manycouches D. York
Internet-Draft Internet Society
Intended status: Informational October 31, 2016
Expires: May 4, 2017

Thoughts on Completely Virtual IETF Meetings


This document captures initial thoughts about having IETF meetings that are completely virtual. It explores the issues involved with both a "planned" virtual meeting and an "emergency" virtual meeting. The intent is to evolve this document to provide answers to the questions posed throughout the text. This is currently a thought experiment. There are no current plans to hold a completely virtual IETF meeting.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

What would a "completely virtual" IETF meeting look like? What would be issues? What would be the advantages? How could it work?

The "manycouches" design team was convened to explore these issues and understand what might be involved in holding a completely virtual meeting. On 20 July 2016, members met with the IESG for a joint discussion at the IETF 96 meeting in Berlin. This document outlines many of the key issues and questions for discussion that emerged out of that Berlin meeting as well as mailing list conversations.

Discussions identified two types of potential meetings the IETF could have that would be completely virtual:

  1. PLANNED VIRTUAL MEETING - A "regular" meeting of the IETF that would be planned to be completely virtual.
  2. EMERGENCY VIRTUAL MEETING - There could be a situation where a planned physical meeting suddenly needs to be virtual due to physical or political situations. For example, a natural disaster shortly before a meeting might cause people to not be able to attend.

Tools and processes may be very similar between the two types of meetings. A key difference is that for an "emergency" meeting there may be the desire to replicate the planned schedule of the physical meeting as closely as possible.

It is unclear if the IETF might ever choose to hold a planned virtual meeting, but this document is designed to facilitate the discussion around what that might look like. A desire is that some of this development may help with improving the current experience for remote attendees to today's physical IETF meetings. It may also be the case that some kind of "hybrid" meeting emerges with physical meetings taking place in multiple locations with virtual participants joining in remotely.

It is also worth noting that in discussions to date the sense has been that even if we held a completely virtual meeting, it would only happen once out of several meetings. There would still be multiple physical IETF meetings during the year.

1.1. Why Do IETF Meetings Take Place?

[It may be good to insert some text here about WHY we have IETF meetings and what the overall goals are. Both as a reminder of the point of the meetings and potentially to frame thinking about how we might move toward those goals by trying doing things a bit differently.]

1.2. Why Hold a Completely Virtual IETF Meeting?

[At some point in the maturity of this document it would be valuable to discuss the benefits and challenges of a completely virtual meeting. Before that summary can be developed, though, further investigation and development needs to happen. At a very high level, one idea is that a completely virtual meeting might make the meeting more accessible to more people in terms of schedules, lack of travel and reduced costs. However, all of that thinking need considerably more exploration. Several participants in discussions have voiced the opinion that replacing physical IETF meetings will be close to impossible. This document is being developed to explore all of these issues.]

1.3. Conventions and Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [RFC2119].

Additionally, the key words "MIGHT", "COULD", "MAY WISH TO", "WOULD PROBABLY", "SHOULD CONSIDER", and "MUST (BUT WE KNOW YOU WON'T)" in this document are to interpreted as described in RFC 6919 [RFC6919].

2. Program

2.1. Meeting Structure

With a completely virtual meeting, the structure of the meeting does not have to comply with the traditional IETF meeting schedule. It could, for instance, stretch out over the entire 24 hours of a day. Questions for discussion include:

Again, in the case of an unplanned "emergency" virtual meeting the desire may be to stick with the already-planned schedule. But for a planned virtual meeting the schedule can be open for discussion.

There was some discussion that a meeting could span more than the traditional week. However, the counterpoint is that keeping it within a week gives a focused block of time that people could allocate for participation in the virtual event.

2.2. Timezones

What timezone does a virtual meeting operate in? Or does it operate in multiple timezones?

One suggestion was that each working group might choose its own timezone based on the best timezone for the main contributors and leaders. (Although this might then limit participation from other areas of the world.)

This timezone issue was identified by multiple participants as the hardest aspect of planning a virtual meeting.

2.3. Deadlines

What do deadlines look like for a completely virtual meeting? Are the deadlines for agendas and drafts kept as they are for a regular meeting?

2.4. Plenaries

What does a plenary look like in a virtual meeting? The same large session as today?

2.5. Breaks

There are breaks planned throughout the days of a physical IETF meeting to enable people to move between sessions and to have refreshments and restroom breaks. Similarly there are longer breaks for lunch.

How are breaks structured in a completely virtual meeting?

