Sunday, May 31, 2009

What I love about the Internet: past & future

Most people who use the internet don’t appreciate how it came to be and what makes it so special. This post is a very very short history lesson that will give you a flavor of the past, and a taste of the future some of us want to create – it should take you about 20 minutes to get through it, but it is worth it and will likely change how you feel about the word "internet."

First, read this endearing account of an important piece of internet history by Steve Crocker for the New York Times and then come back to this blog.

The critical points are that the internet was designed to be open, was able to evolve, and welcomed participation. Steve Crocker told me “We had no idea when we started that this is where we’d end up.”

Here is an excerpt from a longer talk David Isenberg wrote, that describes what makes the internet we have today so special.

"The Internet derives its disruptive quality from a very special property: IT IS PUBLIC. The core of the Internet is a body of simple, public agreements, called RFCs, that specify the structure of the Internet Protocol packet. These public agreements don't need to be ratified or officially approved -- they just need to be widely adopted and used.

The Internet's component technologies -- routing, storage, transmission, etc.-- can be improved in private. But the Internet Protocol itself is hurt by private changes, because its very strength is its public-ness.

Because it is public, device makers, application makers, content providers and network providers can make stuff that works together. The result is completely unprecedented; instead of a special-purpose network -- with telephone wires on telephone poles that connect telephones to telephone
switches, or a cable network that connects TVs to content -- we have the Internet, a network that connects any application -- love letters, music lessons, credit card payments, doctor's appointments, fantasy games -- to any network: wired, wireless, twisted pair, coax, fiber, wi-fi, 3G, smoke signals, carrier pigeon, you name it. Automatically, no extra services needed. It just works.

This allows several emergent miracles.

First, the Internet grows naturally at its edges, without a master plan. Anybody can connect their own network, as long as the connection follows the public spec. Anybody with their own network can improve it -- in private if they wish, as long as they follow the public agreement that is the
Internet, the result grows the Internet.

Another miracle: The Internet let's us innovate without asking anybody's permission. Got an idea? Put it on the Internet, send it to your friends. Maybe they'll send it to their friends.

Another miracle: It's a market-discovery machine. Text messaging wasn't new in 1972. What surprised the Internet researchers was email's popularity. Today a band that plays Parisian cafe music can discover its audience in Japan and Louisiana and Rio.

It's worth summarizing. The miracles of the Internet :
any-app over any infrastructure,
growth without central planning,
innovation without permission,
and market discovery.

If the Internet Protocol lost its public nature, we'd risk
shutting these miracles off…

Like other great Americans on whose shoulders I stand, I have a dream. In my dream the Internet becomes so capable that I am able to be with you as intimately as I am right now without leaving my home in Connecticut.

In my dream the Internet becomes so good that we think of the people in Accra or Baghdad or Caracas much as we think of the people of Albuquerque, Boston and Chicago, as "us" not "them.".

In my dream, the climate change problem will be solved thanks to trillions of smart vehicles, heaters and air conditioners connected to the Internet to mediate real-time auctions for energy, carbon credits, and transportation facilities.

In my dream, we discover that one of the two billion who live on less than dollar a day is so smart as to be another Einstein, that another is so compassionate as to be another Gandhi, that another is so charismatic as to be another Mandella . . . and we will comment on their blog, subscribe to their flickr stream and follow their twitter tweets."

For visions about David’s nightmares, go read his full speech.

Following up on David’s words and dreams, read this piece written by another David (Weinberger) about my vision of how we can extend the internet’s promise and path, and bundle with technology investments this country is about to make, so that we can start to live the dreams David Isenberg so eloquently expressed.

If you want to understand what it means to talk about radio spectrum, and radio waves using compelling methaphors so that it might actually make sense for you (it did for me), read this beautifully written article by David Weinberger, about David Reed’s recommendation for management of radio waves. How could we as the public evaluate what the FCC does with the public airwaves?

If you are feeling particularly curious, and have a wee bit of nerd in you, I highly recommend this 1 hour talk by Van Jacobson about content-centric networking, which just might be the technical side of the future that I've just glossed over.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mom driving update (1)

Some of you will remember that my mom (age 84, pictured above carrying the torch in the Florida Senior Olympics) totaled her car about one month ago (no injuries involved).

Here has been her progress. If I had more time, I can see the article/book now “The 4 stages of Car Separation,” as received by email from my mom.

“I will enjoy life more now that I don’t have to worry about driving.”

Accommodation (my mom is very social and sociable. She was able to get herself rides quickly).

“so far is it going well, I have a woman who will pick me up for golf and we will go to lunch after it or eat inside which is lovely. Tonight I am going to a party whereby I will ask one person that lives a little distance from here but goes to the club once a day to take me one day a week and bring me home. I met a lady from my church and she will arrange for me to get there and return from the early service, or I could go with Ada my neighbor that goes weekly to the ll o-clock service.”

Reality Sets in
“I figured out if I use the drivers I have, it will cost me over three hundred dollars a month which is a lot of money. I have a friend from the club that says he will take me twice a week …and a friend that will take me to golf, and… the lady that takes me to church will let me off after church. It still adds up to that much money. It is five dollars a trip. I can use the Council of Aging but I know there is waiting for them”.

And my reply to her:
“Mom, I know $300/month seems like a lot to you, but that equals $3600 a year which is a deal,and cheaper than owning your own car. Really! Don't let the price stop you from going where you need to go.

Insurance $1200/year ??
Gas $40/mo? -- $500/year
Maintenance -- $300/year
Depreciation ($20k for a new car, lasts for 10 years)-- $2000/year

Total: $4000k/year --- if not MORE. The average per car per year is $8000. This is really what you were paying. You just didn't notice it because it dribbled out little by little.

You are paying LESS than you did before. Enjoy the rides. You can afford it. You were already paying that.”

And so my mom, is exactly like the rest of America, and like myself, who can hardly believe what we really are paying to get around with our own personal cars.

Can we all get to the fourth stage?

Happiness & Satisfaction

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Friday, May 8, 2009

The Grid, Our Cars and the Net: One Idea to Link Them All

David Weinberger did a brilliant job translating my complex nation-wide communications infrastructure vision into an engaging and comprehensible article for Wired.

Read more!

Al Gore seems to be the one man on this planet who bridges science and populism without talking down, sugar coating, or playing political games. I admire him deeply on this. His Repower America campaign has the right goals working in the right time frame for action.

Washington is deep into hearings on the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill which started out with relatively weak goals (20% reductions by 2020). Lobbyists are hard at work getting legacy setasides, and extra dollars for dirty energy that has to convert (paying the polluters rather than the polluters paying). Politics is driving everything while the reality of the need to reduced emissions sharply and quickly almost goes unmentioned.

This 8 minute update by Gore gives us the context. I hear the emotion in his voice -- still -- despite the large number of times he has spoken on this topic.

Read more!