The following text is copyright 1996 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

The importance of restrained anarchy.

A little bit of anarchy has been critical to the success of the Internet. There has been a rare freedom to experiment on the Internet. This experimentation has not been with the IP "bearer service" (as the book Realizing the Information Future , referred to in the last column, described it.) IP runs over everything from carpet static to ATM (some would claim that much of ATM is marketing static) and provides a common interface between a multitude of applications and a multitude of transport media.

The non-presence of government or industry mandated applications standards has allowed new applications like the World Wide Web to be developed and adopted. In a more ordered world, new applications would be developed through a standards process which, through careful analysis of the problems and careful evaluation of the suggestions, does its best to inhibit individual innovation .

This is not to say that standards are a bad thing. The only way to wide-spread adoption of any technology is through the use of standards. They provide the common definition of the technology and provide the information necessary for many vendors to supply the technology.

The problem in some arenas is that standards become exclusive in the sense that non-standardized technology is not permitted. The Internet has not suffered from a over abundance of mandated standards. This attitude of flexibility, bordering sometimes on anarchy, is crucial to the continued dynamic evolution of this connectivity service we call the Internet.

But all can not be flexible. For example, unique IP addresses are required by all sites which exchange traffic over the net. In the same way that unique phone numbers are required in the telephone network. This does not mean that all IP addresses must be assigned by a single organization but it does mean that there must be coordination between all organizations which do assign IP addresses to ensure that duplicate addresses are not assigned.

Another area in which there must be the same sort of coordination is the registering of domain names. Domain names are hierarchically assigned, with the right-most component, known as the "top level domain" (TLD) having global significance, the next component (known as a sub-domain) having significance only within the specific TLD, etc. It would seem to be clear that at each point in this hierarchy there must be only one organization registering domain names or, if there is more than one, there needs to be close coordination between the organizations. If this is not true it would be quite easy to get duplicate registrations, two's for example, and it would be impossible for an Internet client to know which was the one they wanted.

But this clear logic seems to be escaping some people on the net, new TLDs are being announced without any type of coordination. When the InterNIC started charging the apparently usurious fee of $50 per year per sub-domain all too many people on the net went a bit non-linear. New TLDs called ".biz", ".usa" and others have been announced in the last few weeks. In addition to the obvious technical problem that almost no one can actually use the new TLDs because their nameservers do not point to a master nameserver that includes them, there is the basic question of what gives these people the authority to create them? Why couldn't someone down the street (Internet-wise that could be 10,000 miles away) also start a ".biz"?

A bit of anarchy helped create the Internet of today, but that anarchy was nurtured by people who had some clues in technical and organizational arenas, clues apparently lacking in some of the net activists these days.

Disclaimer: Although Harvard has been on the forefront of restrained anarchy (at least between schools) for centuries, the above are my own opinions.