Sunday, August 07, 2005

S4 - The Systems Standards Stockholm Syndrome 

John Waclawsky, part of the Mobile Wireless Group at Cisco Systems, features an interesting article in the July 2005 issue of the Business Communications Review on The Systems Standards Stockholm Syndrome. Since his responsibilities include standards activities (WiMAX, IETF, OMA, 3GPP and TISPAN), identification of product requirements and the definition of mobile wireless and broadband architectures, he seems to know very well what he is talking about, namely the IP Multimedia Subsytem (IMS). See also his article in the June 2005 issue on IMS 101 - What You Need To Know Now.

See also the Wikedpedia glossary from Martin below:

IMS. Internet Monetisation System. A minor adjustment to Internet Protocol to add a “price” field to packet headers. Earlier versions referred to Innovation Minimisation System. This usage is now deprecated. (Expected release Q2 2012, not available in all markets, check with your service provider in case of sudden loss of unmediated connectivity.)

It is so true that I have to cite it completely (bold emphasis added):

The “Stockholm Syndrome” describes the behavior of some hostages. The “System Standards Stockholm Syndrome” (S4) describes the behavior of system standards participants who, over time, become addicted to technology complexity and hostages of group thinking.

Although the original name derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden, the expanded name and its acronym, S4, applies specifically to systems standards participants who suffer repeated exposure to cult dogma contained in working group documents and plenary presentations. By the end of a week in captivity, Stockholm Syndrome victims may resist rescue attempts, and afterwards refuse to testify against their captors. In system standards settings, S4 victims have been known to resist innovation and even refuse to compete against their competitors.

Recent incidents involving too much system standards attendance have resulted in people being captured by radical ITU-like factions known as the 3GPP or 3GPP2.

I have to add of course ETSI TISPAN and it seems that the syndrome is also spreading into IETF, especially to SIP and SIPPING.

The victims evolve to unwitting accomplices of the group as they become immune to the frustration of slow plodding progress, thrive on complexity and slowly turn a blind eye to innovative ideas. When released, they continue to support their captors in filtering out disruptive innovation, and have been known to even assist in the creation and perpetuation of bureaucracy.

Years after intervention and detoxification, they often regret their system standards involvement. Today, I am afraid that S4 cases occur regularly at system standards organizations.

What causes S4? Captives identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of intellectual challenges. Small acts of kindness by the captors, such as granting a secretarial role (often called a “chair”) to a captive in a working group are magnified, since finding perspective in a systems standards meeting, just like a hostage situation, is by definition impossible. Rescue attempts are problematic, since the captive could become mentally incapacitated by suddenly being removed from a codependent environment.

It’s important to note that these symptoms occur under tremendous emotional and/or physical duress due to lack of sleep and abusive travel schedules. Victims of S4 often report the application of other classic “cult programming” techniques, including:

  1. The encouraged ingestion of mind-altering substances. Under the influence of alcohol, complex systems standards can seem simpler and almost rational.
  2. “Love-fests” in which victims are surrounded by cultists who feign an interest in them and their ideas. For example, “We’d love you to tell us how the Internet would solve this problem!”
  3. Peer pressure. Professional, well-dressed individuals with standing in the systems standards bureaucracy often become more attractive to the captive than the casual sorts commonly seen at IETF meetings.

Back in their home environments, S4 victims may justify continuing their bureaucratic behavior, often rationalizing and defending their system standard tormentors, even to the extent of projecting undesirable system standard attributes onto component standards bodies. For example, some have been heard murmuring, “The IETF is no picnic and even more bureaucratic than 3GPP or the ITU,” or, “The IEEE is hugely political.” (For more serious discussion of component and system standards models, see “Closed Architectures, Closed Systems And Closed Minds,” BCR, October 2004.)

On a serious note, the ITU’s IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) shows every sign of becoming the latest example of systems standards groupthink. Its concepts are more than seven years old and still not deployed, while its release train lengthens with functional expansions and change requests. Even a cursory inspection of the IMS architecture reveals the complexity that results from:

  1. decomposing every device into its most granular functions and linkages; and
  2. tracking and controlling every user’s behavior and related billing.

The proliferation of boxes and protocols, and the state management required for data tracking and control, lead to cognitive overload but little end user value.

It is remarkable that engineers who attend system standards bodies and use modern Internet- and Ethernet-based tools don’t apply to their work some of the simplicity learned from years of Internet and Ethernet success: to build only what is good enough, and as simply as possible.

Now here I have to break in: I think the syndrome is also spreading to the IETF, becuase the IETF is starting to leave these principles behind - especially in SIP and SIPPING, not to mention Session Border Confuser (SBC).

The lengthy and detailed effort that characterizes systems standards sometimes produces a bit of success, as the 18 years of GSM development (1980 to 1998) demonstrate. Yet such successes are highly optimized, very complex and thus difficult to upgrade, modify and extend.

Email is a great example. More than 15 years of popular email usage have passed, and today email on wireless is just beginning to approach significant usage by ordinary people.

The IMS is being hyped as a way to reduce the difficulty of integrating new services, when in fact it may do just the opposite. IMS could well inhibit new services integration due to its complexity and related impacts on cost, scalability, reliability, OAM, etc.

Not to mention the sad S4 effects on all those engineers participating in IMS-related standards efforts.

Here the Wikedpedia glossary from Martin Geddes (Telepocalypse) fit in very well:

SIP. Abbrev. Standard Initiation Protocol. A meta-technology designed to inspire people to create new, proprietary and competing standards and implementations containing subtle incompatibilities.

VoIP. Very Old Idea Phone. A revolutionary way of extending Bell’s original vision for the telephone, allowing you to dial with a mouse click as well a touchtone keypad and rotary dial.

IMS. Internet Monetisation System. A minor adjustment to Internet Protocol to add a “price” field to packet headers. Earlier versions referred to Innovation Minimisation System. This usage is now deprecated. (Expected release Q2 2012, not available in all markets, check with your service provider in case of sudden loss of unmediated connectivity.)

E911. Slang. Emergency! 911. Whenever an incumbent telco feels chest pain, hot flushes, and sudden loss of wealth, they should call their local political office and declare an “Emergency 911”. (A tax-deductible campaign donation of the usual $911,000 is also expected in return for rescue service.)

ATA. Auntie’s Telephone Adapter. Gives your desk phone a thicker, less flexible “Ethernet” cord and and weighted anchor to stop your clumsy aunt knocking it onto the floor again.

SBC. Archaic. Session Border Confuser. System designed to prevent Skype users in different corporations from being able to talk to one another. No longer in common use.

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