facebook started, for instance. The easier we make the creation of these innovations, free of coordination and permission-asking, the faster the new Facebooks, Amazons, and Youtubes appear.

The architecture of the Internet, shaped by the end-to-end principle, supports this at a very basic level. The web technology is an example of an additional framework that enabled tremendous innovation, not just for human consumption but also as an underlying tool to create applications. Similarly, many other creations helped shape the Internet to what it is today. In the short term horizon I can see how WebRTC and the use of web technology for the Internet of Things are about to create similar revolutions in the future. Enabling every browser to make a call, every web server to be a voice provider, and every object to communicate seamlessly with the rest of the world.

It is important to note that this is not just about technology. The same openness that allows exciting new gadgets also allows individuals to use the Internet for their own purposes, communities to develop their own content, and generally enable people to connect better to each other.

Open Standards

But how do we create standards that fulfil such goals? Last year, the IETF, IEEE, W3C, ISOC, and IAB formalised some of the principles that we all believe in the Open Stand paradigm.

There are five principles. The first one is co-operation, for instance respecting the roles of different organisations. The second one is adherence to fundamental principles, such as achieving broad consensus and transparency. The third and one that is very important in my mind is collective empowerment, for instance choosing standards on technical merit and global interoperability, with the intent on enabling global competition. The fourth one is availability, making sure that standards can be accessed and implementations built on a fair basis. Finally, the fifth principle is voluntary adoption of standards.

Only this kind of an open process can produce tools that permissionless innovation requires. At the same time the innovation process itself results the need for some additional standards when the market develops to a point where multiple participants need similar capabilities. This is visible, for instance, in the current standards efforts around WebRTC where standard Javascript APIs are being developed to support applications from different voice service providers. When I look at other types of standardisation processes (for instance, those based on countries voting) it is hard to see how they can operate in such a fast-pace, multi-interest environment. Open standards are really the only possibility for ensuring that the Internet technology continues to develop at its maximum pace.


These goals and principles have worked very well in helping create the technology that is behind today’s Internet. But they are even more important going forward. For instance, broad participation is going to be even more important in the increasingly connected world, where Internet matters for everyone from farmers to engineers to nurses to government officials. Secondly, decisions can not be taken without understanding the benefits and operation of a global communications networks.

It is very important that the Internet stays open, retains its global reach, and continues to develop at a fast pace in an open where all stakeholders have an ability to provide their input. Please help support this development in the face of increasing pressures facing the Internet and its governance in the coming years.

Jari Arkko, Chair of the IETF

P.S. This article uses material from a presentation that I held at the Finnish Internet Forum, as well as material prepared by Olaf Kolkman.

Balancing the Process


One of the most rewarding parts of my job is talking to various IETF contributors or people who rely on our results, and trying to understand their experiences about the IETF process and what kinds of technical topics they expect us to tackle. This article focuses on the process aspects.

One piece of feedback that I consistently hear is that too much of the IETF process is centered on the later stages and in particular the IESG review.  Documents rarely sail through the IETF last call and IESG review unchanged. At least 90% of the documents get revised. Many of these fixes are editorial, but some have technical substance. It is surprising that documents that were expected to be ready as they left the working group need so much revision.

Having been involved in the process for many years, often the bigger changes at this stage relate to cross-area issues, or the fact that the careful reviews from the IETF last call, directorates, and 15 ADs often represents a significant increase in the number of non-WG people looking at the document.

While some of this is natural as the document gains more exposure, it is still painful. Often difficult tradeoffs get re-discussed at this stage, late surprises are discovered, and significant document changes occur. These drawbacks are amplified by our informal processes through which changes are introduced. While we try to keep the working groups in the loop, sometimes the discussion happens directly between authors and reviewers or ADs. The WGs are not always directly informed, and it is rare to conduct formal last calls.

All this results in uncertainty for the progress of documents through the IETF, increases the work load of the IESG, and makes the working groups not be as central to the standards process as they should be. And yet, based on my experience a vast majority of those changes were necessary before the RFCs got published.

But is there a way to improve our process on this aspect? We are discussing some of these issues in an IESG retreat that is coming up next week in Dublin, Ireland. Input on these topics would be valuable. Are these problems real? What suggested methods could be used to reduce their effects? Why are we not doing more cross-area reviewing (by ADs or otherwise) earlier in the process? Please send feedback directly to me or discuss at the mailing list.

Jari Arkko, Chair of the IETF

P.S. In case you were wondering where the graph came from – it is from my IETF statistics page, but unfortunately the IESG measurement parts have not been working well in the last couple of years. I’m working on fixing them, but for this article I had to include an older statistic. Intuitively, current situation is similar to that in 2010.