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Considerations for Having a Successful "Bar BOF" Side Meeting

The information below is for an old version of the document.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 6771.
Authors Lars Eggert , Gonzalo Camarillo
Last updated 2011-09-22 (Latest revision 2011-08-15)
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IESG IESG state Became RFC 6771 (Informational)
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Responsible AD Russ Housley
Send notices to,
Network Working Group                                          L. Eggert
Internet-Draft                                                     Nokia
Intended status: Informational                              G. Camarillo
Expires: February 16, 2012                                      Ericsson
                                                         August 15, 2011

     Considerations for Having a Successful "Bar BOF" Side Meeting


   New work is typically brought to the IETF by a group of interested
   individuals.  IETF meetings are a convenient place for such groups to
   hold informal get-togethers to discuss and develop their ideas.  Such
   side meetings, which are not reflected in the IETF meeting agenda and
   have no official status, are often half-jokingly referred to as "bar
   BOF" sessions, to acknowledge that some of them may eventually lead
   to a proposal for an official IETF BOF ("birds of a feather" session)
   on a given topic.

   During recent IETF meetings, many such "bar BOF" get-togethers have
   been organized and moderated in ways that made them increasingly
   indistinguishable from official IETF BOFs or sometimes even IETF
   working group meetings.

   This document argues that this recent trend is not helpful in
   reaching the ultimate goal of many of these get-togethers, i.e., to
   efficiently discuss and develop ideas for new IETF work.  It
   encourages the organizers to consider the benefits of holding them in
   much less formal settings, and to also consider alternative means to
   develop their ideas.  This document also recommends that the
   community abandon the term "bar BOF" and instead use other terms such
   "side meeting", in order to stress the unofficial nature of these

Status of this Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any

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   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on February 16, 2012.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2011 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
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   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

1.  Introduction

   A typical IETF meeting is full of sessions of different kinds.  In
   addition to official IETF and IRTF sessions listed in the meeting
   agenda, such as working and research group meetings, area meetings or
   plenaries, many other unofficial meetings take place.  These include
   meetings between IETF participants from one organization or company,
   design team meetings, Internet-Draft editing sessions,
   interoperability testing, directorate lunches and many others.

   Some of these unofficial get-togethers are organized by individual
   participants with a common interest in initiating new IETF work of
   some kind.  New IETF work often fits into an existing working group
   and does not require an official "birds of a feather" (BOF) session
   to determine community consensus.  Nevertheless, the phrase "bar BOF"
   has commonly been used in the community when talking about such
   informal get-togethers that are held to discuss potential new work.
   [RFC4677] characterizes a "bar BOF" as

      "(...) an unofficial get-together, usually in the late evening,
      during which a lot of work gets done over drinks.  Bar BOFs spring
      up in many different places around an IETF meeting, such as
      restaurants, coffee shops, and (if we are so lucky) pools."

   During recent IETF meetings, "bar BOFs" have become increasingly
   indistinguishable from official IETF BOFs or sometimes even IETF
   working group meetings.  The symptoms of this trend are unofficial

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   "bar BOFs" that are held in regular IETF meeting rooms with
   classroom-style seating, agendas with lengthy slide presentations,
   use of microphone lines, and even formal consensus calls.  And,
   perhaps most importantly, a distinct lack of drinks.

   This document argues that this trend is not helpful in reaching the
   ultimate goal of many of these get-togethers, i.e., to brainstorm
   about a technical topic that may eventually lead to new IETF work.
   It encourages the organizers of these unofficial get-togethers to
   consider the benefits of holding them in much less formal settings.

   This document also recommends that the community abandon the term
   "bar BOF".  The distinction between a BOF, i.e., an official IETF
   activity, and a "bar BOF", i.e., an unofficial get-together, is lost
   on many IETF participants, especially newcomers.  For that reason,
   the remainder of this document will use the term "side meeting"

   Before going into more detailed advice on how to hold side meetings,
   it is important to remember that many participants are extremely busy
   during an IETF meeting.  Although having a side meeting to discuss an
   idea in an informal face-to-face setting is attractive, the
   scheduling of such meetings is very difficult and needs to happen
   weeks if not months prior to the meeting itself.  Conference calls,
   email discussions, wikis, jabber group chats and other ways for
   interacting are also effective at developing ideas, and easier to

2.  How to Invite

   A good rule of thumb is that a side meeting to discuss and develop a
   proposal for new IETF work should include the necessary participants
   to achieve that purpose, and no more.  Smaller meetings are usually
   more successful than larger meetings.

