The Future of the Internet

Lately I have been interested in the future of the internet. Where is it going? Can it be stopped?

John Dvorak recently wrote a piece called The Golden Age of the Internet where he says we are currently in a Golden Age that is inevitably going to end.

“A golden age ends either when something new comes along (as with radio’s golden age, killed by the advent of TV), the government gets involved, or entropy sets in—usually a mix of these elements. In the case of the Internet, we are already seeing a combination of government, carrier, and business interactions that will eventually turn the Net into a restricted and somewhat proprietary network, with much of its content restricted or blocked. Only a diligent few will actually have access to the restricted data, and in some parts of the world even trying to view the restricted information on the Net will be a crime.”

We are right now seeing elements of change coming. For example the whole “Net Neutrality” debate has to do with new technologies being implemented right now to bring about what has been dubbed “Web 2.0”.

For years utilities have been laying millions of miles of fiber optic cables that are currently not being used because new technologies have made it possible for lots more data to be transmitted over current systems. If we ever get around to lighting up the dark fiber optic cables, bandwidth and speed will only be limited by the laws of physics.

Well the use of these fibers will also be controlled by the laws of the land as well as politicians like to have a say in these things. What the Net Neutrality debate is all about is the use of this faster web. The companies that own these cables want to charge a premium on the faster bandwidth and thus control access to it.

Content providers, like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, EBay etc. are united in favor of bandwidth neutrality. They want the telephone companies to transmit all data at the fastest speed possible, regardless of what that data contains.

Then there is the content makers like the movie and television studios, the recording industries, the software companies, the book publishers, and artists who have a vested interest in protecting their intellectual property being offered for free by web services like You Tube and Bitorents.

Then we have the politicians like Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) who insist on introducing draconian legislation “to protect the children” that in fact seriously restricts internet access for many http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-6071040.html.

Meanwhile, “entropy” is becoming a concern. Once upon a time, e-mail was on the verge of practically replacing the telephone. Then “spam” became a problem which created new industries of spam protection. The rules of spam protection vary everywhere and it is making e-mail very unrealiable even for legitimate use because when you send an e-mail you have no idea if it will actually reach its intended destination, or be blocked along the way, or end up in the receivers bulk mail box.

The same applies for internet downloads. It is not safe to surf the internet without virus protection, adware detectors, malware detectors, and firewalls enabled. The Golden Age of the Internet is also proving to be the Golden Age of Internet Security.

A new secure system of e-mail is going to have to be created and implemented if it is ever going to return as a primary form of communication.

Meanwhile, social networks, like MySpace are the new cool thing these days, their success is spawning million dollar lawsuits from “victims”. I feel for victims of sexual predators, but I believe it is up to the users of these services to protect themselves rather than the services to provide that protection. It is entirely possible that these services could be legislated or sued out of business simply because of a few bad apples.

The very infrastructure of the World Wide Web is being threatened with change. Right now ICANN (the international organization that controls domain names) is under attack from many governments as their contract expires in September. Among the desired changes to the system is restrictions on registration of trademarked domain names and the desire of many to own domain names for life. Every year thousands of domain names are lost because the owners forget to renew them, some system of lifetime ownership is needed to stop domain name theft. IMHO if someone runs a website under a domain name for five years, and that domain name does not contain any trademarks, that domain name should be yours forever.

Such a plan could mean initially big money for registrars, but eventually it could mean stagnation of the domain name market. But, it is not the only threat to the domain name market. Google “search words” is on the verge of replacing the whole domain name system, and unlike the WWW where there is government oversight, search words are controlled by corporate entities.

But it is not just domain names, the future of hosting services, the source of 90% of all web content, also has a limited future.

It is amazingly easy to host a website. Any one can host a site on their own home computer for no more than the cost of their current internet connection. There are three good reasons why you should go with hosting instead. 1) Dedicated web hosting means the computer is only dedicated to running the website. If you host the site on your own computer, then everytime you run a resource heavy program (i.e. Video game) your website will be slow. 2) Dedicated bandwidth. Most hosting servers are connected to reliable and expensive high traffic lines. Most home computers are connected to cable, sattelite, or wi-fi where upload times are restricted. 3) Dedicated sys-ops are monitoring your website traffic and making sure your site is up at all times, and doing regular maintenance and daily backups of your data.

Its a law of computing: Computers will continue to find ways to get faster and more reliable. That means reason #1 may soon disappear. As I pointed out earlier, we are on the verge of having massive amounts of bandwidth for everyone, that means reason #2 may soon disappear. Once those two are gone, it is only a matter of time before technology eliminates reason #3

Another threat to hosting is the increasing number of specialty services out there. You can host your videos at You Tube, and your pictures at Flickr and your podcasts at ipod and your links at del.icio.us and your blog at any number of places, then just have them link to each other.

Then as I pointed out in an essay on the metaverse, there is going to be inevitable growth in a 3D web at the expense of the 2D one. Maybe that is where hosting companies will move to, from dedicated web hosting, to dedicated world hosting.

All of this points to the internet being a very different environment in five to ten years. There are lots of very powerful forces tugging on it in all directions, and lots of important issues to be resolved. Lots of material we can get for free now may soon require payment, but it will be instant on demand accessible. There will be an inevitable loss of true anonimity and privacy to stop stalkers, spammers, scammers, virus makers, and identity thieves.

The important question is: Will we still be able to express ourselves any way we want to and form communities in a secure environment?

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