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What an Obvious Year, Part Two
Dec 30, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

As usual, the end of the year has generated an awful lot retrospecting and prospecting on the state of, well, things. For the past two weeks writers have had an easy way to fill a week (or two) with useless meanderings and posturing.

This writer included. In 1996, there were four key "meta-debates" that shaped the state of the net and will influence its direction in the coming year. Last week I touched on two of the more technical issues the web is facing: Push vs. Pull and Fat vs. Thin. This week I'll touch on two "social" issues the web is facing: Public vs. Private and Love vs. Money.

Public vs. Private
Sometime last October a good portion of California (including all of UC Berkeley) lost its connection to the net, thanks to an errant rat that chewed through a cable at a NAP carrying traffic for BBN Planet. This minor bit-brownout lasted about 36 hours, and left millions of desperate Bianca users out in the ether.

We should get used to problems like these.

Despite the divestiture of the NSF, the Internet is still primarily a public network. Sure, the backbones are run by a few major players, but it's still a relatively open system for publishing, consuming and communicating information. Heck, you're reading this, aren't you?

But the democratic architecture of the Internet has created problems for customers and service providers. Have you ever tried to get any guarantees of service from an ISP? If there are problems transmitting packets from one side of the world to the other, your ISP can easily point the finger at some other guy's network. And while dropped packets may not mean much to your average Bianca surfer, they do mean quite a lot for, let's say, an investment manager trying to communicate with their customers or business partners.

In 1996, we started to see companies build what I call "private internets" to help avoid the pitfalls of the public Internet. The @Home network is a perfect example. Their initial target may be the home user, but wait until the @Work network launches. Those silly Lotus Domino ads are just the beginning.

So what, right? Anything to keep those packets from being dropped, right? Well, those pesky private internets use a dirty little trick to enhance their speed and service: caching. The process of making a copy of a web site for a private Internet started to get a little bit of press in the past year, but look for it to make a big splash in 1997. Caching raises issues of distribution, traffic monitoring, advertising payments, censorship and copyright.

Relevant Obvious pieces:

Love vs. Money
Quick: are you reading this on corporate bandwidth? Did your boss grant you access to the T1 to read the second rate musings of an unpaid Internet columnist? If you want opinion, shouldn't you really be reading Jesse Berst or David Kline -- people who get paid to opine?

Come to think of it, why am I doing this if I'm not getting paid?

There's this myth on the net that there's professional content, and then there are pictures of people's cats. That myth is usually propagated by the professional folks, the same folks who are asking you to pay their subscription fees. The truth is, there's an entire network (excuse the pun) of unpaid writers, artists and designers who do it for something approaching love. Although I'm sure they wouldn't turn down your checks if you decided to send them a bit of money.

The Fray is the perfect example of a beautifully rendered site that is about personal point of view. The writing is worth reading (which is more than I can say for some of the professionals), the images delicious and the HTML impeccable.

It's hard to believe that it was only a little over a year ago that the web got Sucked by Hotwired. It made Carl and Joey overnight "thousandaire" celebrities, just for having brains and a point of view. I doubt that we'll ever see anything like that happen for a long time, because anything that resembles a point of view -- anything that's done for love -- won't be able to survive in the mass world of push media. Because for me push means broadcast, and broadcast means television. And when was the last time you saw anything with a point of view on television?



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