   Hence, it is often useful to limit attendance carefully.  Publicly
   broadcasting an announcement for a side meeting on a particular
   topic, e.g., on an IETF mailing list, is therefore not usually a good
   method of inviting the desired set of participants.

   One reason is that if the announcement happens to attract a large
   response, the logistics of organizing a side meeting for a larger
   group quickly becomes very difficult.  Small groups fit comfortably
   around a table at a bar or a restaurant, or can find a quiet corner
   in an IETF hallway for a discussion.  Larger groups require dedicated
   meeting facilities, which are limited during IETF meetings, and they
   generally require much more careful planning in order to get work

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   When publicly announcing a side meeting, it is often not even
   possible for the organizers to determine how large the resulting get-
   together will be, forcing them to over-provision for the "best case"
   of a substantial attendance, even in cases where this turns out to be
   not necessary.  And even when a large group comes together, it often
   mostly consists of "tourists".  Tourists usually do not actively
   participate in the get-together at all, or they participate with an
   intent to learn about a topic, which can derail a planned discussion
   of specific issues and turn it into a tutorial.  The attendance of
   tourists requires finding a larger room and makes the interactions
   between the active participants more cumbersome, e.g., because
   microphones need to be used in larger rooms.

   In the initial stages of developing a proposal for new IETF work, the
   ability for interested and experienced participants to brainstorm is
   tremendously important.  Brainstorming is facilitated by direct,
   interactive, and high-bandwidth discussions.  This is clearly much
   more easily achieved in a smaller setting, where half-baked ideas can
   be dissected and developed.  This is often not possible in a larger
   group.  Even worse, a badly run large meeting can sometimes "poison
   the waters" for a proposed idea by convincing the broader community
   that the proposal is confused, not ready or otherwise uninteresting.

   It is important to understand that in the IETF, proposals for new
   work are judged based on their technical merits and on whether there
   is enough energy and interest in the community to complete the work
   in a timely manner.  This happens in the relevant working group, if
   one exists, or else during an official BOF session.  How many warm
   bodies fill a room during an unofficial side meeting has no influence
   on this decision, and is not a good metric for reporting interest in
   a topic to the community or to employers.  Discussions about new work
   are often controversial, and people will show up just to watch the
   fireworks, without being interested in the actual proposal itself.

   Some side meetings are organized to discuss a topic that is also
   being discussed in an existing working group, either before or after
   the working group itself meets.  Some working groups call these side
   meetings "ad-hoc sessions".  The fact that a side meeting is
   organized by a chair or key participant of a working group in order
   to discuss topics related to the working group does not make it any
   more official than other side meetings.  An "ad hoc session" is not
   an official working group session and no decisions relevant to a
   working group can be made.  Working group consensus can only be
   established during official sessions or on the mailing list

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3.  Where to Meet

   As the colloquial name "bar BOF" implied, such side meetings are
   traditionally held in bars or restaurants.  Recently, there has been
   a distinct shift towards holding such get-togethers in regular IETF
   meeting rooms.  One reason for this trend has been discussed in
   Section 2; namely, that an uncontrolled broadcast announcement
   requires over-provisioning of facilities.

   A second reason for this trend is that some participants, e.g., non-
   native English speakers or participants with hearing difficulties,
   find it difficult to interact or follow a discussion in noisy
   environments, such as restaurants and especially bars.  The
   organizers of side meetings are encouraged to take this factor into
   consideration when finding a meeting place.  Quiet restaurants are
   not hard to find, and many offer private dining rooms at no extra
   charge for larger parties.

