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March 15, 2014

It’s the 25th anniversary of the Web, not the Internet. It’s important to remember the difference.

I just posted at Medium.com about why it’s important to remember the difference between the Net and the Web. Here’s the beginning:

A note to NPR and other media that have been reporting on “the 25th anniversary of the Internet”: NO, IT’S NOT. It’s the 25th anniversary of the Web. The Internet is way older than that. And the difference matters.

The Internet is a set of protocols?—?agreements?—?about how information will be sliced up, sent over whatever media the inter-networked networks use, and reassembled when it gets there. The World Wide Web uses the Internet to move information around. The Internet by itself doesn’t know or care about Web pages, browsers, or the hyperlinks we’ve come to love. Rather, the Internet enables things like the World Wide Web, email, Skype, and much much more to be specified and made real. By analogy, the Internet is like an operating system, and the Web, Skype, and email are like applications that run on top of it.

This is not a technical quibble. The difference between the Internet and the Web matters more than ever for at least two reasons.

Continued at Medium.com

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May 31, 2013

An Internet cathedral?

It took six centuries to complete the incredible Duomo in Milan. In the past fifteen years, we’ve built some amazing things on the Net by using the Net’s ability to scale laterally: Lots of people collaborating for a short period of time.

08372 - Milan - Duomo
(cc) xiquinho @ flickr.com

So, imagine we set out to do something with a longer time frame. What could we build together if we gave ourselves say 100 years?

I’ve posed this at Reddit.

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November 12, 2011

Italian Pirate Party to launch today?

While the Pirate Party already has an association in Italy, it seems likely that this afternoon it is going to register as an official party. That’s an exciting and encouraging step.

I of course don’t know what its platform will be, but if it’s similar to that of the other Pirate Parties, then I won’t agree with all of it, but will still welcome its presence as a voice not only for an open Internet — far wider than copyright reform — but for the set of values an open Internet permits: new forms of collaboration, lowering the hurdles to expression, bold experimentation and its concurrent willingness to fail, transparency, and joy in the new possibilities.

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August 23, 2011

The unframed Net

It’s clear that we don’t know how to explain the Internet. Is it a medium? Is it a culture, a subworld, or a parallel world? Is it a communication system? We bounce around, and we disagree.

Nevertheless, I am not as worried about our lacking the right framing for the Net as are some of my friends and colleagues.

For one thing, the same refusal to be pinned down characterizes everything. What something _is_ depends on what we’re trying to do with it, even within a culturally/linguistically homogeneous group. You can try this exercise with anything from terrorism to television to candy bars. (To pin myself down about why I think we can’t pin things down: I am sort of a phenomenological pragmatist. I also think that everything is miscellaneous, but that’s just me.)

So, we assimilate the Internet to existing concepts. There is nothing slovenly or cowardly about this. It’s how we understand things.

So, why does the Net seem special to us? Why does it seem to bust our frames ‘n’ paradigms? After all, we could assimilate the Net into older paradigms, because it is a series of tubes, and it is a communications medium, and it is a way of delivering content. Not only could we assimilate it, there are tremendous pressures to do so.

But for pragmatic (and Pragmatic) reasons, some of us (me included) don’t want to let that happen. It would foreclose cultural and political consequences we yearn for — the “we” that has flocked to the Net and that loves it for what it is and could be. The Net busts frames because it serves our purposes to have it do so.

This is why I find myself continuing to push Internet Exceptionalism, even though it does at times make me look foolish. Internet Exceptionalism is not an irrational exuberance. It is a political position. More exactly, it is a political yearning.

That’s why I’m not much bothered by the fact that we don’t have a new frame for the Net: frames are always inadequate, and the frame-busting nature of the Net serves our purposes.

In that sense, the way to frame the Internet is to keep insisting that the Net does not fit well into the old frame. Those of us who love the Net need to keep hammering on the fact that the old frames are inadequate, that the Net is exceptional, not yet assimilated to understanding, still to be invented, open to possibility, liberating of human and social potential, a framework for hope.

Eventually we’ll have the new frame for the Internet. It will be, I will boldly predict, the Internet :) In fact, open networks already are the new frame, and are sweeping aside old ways of thinking. Everything is a network.

The Internet will transition quickly from un-frameable to becoming the new frame. Until then, we should (imo) embrace the un-frameability of the Net as its framing.

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August 18, 2011

Internet, freedom, and the tools of circumvention

Three new reports have come out of the Berkman Center:

The Evolving Landscape of Internet Control

by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Rob Faris, Jillian York, and John Palfrey

This paper summarizes the results of the studies we have undertaken in order to better understand the control of the Internet in less open societies. It provides an overview of our research in the context recent changes in the methods used to control online speech, and some thoughts on the challenges to online speech in the immediate future.

International Bloggers and Internet Control
by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Jillian York, Rob Faris, and John Palfrey

Infringements on Internet freedom, particularly through Internet filtering and surveillance, have inspired activists and technologists to develop technological counter-measures, most notably circumvention tools to defeat Internet filters and anonymity tools to help protect user privacy and avoid online surveillance efforts. However, despite the perceived importance of this field, relatively little is known about the demand for and usage patterns of these tools. In December 2010, we surveyed a sample of international bloggers to better understand how, where, why, and by whom these tools are being used.

