[rfc-i] comments on RFC style guide draft

George, Wes wesley.george at twcable.com
Wed Jan 22 14:29:07 PST 2014

Reviewed the latest version –03. It addresses some of my concerns, others are still outstanding from previous reviews and listed below with updated section numbers where appropriate, awaiting response.



 4.8 should include a reference/requirement to use RFC5737 and 3849 documentation prefixes whenever IP addresses are used in examples unless use of a different range is specifically justified/required. Certainly the need for stability in citations for scholarly work isn’t unique to IETF. Is there any guidance on citation of URIs in published materials within MLA/APA CMOS or academic journal editorial guidelines that addresses this need for stability in archival documents? If such a thing exists, I’d rather we use that guidance as a baseline and then discuss exceptions rather than building our own.
As to the current text:
The criteria for determining whether a page is a “personal web page” and therefore unacceptable as a citation must be clearly defined, or this restriction should be eliminated. The RSE is not equipped to determine which websites are stable and which are not based on a spot evaluation at the time of publishing, and it’ll just lead to unproductive arguments with authors if it’s “I’ll know it when I see it."
Additionally, this notion of stable URL references is a bit of a pipe dream. Even the most stable of websites undergo reorganizations, and only the sites that take great care not to break their existing link structure or ensure that redirection works properly or leave a tombstone will have truly stable references. In the cases where the URL goes 404, sometimes a simple web search based on the bibliographical reference information will net a result, other times not. Then there’s the matter of things like Wikis (esp Wikipedia) where the URL may remain constant but the content the author intended to have seen by a reader following the reference could well have been edited out or changed such that it alters the usefulness of the reference to the document.  I can understand explicitly prohibiting the use of url shorteners, since that virtually guarantees a broken link within a few months, but beyond that, the only thing the RSE can do is make a best effort to ensure that the site is functional at publishing time. If you want to ensure archival-quality URL stability, it’s probably going to require allowing errata to correct/update dead links, or the use of a static web archive for URL references based on the time of the document’s publishing.
And if the RSE’s policy is to prohibit the use of the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) as a stable cited reference, that needs to be specifically documented and justified in this section of the style guide, especially to explain why this is not considered a stable source when its sole purpose is archival. I think that’s what you intended with the addition of “web caching services” to your prohibited URI citations, but I think that you’re miscategorizing archive.org by lumping it in as a caching service. https://archive.org/about/

Section 4.12: Since people often change employers, service providers, etc multiple times during the life of an archival document’s relevance, sometimes due to circumstances beyond the author’s control, the use of long-lived email addresses is a nice idea at best. The RSE needs to consider some alternatives here to assist with maintaining contact with document authors despite the fact that both physical and email addresses are subject to change.
Alternatives that come to mind:
-creating a permanent email alias such as RFCnnnn at tools.ietf.org<mailto:RFCnnnn at tools.ietf.org> that allows the authors to update the contact email address associated with them if and when it changes (this goes towards support of a metadata model for RFC format, I suppose).
-allowing an erratum to be filed against the RFC to update author contact info (this preserves the archival nature of the document, while allowing for an important update to ensure that the author can be contacted for IPR matters, questions/comments, etc).

Also, an official style guide should probably eliminate the colloquialism “munged addresses” since it adequately explains what it means by that phrase such that the phrase itself is no longer necessary.

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