   A likely third reason why side meetings are increasingly held in IETF
   rooms is that the booking of such a room currently requires approval
   by an Area Director.  The reason for this practice is simply to make
   sure that IETF-paid rooms are used for meetings that are in the
   widest sense IETF-related.  However, the approval of a room request
   for a side meeting has been known to sometimes be reported as Area
   Director "support" for the topic of the meeting to the community or
   to employers.  No such support is expressed or implied when Area
   Directors approve room requests!  Many routinely say "yes" to every
   incoming request as long as there are meeting rooms available (and
   there are typically lots of meeting rooms available).

   Holding side meetings in IETF meeting rooms does not make them any
   more official or valid than get-togethers that happen in other
   places.  Participants have recently begun to list the times and
   locations of some side meetings on a wiki page, but that does not
   make them part of the official IETF agenda or otherwise changes their
   unofficial status.

   IETF meeting rooms clearly do not provide the most supportive
   environment for side meetings that require brainstorming on a new
   technical proposal.  One reason is that the classroom-style seating
   often present in IETF meeting rooms tends to spread people out in
   rows, all facing towards a front presenter: good for presentations,
   bad for discussion.  Because IETF meeting rooms tend to be large, and
   people have a natural tendency to spread out, holding a meeting in
   one often requires microphone use, which is cumbersome, slows a
   discussion down, and leads to "question-answer" dialogs between two
   people, which is much more ineffective than a group discussion around
   a restaurant table.

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   Another reason is more pragmatic.  Because the organizers of
   unofficial get-togethers can only use IETF meeting rooms during times
   when they are not otherwise in use, such side meetings often happen
   during breakfast, lunch, dinner or later in the evening.  This
   prolongs the time during which IETF participants are stuck in the
   same rooms they're stuck in for the rest of the day, and it prevents
   them from having a regular and at least somewhat relaxed meal.
   Anecdotal evidence exists that at least one Area Director has not
   been able to set foot outside the IETF hotel for a stretch of several
   days during IETF-77.  (IETF-77 was held in Anaheim, CA, and the food
   options in and near the hotel were, let's say, of severely limited
   quality.)  It is unlikely that participants in the consequential
   mental and bodily state will make productive contributions to a side
   meeting or, in the case of Area Directors, will be extremely
   receptive towards new work proposals.

   Food, drink and a relaxed atmosphere in which to have a discussion
   are an essential part of a successful side meeting, because they
   often need to happen during meal times.  IETF meeting rooms offer

4.  How to Meet

   Several of the recent side meetings that were held in IETF meeting
   rooms emulated official IETF meetings to a degree that made them
   indistinguishable from a regular working group meeting for the
   average IETF attendee.  This included detailed agendas, lengthy
   presentations, organizers who refer to themselves as "bar BOF
   chairs", emulating blue sheets (see Section 4.5 of [RFC4677]), and
   even hums and other consensus calls (see Section 5.2 of [RFC4677]).

   It is not clear as to why this has been happening.  One attempt at an
   explanation may be that holding a get-together in an IETF room and
   having the organizers behave like chairs behave during regular IETF
   sessions is causing a Pavlovian stimulus in the attendees.  Another
   explanation attempt is that an IETF meeting room simply doesn't allow
   many other forms of discussion.  Finally, some organizers may find
   the process to apply for an official BOF too complex, and so decide
   to simply mimic one.

   Whatever the reason for this development is, it is reasonably obvious
   that running a side meeting with a focus on making quick progress on
   a technical proposal in a way that emulates running a working group
   session is not very productive.  Working group sessions follow a
   certain procedures due to larger audiences, the need to establish
   formal consensus, etc. that a side meeting can do without.

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   Because the reasons for organizing such a get-together are diverse,
   this section is not making more specific suggestions, other than to
   note that meeting outside of an IETF meeting room is likely going to
   shift the dynamics sufficiently so that better interactions and
   results become possible.

5.  When to Meet

   Side meetings are often scheduled following IETF evening plenaries,
   which sometimes end before the time indicated on the meeting agenda,
   but have in the past also ended much later.  It is therefore useful
   to avoid scheduling side meetings that follow IETF plenaries at a
   fixed time.  Instead, it is recommended to schedule them relative to
   the end of the plenary, i.e., "X minutes after the end of the
   plenary."  That way, attendees do not need to wait around if a
   plenary finishes early, and do not need to leave a plenary should it
   run late.

