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SAC-PSG-CIGI  December 2019

SAC-PSG-CIGI December 2019

Subject:

Documenting CIGI Next ideas and requests

From:

Curtis Schroeder <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

SAC-PSG-CIGI <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 16 Dec 2019 13:24:06 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (24 lines)

This past weekend I read an article about how the ARPA net was developed. It described a documentation concept I thought might be relevant to our next phase of CIGI Next development. Quoting from the article:

Our group was deeply involved in the design and implementation of the network. We had insights, both practical and theoretical, that would help all of us build this technology. If we neglected to capture our thoughts in writing, we would be retreating from our assignment to develop this net- work. I found myself struggling with this problem evening after evening. Finally, I realized one of the key lessons of networking, i.e., you have to present your ideas to others in a way that encourages rather than cuts off discussion. I decided to make clear these notes were first words, not last words and were intended to encourage conversation.

With that in mind, I jotted down the clerical aspects: each note should have a title, date, author institution, and number. I said the numbers would be handed out quickly upon request after the note was written so as to avoid holes in the sequence.

And to emphasize the informal status of these notes, I said each of them, no matter what its content, would be called a Request for Comments or RFC 2 . I stated that the content of an RFC could be “any thought, suggestion, etc., related to the HOST soft- ware or other aspect of the network.” I added that an RFC should have at least one sentence and that it was more important for the notes to “be timely rather than polished.” Then I added that the notes could contain “philosophical positions without examples,” or “implementation techniques without introductory or background explication,” or “questions without any attempted answers.” (3) Finally, I wrote a few sentences in an effort to explain what we were trying to do. I was hoping to avoid outside criticism and encourage a wide dis- cussion, I opened with the phrase. “These stand- ards (or lack of them),” were stated “explicitly for two reasons.” First, I wanted to avoid the idea that these notes were standards or authoritative design documents but were intended “to promote the exchange and discussion of considerably less than authoritative ideas.” Second, I felt it was important to bring forward incomplete or unpolished ideas and I wanted to ease the natural inhibition against doing so (4) .

I had expected that the RFCs would be tem- porary, probably replaced by more formal documentation when the network was up and running. To my surprise, the idea took hold, and RFCs persist to this day, albeit with major changes; the IETF’s protocol standards are still published as RFCs. Because RFCs are online and available to anyone without cost, they form a powerful technical repository that has enabled generations of developers to extend the capabili- ties of the network in every imaginable direction.

The RFCs captured and represented many of the lessons that we learned in those first months developing the Arpanet. They were distributed via regular paper (“snail”) mail, of course; successive versions of the recipient list for the RFCs were also distributed as RFCs. In a simple and practical sense, we had formed a network of people even before we had a working computer network.

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, April-June 2019, p. 46
--

Thoughts?

Curt

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