2.6. Tutorials

On the Sunday starting an IETF week we commonly have a series of tutorials. Are those still part of the program for a virtual meeting?

2.7. Hackathon / Code Sprint

The Hackathon and Code Sprint have become popular activities before a physical meeting. Would they still exist for a virtual meeting?

2.8. Other Physical Meeting Elements

In a typical IETF physical meeting, there are other meetings and activities that occur alongside the meetings of Working Groups and BOFs. These include:

Do any of these additional sessions still make sense in a virtual meeting?

The Thursday Lunch Speaker Series (by the Host organization) could continue as webinar-style presentations. But the other elements involve face-to-face interaction that would be difficult in a virtual setting.

2.9. Sessions by non-IETF groups

Other organizations sometimes hold meetings during the time of the IETF physical meeting and often use the same venue. For example, the Internet Society usually offers an "ISOC@IETF Briefing Panel" during the Tuesday lunch break. At some IETF meetings groups have shown films or scheduled other meetings. These are not IETF meetings, but make use of the opportunity of having the IETF attendees available.

Do these sessions still make sense? Would we offer the IETF virtual meeting infrastructure to groups to use when it is not being used for IETF meetings?

2.10. Remote Hubs

In recent years there has been an effort to establish "remote hubs" where groups of IETF members get together and participate remotely from that physical location. Would that continue as an option?

Could the virtual meeting perhaps involve connecting together a series of remote hubs? (And if so, does this then again create a better experience for people who can go to a hub than for those who cannot?)

3. User Journey / Experience

What is the experience of an "IETF attendee" in a virtual meeting? How does he or she experience the event?

How could attendees be most effective in getting work done in a virtual setting?

3.1. Registration / sign-up

What is the registration experience like? How do they initially "sign in" as an attendee?

3.2. Side meetings

It is quite common for groups to decide during an IETF meeting to go off and have a side meeting.

3.3. Hallway conversations

The casual hallway conversations are a key component of IETF physical meetings. How can some version of this capacity be made available?

3.4. Unstructured time

How do you incorporate some concept of "unstructured" time where people can meet and connect?

3.5. Participating in multiple sessions

It is currently possible for remote participants to join into multiple working group sessions at the same time. Users simply connect using multiple browser windows, multiple chat rooms or multiple computers. How does this impact users' experience?

3.6. Serendipity - discovering other users

Part of a physical meeting involves discovering other people with common interests or backgrounds. How do you help people find others?

3.7. Voting / Hums

What is the best way to have votes or hums in a virtual meeting? Most current audio conference systems would not make an actual audio hum possible. Votes in a chat could be possible but the lag time associated with remote connections would need to be taken into account.

Some kind of system where votes take place over a period of time may need to be developed or used. This, though, does then introduce a delay into the meeting while there is a wait for the vote.

3.8. Microphone lines

How do "mic lines" work in a completely virtual meeting? Would this in fact be a benefit as all attendees would be in the same queue?

3.9. Disruptive Behavior

How do we deal with disruptive behavior in a virtual meeting? It can and does happen in meetings - and could potentially happen more easily in a virtual evironment where people cannot be physically stopped from going to a mic or could be removed from a room.

What is the process to exclude someone who is being disruptive? Do we need moderators to be able to step in and mute or disable someone's connection? Who makes the decision that someone's behavior is disruptive?

3.10. Mentoring

How would the "mentor" program work in a virtual meeting? The same as with a physical meeting?

3.11. Inclusivity

How do you bring new people into sessions? How do people learn about side meetings? About hallway conversations?

3.12. T-Shirts

Many attendees value the T-shirts that are usually provided for each IETF. Without a physical meeting it could be challenging and costly to distribute T-shirts to attendees.

T-shirts are currently funded by the Host of the physical IETF meeting. If there is no Host, or if the Host chooses not to fund a T-shirt, there may be no T-shirt.

With a virtual meeting it may be that if there is a Host (see "Sponsorships" below), the Host would have the same option as the physical meeting - to provide a T-shirt or not. The Host could then decide how they would distribute the T-shirt.

4. Technical Considerations

Many technical questions need to be discussed.

4.1. Infrastructure

What is the infrastructure used to host a completely virtual meeting? Are current systems (ex. Meetecho, Jabber chat rooms, audio streams) sufficient? Would new infrastructure need to be established?

What kind of bandwidth would need to be available for the servers hosting the system?