   Section 3 of [RFC5434] raises the issue that it is essential to
   understand all angles of a given problem for which IETF work it
   proposed.  This means that input from the community that can be found
   at IETF meetings is not the only one that should be considered.  It
   can be argued that input from other communities - operator, research,
   regulatory, etc. - is at least as important.  Hence, organizers
   should consider the value of holding side meetings at venues where
   such input can be more easily gathered.

6.  Applicability of IPR Rules

   The IETF's rules regarding intellectual property are set out in BCP78
   [RFC5378] and BCP79[RFC3979].  Among other things, these rules
   provide that any "Contribution" to the "IETF Standards Process" (each
   as defined in the rules themselves) is licensed to the IETF Trust for
   the IETF's use in developing standards, and also requires disclosure
   of related patents and patent applications.

   A "Contribution" is "any submission to the IETF intended by the
   Contributor for publication as all or part of an Internet-Draft or
   RFC and any statement made within the context of an IETF activity".

   Thus, the fact that a Contribution is made at one of the side
   meetings or other "unofficial" or "semi-official" events described in
   this document does not change or limit the applicability of the
   IETF's IPR rules.  If you have a question regarding the applicability
   of the IETF IPR rules in any specific context or to any specific
   activity, you should consult your attorney or make an inquiry to the

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   Informally, the above makes it appropriate, in order to provide a
   pointer to the relevant policies, to announce the "Note Well" text
   [NOTEWELL] in all such meetings.

7.  Conclusions

   Side meeting organizers are encouraged to rekindle the original
   spirit behind them and organize them outside IETF meeting rooms, at
   venues with food and drink, for smaller groups and in a way that does
   not needlessly mimic the way official IETF sessions are conducted.

   It can often be useful to discuss proposals for new IETF work face-
   to-face in an informal setting, but conference calls, email
   discussions, wikis and other means for interactions are also
   effective at developing ideas, especially given the scheduling
   difficulties when busy individuals are involved during an IETF

   Finally, it is important to remember that all side meetings during an
   IETF week are purely informal and have no official status whatsoever.

8.  IANA Considerations

   This document raises no IANA considerations.

   [Note to the RFC Editor: Please remove this section upon

9.  Security Considerations

   This document has no known security implications.

10.  Acknowledgments

   The name and title of this document have been chosen to resemble
   those used by Thomas Narten for his guidelines document on holding a
   successful BOF [RFC5434], as a sign of appreciation for a document
   that has proven to be invaluable many times over.

   Several folks provided feedback and input on this document, including
   Fred Baker, Scott Bradner, Jorge Contreras, Spencer Dawkins, Frank
   Ellermann, Adrian Farrel, David Harrington, Russ Housley, Cullen

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   Jennings, John Klensin, Al Morton and Dan Wing.

   Lars Eggert is partly funded by [TRILOGY], a research project
   supported by the European Commission under its Seventh Framework

11.  Informative References

              "Note Well",

   [RFC2418]  Bradner, S., "IETF Working Group Guidelines and
              Procedures", BCP 25, RFC 2418, September 1998.

   [RFC3979]  Bradner, S., "Intellectual Property Rights in IETF
              Technology", BCP 79, RFC 3979, March 2005.

   [RFC4677]  Hoffman, P. and S. Harris, "The Tao of IETF - A Novice's
              Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force", RFC 4677,
              September 2006.

   [RFC5378]  Bradner, S. and J. Contreras, "Rights Contributors Provide
              to the IETF Trust", BCP 78, RFC 5378, November 2008.

   [RFC5434]  Narten, T., "Considerations for Having a Successful Birds-
              of-a-Feather (BOF) Session", RFC 5434, February 2009.

   [TRILOGY]  "Trilogy Project",

Authors' Addresses

   Lars Eggert
   Nokia Research Center
   P.O. Box 407
   Nokia Group  00045

   Phone: +358 50 48 24461

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   Gonzalo Camarillo
   Hirsalantie 11
   Jorvas  02420


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