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What will rule the "new" Internet?
By: Scott Bradner
Josh Quittner, writing in Time recently explored what vendor, Google, Apple or Facebook, will be the next great Internet platform. It is quite a good article but Quittner only addresses part of the conflict that is determining what tomorrow's Internet will look like.
Quittner's article, titled "Who Will Rule The New Internet", (http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1811814,00.html) the relative openness of the of the different vendor's Internet platforms and what the impact of the openness, or perceived lack of it, might have. The platforms Quittner discusses include Facebook's F8 open development platform (http://developers.facebook.com/), Google's Android (http://code.google.com/android/) open handset operating system and OpenSocial (http://code.google.com/apis/opensocial/) common API for social applications, and Apple's iPhone (http://www.apple.com/iphone/) and its software development kit (http://developer.apple.com/iphone/). There is little question that all of these are and, more importantly, will be, some of the key technologies over the next few years.
Particularly germane this week is the iPhone since it is widely expected that the next generation of the iPhone will be announced this week at Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (http://developer.apple.com/wwdc/). Quittner, as most observers have done, gushes over the iPhone while mentioning that it is the most closed of the platforms. It is also something, as Quittner mentions, that Harvard Visiting Professor Jonathan Zittrain addresses far more starkly in his new book "The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It:" and addressed at the 10th anniversary of Harvard's Berkman Center For Internet and Society (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/conferences/2008/05/zittrain). I do not view the iPhone with quite as much worry as Zittrain does, it would he hard to, (See iPhone plus SDK: promise, threat and limits -http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2008/031108-bradner.html) but the initial closed model will need to get fixed at some point, and I fully expect that it will -- just like the Mac, which is a platform that Apple can use to build a environmental cocoon of its own software while, at the same time, being a platform that anyone else can also write software for.
But, as I said above, Quittner only addresses a part, maybe a small part, of the dynamic that will shape the Internet of the future -- and even help decide what platforms rule. Quittner addresses the hardware and software at the edge of the Internet but the tussel over the 'Net's economic model, best personified in the network neutrality and content pattern discussions, will continue to be a dominating issue.
Harvard alum (and Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer was quoted in a Washington Post interview this week saying that within 10 (plus or minus 4) years there will be no non-electronic media left and that there will be far more content producers in the future. (See "Microsoft's Ballmer on Yahoo and the Future" Microsoft's Balmer on Yahoo and the Future) But Ballmer may be only part of the way to internalizing the patterns of content creation and distribution on the future Internet.
It is already the case that a huge percentage of younger folk have created Internet content using sites like YouTube, MySpace. Many of them have also shared content using tools such as BitTorrent (http://www.bittorrent.com/). It is easy to imagine marrying these to concepts and producing a distributed MySpace where each user publishes their material on their local machine and is not dependent on a central bank of servers.
This model of the future would actually be a throwback to the early days of the world wide web. Most resources, and therefore most content distribution, was done by individuals not media conglomerates. I do not expect the Super Bowl, with its (hopefully) inventive ads, will go away as a centrally managed media event but we may just see a future in which that more bits will come from you and me over the course of a year than from what are now seen as the traditional publishers.
This would be an interesting future for all of us, not only the traditional content providers - but it would be very interesting indeed for them.
disclaimer: Harvard is mentioned above a number of times but the university had no input to this column - the opinions are all mine.