Critical Section

World of Ends

Thursday,  03/06/03  11:17 PM

Figure and GroundDoc Searles has teamed with David Weinberger to produce World of Ends.  It purports to explain what the Internet is, but actually seems to spend most of its words explaining what it is not.  Kind of a figure and ground thing.  Here are my thoughts on their "list of truths":

  1. The Internet isn't complicated.
    Well, architecturally it isn't, which was the point.  But from the inherent simplicity a network of staggering complexity has arisen, defying simple characterization.
  2. The Internet isn't a thing.  It's an agreement.
    I disagree, the Internet is a thing.  In fact, it is a Thing.  If it wasn't a thing, you wouldn't be able to make a list of 10 things about it.
  3. The Internet is stupid.
    This is intended to convey that the Internet doesn't "think".  I think it could have been better said as "The Internet is simple".  See (1) above.  Except that in many ways it is complicated, and it does "think".  Take DayPop for example.  Or Google News.
  4. Adding value to the Internet lowers its value.
    This is false.  It sounds cute, like it might be a key finding, but it isn't.  Any network fosters a "power-effect", adding value increases its value exponentially (see Metcalf's Law).
  5. All the Internet's value grows on its edges.
    Uh, no.  The value adds tend to come on the edges, but the growth can be in the middle.  This is why eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, and Google are so valuable.
  6. Money moves to the suburbs.
    This doesn't make sense, so it isn't even false.  The underlying point is that to maximize the value of the Internet, the barriers to entry at the edges should be kept low.  That is a good point.  {It also contradicts (4) and (5).}
  7. The end of the world?  Nah, the world of ends.
    The premise here is meaningless, they're just trying to be cute again.  The "world of ends" part is true.  There is no middle to the Internet, which is a good thing.
  8. The Internet's three virtues:
    1. Nobody owns it.
    2. Everyone can use it.
    3. Anybody can improve it.
      You betcha.
  9. If the Internet is so simple, why have so many been so boneheaded about it?
    This doesn't fit in with the rest, it is not a statement about the Internet, but a question.  Kind of a boneheaded question, which makes it kind of recursive, eh?  The answer given to the posed question is essentially "business and government don't like it".  That seems wrong.  The Internet is a new thing, and people try to understand new things by relating them to old things.  Sometimes the analogies are valid, leading to insight, and sometimes they aren't, leading to boneheadedness...
  10. Some mistakes we can stop making already.
    Again, not a statement about the Internet, and not a question either.  But it introduces some observations:
    1. Bits are not like lightweight atoms.
      True.  The RIAA and MPAA haven't figured this out yet.
    2. The value of the Internet is not the value of its content.
      True.  The FCC and FTC haven't figured this out yet.
    3. The Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.
      True.  The radical left and the religious right haven't figured this out yet.

Of course they missed another mistake we can stop making already: "Trying to characterize the Internet by a list of simple truths".  They should have stuck to the three sub-bullets of (8) and quit!

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