Network Working Group                                          L. Eggert
Internet-Draft                                                     Nokia
Intended status: Informational                          January 26, 2011
Expires: July 30, 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 of such side meetings to consider the
   benefits of holding their get-togethers in much less formal settings,
   and to also consider alternative means to develop their ideas.

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on July 30, 2011.

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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, ISOC sessions, 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"
   is commonly 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
   "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,

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   perhaps most importantly, a distinct lack of drinks.

   This document argues that this recent 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 side
   meetings to consider the benefits of holding such get-togethers in
   much less formal settings.

   Finally, 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 therefore very
   difficult and needs to happen weeks if not months prior to the
   meeting itself.  Conference calls, email discussions, wikis and other
   ways for interacting are also effective at developing ideas.

2.  How to Invite

   A good rule of thumb is that 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 get-together 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 quite 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

   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" who do not actively participate in the
   get-together but whose attendance requires finding larger rooms and
   makes the interactions between the active participants more
   cumbersome, e.g., because microphones need to be used in larger

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   In the initial stages of developing a proposal for new IETF work, the
   ability to brainstorm, i.e., to have direct, interactive and high-
   bandwidth discussions between participants interested and experienced
   in the topic area, is tremendously important.  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 do like to watch fireworks...

3.  Where to Meet

   As the colloquial name "bar BOF" implies, such get-togethers are
   traditionally held in bars or restaurants.  Recently, there has been
   a distinct shift towards holding such meetings 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 likely second reason for this trend is that the booking of an IETF
   room currently requires approval by an Area Director.  The reason for
   this is simply to make sure that IETF-paid rooms are used for
   meetings that in the widest sense are IETF-related.  However, the
   approval of a room request 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 "bar BOFs" 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 of some "bar BOFs"
   on a wiki page, but that does not make them part of the official IETF
   agenda or otherwise changes their unofficial status.

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   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 there
   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.

   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 "bar
   BOF" 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 "bar BOFs" 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, and even hums and other consensus

   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

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   explanation attempt is that an IETF meeting room simply doesn't allow
   many other forms of discussion.

   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.

   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.  Miscellaneous Recommendations

   This section collects assorted recommendations on holding "bar BOFs"
   that at the moment do not warrant their own section.  Those
   recommendations are:

   o  Side meetings are often scheduled following IETF evening
      plenaries, which frequently end before the time indicated on the
      meeting agenda (and sometimes end later).  It is therefore useful
      to avoid scheduling such meetings at a fixed time, and instead
      schedule them "X minutes after the end of the plenary."  That way,
      attendees do not need to wait if the plenary finishes early, and
      do not need to leave the plenary should it run late.

   o  Official sessions during an IETF meeting are covered by the IETF
      "Note Well" [NOTEWELL].  Side meetings are not an official part of
      the IETF meeting, so the IETF "Note Well" with its related
      implications, e.g., on the need to disclose IPR, does not
      generally apply.  This is important for participants to realize.

6.  Conclusions

   "Bar BOF" organizers are encouraged to rekindle the original spirit
   behind "bar BOFs" 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

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   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.

7.  IANA Considerations

   This document raises no IANA considerations.

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

8.  Security Considerations

   This document has no known security implications.

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

9.  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, Gonzalo Camarillo, Spencer Dawkins, Adrian Farrel, David
   Harrington, Cullen Jennings, and Dan Wing.

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

10.  Informative References

              "Note Well",

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

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

   [TRILOGY]  "Trilogy Project",

Author's Address

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

   Phone: +358 50 48 24461

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