How would we handle connecting large numbers of people at the same time?

4.2. Capabilities

Do virtual attendees have video connections? voice? chat? What kind of bandwidth would need to be available on the client end?

4.3. Authentication

Today anyone can connect to the remote participation aspects of an IETF meeting. No authentication is required to join a jabber chat room, listen to an audio stream or connect to a Meetecho session. Would that need to change? Would "registration" give you a login to whatever system was used for the meeting? Would you not be able to participate without those login credentials?

4.4. Audio

How do we address issues of lag, stutter, echo and other artifacts of current audio conferencing systems?

Is there a "minimum voice quality" level that is acceptable? (George Michaelson has suggested the telco QDU concept is something to consider.)

4.5. Network Operation Center (NOC)

Where does the NOC "exist" for a completly virtual meeting? What is its role?

5. Administrative

5.1. Centralized Resources

What is the impact of a virtual meeting on centralized resources such as support staff? What is the full role of the Secretariat during the meeting?

5.2. Finances

The financial model of a completely virtual meeting needs to be understood. What would be the financial costs associated with a meeting?

5.2.1. Initial Investment

Would there need to be an initial investment in infrastructure for the first completely virtual meeting? Would there then be lower costs for the next virtual meeting?

5.2.2. Registration Fees

Would we charge the same amount to attendees as a regular meeting?

Lou Berger sent the following suggestions to the list related to registration fees:

  1. Remote audio feed and jabber participation should continue to be unpaid and unregistered as now
  2. Access to session audio and video recordings should continue to be published as now, without fee or registration
  3. Remote video/audio - registration should be per individual participant (i.e., anyone that speaks/presents) perhaps having hubs include some number of participants.
  4. Non-registered/anonymous video (meetecho) listeners should be allowed, but their mic/text input should be disabled.

5.2.3. Sponsorships

How do sponsorships work with a completely virtual meeting? Would sponsorships be required at the same level as the physical meetings?

If a virtual meeting is sponsored, how is the sponsor given the visibility that is currently given with a physical meeting? For instance, with the signage, T-shirts, plenary slides, etc.

In particular, is there a sponsor designated as the "Host" of the IETF meeting? The Host for physical meetings receives benefits including:

Would we have a "Host" for a virtual meeting?

5.2.4. Long-term impact

If we were successful in holding a completely virtual meeting, would companies no longer be willing to send attendees to physical meetings? In other words, would the first one start us on a path toward having all meetings in this fashion? (And are we okay with that?)

5.3. Legal

How do we ensure all attendees, coming in at all times, see and agree to the Note Well statement?

6. Security Considerations

There are many considerations related to security and privacy that need to be factored in to a virtual meeting.

6.1. Availability

How do we ensure that an attack such as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) doesn't take out the entire virtual meeting? What about an attack against a particular region?

Similarly, how do we protect against disruption caused by groups on the Internet who may simply want to disrupt the meeting for the fun of it? (See the section on "Authentication" earlier.)

6.2. Integrity

How do you know that the person who is logged into whatver system is used is in fact who they say they are? In a physical meeting:

How are these physical considerations replicated in a virtual meeting?

6.3. Privacy

What level of privacy protection would be needed for conversations? for user information? Much of the IETF's work is all done on public email lists and archived remote sessions. What level of privacy is needed?

7. IANA Considerations

Are there any IANA considerations associated with a virtual meeting?

8. Next Steps

With this initial document published, the intent now is to go back and start to fill in the sections with possible ideas about how the questions might be answered.

8.1. Learning from others

Suggestions were made to investigate what lessons can be learned from work by other organizations on virtual meetings. Initial suggestions included:

8.2. Trial?

How would it be possible to do a "trial run" of a virtual meeting?

9. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997.
[RFC6919] Barnes, R., Kent, S. and E. Rescorla, "Further Key Words for Use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", RFC 6919, DOI 10.17487/RFC6919, April 2013.

Appendix A. Acknowledgements

This document reflects the input of many people who participated in both the manycouches design team as well as the discussion with the IESG on 20 July 2016 at IETF 96 in Berlin. Other discussions on the manycouches mailing list also informed this document. The author would specifically like to thank Lou Berger, Benoit Claise, Stephen Farrell, George Michaelson and Greg Wood for their input.

Appendix B. Development Note

This document is being developed using a repository on Github at:

Comments, issues and pull requests are welcome.

Author's Address

Dan York Internet Society Keene, NH, USA EMail: