Member 185
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Patrick Tierney (M, 34)
Princeton, US
Immortal since Oct 7, 2007
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    Points on a new Internet
    Project: Polytopia

    Lebbeus Woods. Terrain 2.

    A little know, but incredibly influential and constricting aspect of the Internet (or any networked body of sufficient size), is the protocols used to transport information between nodes of the network. The protocols most people are familiar with are http and html (directly influencing css, javascript, etc). These two protocols completely determine what your experience on the web is like. In other words, if you're looking at a website, it is strictly conforming to http/html. The protocol of http/html, based around a grandmother's recipe catalog, is what forces 95% of the internet into looking like the world's largest magazine collection.

    Presumably we all see deficiencies in this protocol and believe that a Polytopian system is the solution. But, what, exactly, are the problems with the existing state of internet protocols? So far I have identified several deficiencies:

    • Lack of social presence on a "site". If 3000 people are all looking at a website at the same time, you are not aware of any of them.

    • A lack of perspective on the people using the Internet. If I want to see where clusters of people are, I am unable. If a crowd forms around an idea, if they're all listening to a particular feed of data, I am unaware.

    • Lack of a temporal dimension. Why can't I see these people as if it were an hour ago, why can't I visit a site as though it was a month ago, or a certain important date in the past.

    • A lack of communication. Besides a few hacks to http (Facebook, Gmail), I cannot communicate with any of the other viewers of a site.

    • A lack of social search. To use an analogy, when you visit a city for the first time, and are trying to find cafe, the first step is not to look through the yellow pages. Yet this is EXACTLY how the Internet is structured at the moment. Finding a cafe in a new city involves walking around, stumbling into new things, looking at the people cafes, listening to what they're talking about. Search has, and should continue to be, a social dance through space. The Internet must reflect this.

    • Strict hierarchy of media. Http/html favors text above all else (requiring no links, references, tags), followed by images (requiring slightly more work). Other media such as sound and video must be hacked on, and as such cannot be used as liberally as text and images. Vast numbers of other means of communication are ignored (3D models, gestures, collage [ie the links between items as a medium]).

    • Lack of change to the above media. It is impossible to change the contents of a website unless it is specifically hacked to allow it (forums, comment boxes, etc). Changes to video, audio, and images are impossible.

    I am curious what other people see as problems to the existing structure of the World Wide Web and the Internet.


    1. Galloway, Alexander R. Protocol: how control exists after decentralization. Leonardo Press, 2006.

    Mon, Oct 19, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture, Virtual Reality, internet
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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         Tue, Oct 20, 2009  Permanent link
    Restrictions via the fact that it's run upon a privately owned infrastructure, which lowers the bandwidth limit and therefore the possibilities.
    HackerLastPip     Tue, Oct 20, 2009  Permanent link
    I would agree. If I have one hope during the upcoming analog TV wireless spectrum auctions, it would be that some non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization buys up enough spectrum to offer nationwide, free (as in freedom) Internet.
    Wildcat     Thu, Oct 22, 2009  Permanent link
    maybe the Future Internet 3.0 will help:

    bpwnes     Thu, Oct 22, 2009  Permanent link
    Are you familiar with IPv6?

    Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the next-generation Internet Protocol version designated as the successor to IPv4, the first implementation used in the Internet and still in dominant use currently. It is an Internet Layer protocol for packet-switched internetworks. The main driving force for the redesign of Internet Protocol was the foreseeable IPv4 address exhaustion. IPv6 was defined in December 1998 by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) with the publication of an Internet standard specification, RFC 2460.
    IPv6 has a vastly larger address space than IPv4. This results from the use of a 128-bit address, whereas IPv4 uses only 32 bits. The new address space thus supports 2^128 (about 3.4×10^38) addresses. This expansion provides flexibility in allocating addresses and routing traffic and eliminates the primary need for network address translation (NAT), which gained widespread deployment as an effort to alleviate IPv4 address exhaustion.
    gamma     Thu, Oct 22, 2009  Permanent link
    Firefox addons can greatly improve your experience - from social surfing, redesigning web pages...
    HackerLastPip     Thu, Oct 22, 2009  Permanent link
    I am familiar with IPv6, the Internet Protocol is a brilliant protocol (even if it wasn't the first packet based protocol invented), and there is nothing fundamentally flawed with its design (DNS, which is a de facto requirement for IP, is an entirely different matter, and may certainly introduce constraints, censorship, and reliability issues in the future).

