There are certain obligations placed on people by society -- taxes, using a decent sewerage system and doing jury service not least among them. There should be a similar obligation with Internet standards, according to Bruce Perens, cofounder of the Open Source Initiative. He wants people to join the Internet Engineering Task Force to boost the voice of free software -- especially where the ability of IETF groups to adopt patented technology comes in. It's a controversial move, as lots of people think the IETF's diversity and lack of control by any one group has been its greatest strength. But aside from this particular issue, there's a good case to be made for as many people as possible getting stuck in where standards are being discussed and plans for future systems are made. Otherwise we all run the risk of ending up with a few big companies divvying up the standards between themselves for their own benefit -- as has happened frequently in the past -- just because the rest of us can't be bothered to get involved. We have a near-equivalent of democracy in information technology, thanks to the Net, and that's unique in the history of commercial development. It would be a sin of the highest order if it got thrown away by apathy -- which oddly enough is the biggest danger facing democracy in the political world. Perhaps we need civil society and the use of newsgroups to be taught in the primary schools.