The following text is copyright 1994 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Why We Can't Find Where What Is.

By: Scott Bradner

One of the legendary (if one can use that word for an industry just in its infancy) problems with the Internet has been difficulty in locating people, services and resources scattered without discernible pattern across the world-wide network. Over the long term, one can expect that this problem will be solved in a way analogous to the white and yellow pages directories provided by the phone companies. But this is a bit harder in the Internet than for the phone companies for a number of reasons.

The market is far more split between service providers than is the regional telephone market. This means that the service providers themselves do not have the scale to make their information universal enough to be meaningful and that directory services will most likely have to be provided by independent ventures.

There is currently no well accepted electronic interface to directory services. The OSI directory services (aka X.400) would be the logical candidate but in the years that the standards have been available the software that supports it has not been leaping onto or off of store shelves.

There is no common access control and billing process that would allow any independent directory venture to collect for its services, i.e. nothing like the '900' services in the phone system. ( To locate a good time gopher to 1-900-HOT-BITS.)

Finally, as the MCI commercial so enigmatically put it "there is no there, it is all here". Considering the type and speed of the Internet infrastructure, one can use a service based 3000 miles away just as easily as one down the block and can often not tell the difference. As a point of reference, the slowest path between my desk at Harvard and a desk at Stanford is a 10Mbps Ethernet. Any directory service would have to be able to provide information about services everywhere in the world. This is a bit of a scale and logistical issue involving, among other things, a surfeit of natural languages.

Directory services will come in time, but meanwhile some service providers have grown tired of waiting and are trying to use the Internet the way that telemarketers use the phone system -- they send out unsolicited advertising. It's not just service providers. Messages that are best categorized as advertisements have appeared with subjects including Ethernet interfaces, bulletin boards, bookstores and even the end of the world.

This can be quite a problem. In the telephone world there is a limit to the number of calls you can make simultaneously There is no such limit on the Internet. One can send a message that will go to literally millions of people and, because of flat rate pricing, doing this will cost no more than sending one letter.

More on this in a future column. Meanwhile I'll leave you with a somewhat stretched analogy. Experiencing unsolicited advertising on the information highway is a bit like driving a convertible under a flock of sea gulls on old Route One. You hope that you are lucky enough to have the top up whenever it happens and even then, it is not the high point of one's day.

Gee, I wish that the would stop paying those Olympic sportscasters by the word.

Disclaimer: (from R. Kevin Oberman) Don't take this too seriously. I just like to improve my typing.