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Reaction to World of Ends

A whole bunch of mail came in about the World of Ends site Doc and I posted yesterday. In fact, I couldn’t have picked a worse day to be traveling and off line. For example, we got slashdotted and I wasn’t able to read it until it was just about over. (Oops, looks like we’ve just been slashdotted again.)

Here’s some of what went on and some responses…


Paul Boutin asks a series of good questions:

1) Who is World of Ends intended for? “Anybody who’s into being all dumb about the Net” is not the answer I’m looking for here. What people and companies did you have in mind while writing? Who would you most like to see reading it?

A bunch of people have asked this since in the article we call our intended readers blockheads and adopt a supercilious attitude toward them.

It’s not something Doc and I talked about explicitly; we just iterated on drafts until it sounded done. Our aim was to say flat out what we think is being missed by the corporations and law-makers who are threatening the Internet. So why not do an “End-to-End Argument for Dummies”? Because we wanted the thing to be read.

So, to answer Paul’s question: The intended readers are the boneheaded captains of industry and government, but we didn’t think they’d ever read it if we didn’t make it highly partisan and somewhat obnoxious. If someone were to send them a memo outlining the article’s Key Take-Aways, I’d be more than satisfied. (Those Take-Aways, in my view, are: The Internet is an agreement and Doc’s “Nobody owns it, Everyone can use, Anyone can improve it.”)

I like Michael O’Connor Clarke‘s thoughts on this topic.

2) What sort of “reasons to buy music from you” would you want from the record companies? Is there a specific model you favor, or are you saying the solution has yet to appear?

No specific model, although I assume that selling just the music bits themselves isn’t going to be enough.

3) Specifically who and what actions do you refer to in the passage about “government types … tinkering with the Internet’s core?”

The usual suspects. The “core” refers not to low levels of the stack but the services and values that most users take as the heart of the Internet.

4) You say telecoms should “bite the bullet.” Which bullet, i.e. what exactly should they spend on or write off at this point?

I don’t know. If you put me in charge of a telco, I’d hire someone competent for the job — how about David Isenberg? — and take a very healthy severence package. (Then I’d appoint Lawrence Lessig to the Supreme Court.) But I do believe that the telcos are standing in the way of what a free market would demand.

5) “The value of open spectrum is the same as the true value of the Internet.” Help me out there. Most of the Internet’s value doesn’t come via wireless. Are you saying open spectrum would create such a huge value add to the Internet it would render the current value irrelevant? Or are you just saying the benefit would be worth the writeoff?

I put that poorly. I meant that an open spectrum policy would result in a marketplace for innovation much like the one that the Internet has created. More here and here.

6) You’ve basically said ads on Web pages aren’t worth the effort. How should Google make the money to fund itself instead? Or should they just keep taking money from chumps whose messages they know are being ignored?

We didn’t mean to say that ads are never worth the effort. Many aren’t. I happen to like Google’s approach.

7) Despite the earlier action on this list, I sense that very little of this seems aimed at Microsoft per se. Am I right?

It’s aimed at any company that thinks it can and should coerce us into accepting one-sided agreements, so, yes, it is definitely aimed at Microsoft. That doesn’t mean that everything Microsoft has ever done is Evil, of course.


Bob Frankston writes to me and Doc to suggest two additions:

The net is meaningless. It just transports bits and bits, in themselves, have no meaning. The meaning comes from interpretation at the edges and the interpretations are not unique and do preserve ambiguity. The tendency to introduce social policy at this level has perverse consequences.

The net only operates if it fails. There must be sufficient disorder to assure that the ends are resilient (the analogy with our immune system) and there must be sufficient perturbation to allow new ideas to be reaped. We don’t solve problem as much as discover solutions in the turmoil.

Good points. I think the first one is implicit in our article or maybe I only assumed that it’s implicit. I like Bob’s second point a lot.


Jonathan Peterson has cogent comments on his blog. He begins:

Marc Canter sent an email pushing back on World of Ends, reminding David and Doc that the user’s end-game (two-way full-motion video), should be kept in mind. Doc and David’s (stupid=flexible above all else) is the visionaries’ message to the decision-makers. Marc is right about keeping an eye on what users want.

In truth, I worry about altering the Net at the protocol level to accommodate any service, including two-way video.


Eric Norlin thinks we ought to take notice of the face that the agreement that is the Internet is dynamic. Can one perhaps see Eric’s interest in a new digital ID agreement helping to make this observation more pressing to him? I’d draw a somewhat different conclusion: Of course the agreement is always changing. In fact, our article says that suggesting new agreements is a critical way the Net has grown. But, as the article says, new agreements need to be voluntarily accepted and in the interests of all. In my opinion, digital ID, “digital rights management” and “trustworthy computing” fail that test: the demand is coming top down, not bottom up.


Arnold Kling writes, in part:

Amendment: The Internet is not Microsoft. The Internet’s destiny is not to be dominated by personal computers.

You see, in 5-10 years, we are going to look back at 2003 and say “We thought that was the Internet? How could we have been so stupid?”

Because in 5-10 years, most of what we do with the Internet will not involve Windows (or Apple or Linux). It will involve devices that we now don’t think of as computers. The action today is in cell phones, but my guess is that over the next decade we will see other form factors emerge.


Michael O’Connor Clarke writes, in part:

The rallying cry you’ve chosen to end on is lovely — but without over-complicating things, I feel the urge to make a distinction in this piece between ‘stupidity’ and ‘stupidness’. Stupidity is indeed something we should hope to lose, or hope big business, the recording industry, the telcos will lose.

Stupidness, on the other hand, is a value to be treasured, protected, nurtured…

Michael’s follow-up blog is real interesting on Cluetrain and World of Ends.


Tim Moors writes:

I saw your web page and thought you might be interested in a paper that I wrote about this matter:

T. Moors: A critical review of End-to-end arguments in system design, Proc. International Conference on Communications (ICC), Apr. 28 – May 2 2002

I haven’t had a chance to look at this yet.

Now it’s off to the SWSW conference…

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