[rfc-i] Resetting this format debate a bit

Tim Bray tbray at textuality.com
Sun Mar 25 11:00:54 PDT 2012

I had a useful conversation offline with Dave Crocker which helped me
to understand that there are at least two, probably three
conversations, mixed up here.

1. There are some people who want a grand glorious future in which
RFCs can feature rich semantic markup to facilitate automated
processing, typographical enhancements such as the use of
color/bold/italic, and embedded multimedia.

2. There are those who are  irritated about the limitations imposed by
the ASCII character set, particularly while we’re trying to define
Internet protocols that need to carry international payloads, and
credit contributors with non-ASCII names.

3. There are those who are irritated because many RFCs are provided in
a form that I can’t print on a Mac without investing a chunk of money
and lots of disk space on software (Dave tipped me off that you can
print them properly using MS Word), and which I can’t read easily on
the mobile devices that travel around with me and I use for a large
and growing proportion of all my interaction with media.

Those are presented in increasing order of importance.  #1 is going to
take a long time to get to, and my reading of the tea-leaves is that
there is a high risk of a failure to reach consensus.  #2 is
embarrassing and really indefensible, but doesn’t seem, as a practical
matter, to get in the way of designing Internet Protocols.  #3 is a
BLEEDING NECK WOUND.  A high proportion of the people we *want* to be
paying to IETF protocol specs now use Macs for everything and would
sneer at the notion that they buy Word, and a high proortion of
*everybody* are increasingly using mobile devices to consume all forms
of media including the documents they read at work.

I just don’t think it’s acceptable to go on ignoring problem #3.  -Tim

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