    The points were mainly focused on the Application and Transport Layer protocols (you can see them in the box on that Wikipedia page). Things like FTP, SSH, HTTP, and to some extend TCP/UDP. After all, everything I've mentioned can and has been achieved through isolated applications and website hacks, but they lack cohesion (World of Warcraft, Second life to some extent provide good examples of this convergence), and all of those systems lock out amateur developers or artists from quickly making advanced, social environments (a Polytopia should be as easy as making a text web page [ie <html> hi <\html> ]). This will be necessary if we want to see as diverse a community of Polytopias as we see websites in the World Wide Web.

    It's the protocol of HTML/HTTP that allows simple text web pages, FTP that allows simple file exchange, IRC that allows simple chat, etc. If we were to try to make a protocol for the Polytopia, what would it make simple?
    HelloAlexCL     Sun, Nov 1, 2009  Permanent link
    Great changes will occur - at an accelerated rate - as the internet's infrastructure improves. The internet I knew growing up, accessed through the phone line, is very different from the much more capable internet we use today. Manuel De Landa suggests some unorthodox, counterintuitive methods that would alter the internet dramatically by mean of augmentation - of bandwidth, of accessibility, of pervasiveness.

    Of the writers who have analysed the effects on internet economics of a change from scarce to plentyful bandwidth, no one has received more attention than George Gilder. When bandwidth is expensive much of the infrastructure investment is on the switches that control the movement of analog or digital information through the conduits. A system of optical fiber liberated from switches, a "fibersphere" as Gilder calls it, together with the use of the atmosphere at high-frequencies, could result in a world where bandwidth is so plentyful as to be virtually free. Gilder's right wing biases assume that any interventions by the government should be attacked, even if they serve to break up monopolies thereby contributing to technological development - as was the case of the break-up of AT&T in 1984. Gilder agrees that there are such thing as monopolies, like those of the Robber Barons of the nineteenth century, but the enormous profits that these monopolists generate are seen as transitory, and therefore the menace they represent is dismissed as largely imaginary. Although Microsoft is today playing a similar role as the Robber Barons, according to Gilder its potential menace (and any government action against it) should be dismissed. So what if Bill Gates has acquired a virtual monopoly on operating systems, a position of power that allows him to control the evolution of much of the software that runs on those operating systems? No problem, says Gilder, in a world of bandwidth plenty, the paradigm of operating systems will change to one of distributed software in the internet, and this by itself will end Microsoft s domination. This assumes that Microsoft cannot simply buy and internalize any company it needs in order to ensure its powerful presence in a networked economy. The core of Gilder's ideological maneuver is to lump together small producers and oligopolies in one category, and to call that the market, and to focus exclusively on government regulation as the only real enemy, dismissing monopolies as chimerical. The fastest way to cheap bandwidth is to allow the optical fiber infrastructure of the telephone companies to be combined with the final connections to homes owned by cable companies, even if this creates huge monopoly profits. (After all, according to Gilder, this would be transitory.) So the government who opposes this merger between the telcos and the cable giants is the enemy of the people because its anti-trust regulations are preventing us from enjoying the benefits of a world with cheap bandwidth.

    The best way to get cheap bandwidth is for the government to force telephone companies to rent fiber-optic space to independent small producers. This means that the government is going to have to be persuaded that a big monopoly made up of a fusion of telephone and cable giants would be more powerful than the government itself. The only way to dissipate this danger is precisely by letting the small producers of content rent their own fiber optic space. The telephone companies might own it, but they would not control its use. Cheap bandwidth would be available without the danger of one monolithic company owning the guts of the internet. If the cables and the connections are kept symmetric, so that criticism can leave the terminal as propaganda comes in, then we have a fighting chance. This is not a utopia, but it's what would make the game still interesting.
         Wed, Nov 11, 2009  Permanent link
    Coax is too slow.

    I want to dig my own fiber optic trenches wherever I go. Seems like the best option...

    I wonder what's gonna be up next for faster transmission rates & higher bandwidth. Maybe something to do with quantum computing? :)