% fortune -ae paul murphy

The future of the Internet (1)

Everything changes - and, in IT, usually quickly and in unexpected directions. So where's the internet going?

The obvious answer amounts to "More" - more addressible devices, more local inter-connections, more sites, more speed, more accessibility for more people.

One of the right wing sites I read regularly is Ed Morrissey's Captain's Quarters. Here's a thought provoking bit from his live-blog on the State of the Union speech:

8:51 - Want to know how old blogging is? Sean Hackbarth describes this post as "traditional live-blogging". He's Twittering the speech. Punk kids! The Heritage blog is doing the old-fogey thing, too, so I don't feel so alone.

The thing I find indicative about Twitter isn't what it does but what I think it's trying to do: extend the user's situational awareness of the people around him to embrace those who are physically distant but emotionally close on one or more subjects of mutual interest.

It doesn't achieve this largely because the interface between users and the communications network is so ineffective. To really succeed the communication system has to readily accommodate a far wider sensory range than can imaginably be handled by text. Thus some future twitter is going to solve the problem of defining and managing the union of many people's perceptual space - making it possible to shift user awareness from only himself to himself as a member of ad hoc groupings connected only by the communications, linking, and virtualization service.

There is research on this going on - driven mainly by military requirements for better information and co-ordination systems. About fourteen years ago, for example, it became routinely possible for a tank commander to follow both his own and the enemy's manouveres while engaged in them - and today in Iraq we're seeing early deployment of similar systems at the level of the individual infantryman who needs to track both friendlies and neutrals during door to door operations.

In the world, of course, we can barely get multi-party video conferencing to work - in large part because the PC is so unbelievably bad at it and undersets everyone's expectations - but this stuff is coming and will, I think, provide a lot of the bandwidth load to be met by the next generation internet.

So how will that work, and how will it come about? That's next week's speculation, but let me throw in a clanker right now: I'm convinced that wireless is today's cigerattes - the health risk warnings are out and nobody wants to pay attention; but no matter how powerful, convenient, and profitable wireless is, I think we're soon going to be seeing a reprise of the no smoking movement focused on non optical high frequency radiant energy use.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.