Circumvention Tool Evaluation

by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, and John Palfrey

This paper evaluates 19 circumvention tools tested in five countries. In this report, we focus on questions of utility—the ability for a tool to be installed and used in a particular location, and the accuracy and speed of the tool. Additionally, we address concerns about security, usability and openness when appropriate.

Drawing on background research, meetings with tool developers, consultations with experts, interviews with users, structured surveys, and technical evaluations, these publications help improve our overall understanding of the role of circumvention tools in promoting greater Internet openness.

We are grateful for the participation of Global Voices Online and for the work of those who translated our blogger survey into more than a dozen languages. We offer our special thanks to the bloggers that participated in the survey.

For more information about the Berkman Center’s research on circumvention, including links to these and other reports, please visit: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/circumvention

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January 21, 2011

Two of the Internet’s parents explain its origins and future

Scott Bradner and Steve Crocker are two of the tech geniuses who built the Internet in an open way and built it to be open. Now they have both published instructive columns recounting the thinking behind the Net that has been responsible for its success . I highly recommend both.

From Scott‘s:

The IETF has interpreted the “End to End” paper to basically say that
the network should not be application aware. Unless told otherwise by
an application, the network should treat all Internet traffic the
same.

…this design philosophy has led the IETF to create
technologies that can be deployed without having to get permission
from network operators or having to modify the networks.

…Last year I was worried about what rules regulators and politicians
were going to impose on the Internet. This year, my pessimism is
focused at a lower level in the protocol stack: I’m worried about what
kind of network the network operators will provide for the IETF to
build on, for me and you to use, and for tomorrow’s enterprises to
depend on.

From Steve‘s:

…we always tried to design each new protocol to be
both useful in its own right and a building block available to others.
We did not think of protocols as finished products, and we
deliberately exposed the internal architecture to make it easy for
others to gain a foothold. This was the antithesis of the attitude of
the old telephone networks, which actively discouraged any additions
or uses they had not sanctioned.

As we rebuild our economy, I do hope we keep in mind the value of
openness, especially in industries that have rarely had it. Whether
it’s in health care reform or energy innovation, the largest payoffs
will come not from what the stimulus package pays for directly, but
from the huge vistas we open up for others to explore.

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October 3, 2010

Harvard brings superfast Net access to local schools

From a press release:

Harvard will share its access to the super high-speed Internet2 Network connection with Boston and Cambridge schools, granting all 148 public schools in the two cities use of the most advanced networking consortium in the world.

In addition, Cisco is contributing Cisco TelePresence equipment to the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School enabling the students and teachers to connect with people around the globe. This interactive collaboration tool will put them at the forefront of teaching and learning. Raytheon BBN Technologies, an advanced networking research company, has donated the networking equipment that provides connectivity to Cambridge.

Yay. And not just for the immediate benefits. Get the kids hooked on what the Net can be, and they’ll grow up thinking that that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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September 8, 2010

Elinor Ostrom and the Net

Herman Wagter blogs about Elinor Ostrom on the commons and what this means about the Internet.

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July 29, 2010

GE pushes ahead with software-defined radio … good news for civilians, too?

In a press release that is barely comprehensible (or, quite possible, totally incomprehensible) to one such as I, GE has announced a new generation of components that can be used for, among other things, software-defined radios. It is unclear to me whether this technology is designed for anything except military use, but …

Software-defined radios (SDRs) are not the next generation of transistor radios or boomboxes (ask your parents, kids). They are radios in the more primordial sense of being devices that can receive radio-wave signals. The radios you and I are used to are hard-wired to do one thing: Tune into specific frequencies and translate the radio signals into toe-tapping tunes or the blather of infuriating talk show hosts. SDRs can be programmed to do anything they want with any type of signal they can receive. For example, they might treat messages as, say, maps, or signals to turn on the porch light … or as Internet packets.

SDRs matter a lot if only because they promise an alternative to the current broadcast medium. The way it works now, the FCC divvies up spectrum (i.e., frequencies) for particular uses and sells much of it to particular broadcasters. So, your hard-wired radio responds to particular frequencies as carriers of acoustic information sent by known, assigned providers: 106.7 on your radio dial, or whatever. This is a highly inefficient use of spectrum, like dedicating particular lanes of a multi-lane highway to a specific trucking companies. It’d be far more efficient if transmitters and receivers could intelligently negotiate, in real time, which frequencies they’re communicating on, switching to frequencies that are under-trafficked when a particular “lane” is jammed. If our radio receivers — not just our in-dash radios, but all devices that receive radio wave transmissions — were smart devices (SDRs), we could minimize the amount of spectrum we assign to a handful of highly-capitalized broadcasters. We would have more bandwidth than we could eat.

So, I think it’s good news that GE is pushing ahead with this and is commercializing it … unless I’m misunderstanding their announcement, the technology’s uses, and GE’s intentions to commercialize it.

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July 7, 2010

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