[CF-metadata] cf futures (long)

Bryan Lawrence b.n.lawrence at rl.ac.uk
Thu Feb 24 02:05:18 MST 2005

Hi Folks

Sorry about the long silence. Those who know me, will know I have strong 
opinions about a number of the things being discussed recently, so you'll 
also know that the fact I haven't been replying is due to other pressures. 
Anyway, I'm out from under for a while ...

I'll comment on a number of other threads shortly, but firstly I wanted to 
expose some ideas some of us have about the future of CF.

Firstly, I think we'll all agree that CF is evolving.
Secondly, I suspect most of us are having trouble holding the various threads 
of activity in our heads, and the current status of those threads.
Thirdly, the CF authors, who are our benevolent dictators (using a phrase 
beloved of the programme language community), have all at one time or another 
expressed that they can't cope (quickly enough) either ...
Fourthly, anyone attempting to write code based on CF is faced with a standard 
that is getting harder and harder to interpret
Fifthly (stop numbering everything Bryan), the standard name vocabulary is 
becoming unwieldy in and of itself to manage
Sixthly (I failed to stop :-), CF is becoming so important it is having to 
interoperate with other communities (e.g. GIS, of which more in a later 
email) ...

You get the picture. I could have written more.

So what can we do about it?

One of the things I think we need is a methodology which is more sophisticated 
than a mailing list to keep track of threads and discussions. Things need to 
be marked as live, or forgotten, or under action, or going into a future 
VERSION of CF.  OK, one of my cards on the table: we need version control! We 
also need a mechanism of making a decision about what's happening, and we 
need more status information.

<We> needs to be defined. In my mind <we> is the entire CF community. Well, we 
all know how efficient a committee is at building things, so a mailing list 
in and of itself doesn't make decisions... arguably CF is successful because 
we have a decision making process (the CF authors have final say). But for 
how long can they keep that up? If we want to change things, how could we 
change them? What happens when the CF authors interests start to diverge from 
the community of CF users?

I would argue we need a community process, perhaps including an elected 
committee, perhaps including the right of veto from the CF authors (or some 
trusted group of folk). There are lots of options. This email isn't so much 
about what we do, as about suggesting a strategy to coming up with a process.

(And, we need a standards track. We need CF to become more than a community 
standard, we would like WMO to take it on board etc ... if that happened, 
then we really do have an incentive for writing code which understands and 
exploits CF.)

Anyway, back to the strategy. So what should that strategy be? Some of you 
will know of the Global-Organisation for Earth System Science Portals 
(GO-ESSP, see http://go-essp.gfdl.noaa.gov/). We have a meeting in June, in 
the UK, and on the agenda we will have a discussion of the future of CF. All 
the CF authors except Brian can and will make it. (Meeting details at: 

On the table will be some real support for CF activities rather than 
best-effort activities. I expect (but wont be able to confirm til June) to 
have 50% of an FTE on CF support at the BADC from April 2006. It would be 
nice if we could find some other players who can commit some real effort to 
making this work. Having done that we obviously need a mechanism to make sure 
those of us managing and funding the effort are doing what the community 
wants, rather than what we want alone (if we did the latter, we'd be wasting 
the effort).

Obviously not everyone who cares can come to that meeting, and many of those 
who care wont want to come because CF is only a small part of the agenda. So 
it will be important for us to canvas opinion via this email list before that 

So, this long email is by way of foreshadowing (and perhaps engendering) what 
I hope will be some vociferous discussion of how we take CF forward. I think 
we all agree that it is important, and I hope we can find some consensus on a 
mechanism for community maintenance of CF that maintains the existing rigor 
(spelt like an American to show how International I can be :-), but is easier 
for the community to use and evolve. (For evolve we must :-)

Discuss :-)


Bryan Lawrence,        Head NCAS/British Atmospheric Data Centre
Web: badc.nerc.ac.uk                      Phone: +44 1235 445012
CCLRC: Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton, Didcot, OX11 0QX

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