The problem discussed in your article “Internet Gridlock” (July/August 2008) is actually a side effect of a more profound transition in patterns of network usage.
While the Internet is often touted as a “general-purpose network” capable of supporting a wide range of innovative uses, in its present state it’s actually a very uniform system tuned for short file transfers, like e-mail and Web browsing–transfers that are typically completed in less than one second each. The limited duration of these transactions makes bandwidth available for data from multiple users on shared pipes, and this multiplexing is the key to the Internet’s economic efficiency. The usage pattern combines comfortably with the modest requirements of voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) phone traffic, the most common exception to the paradigm of short file transfers.
Using the Internet as the conduit for high-definition video files is the game changer. The sheer size and popularity of these files challenges us to imagine more-complex traffic management systems. As a network engineer, I foresee that the Internet will certainly be required to manage more-persistent file transfer transactions in the future.
The most obvious way to approach this problem is with data stream classification and scheduling systems. Such systems are used to good effect in radio-based technologies such as Wi-Fi.
Classification and scheduling are routine parts of daily life, but their application to a system that has apparently worked well without them naturally arouses apprehension. Though change is often unsettling, it’s the very essence of technical progress. Increased consumer awareness and higher standards of commercial disclosure are necessary to achieve more-sophisticated Internet traffic management. Larry Hardesty’s article is a constructive contribution to this process.
Who Owns Your Friends?
As an open-source advocate, I thought your article on how social-networking sites should incorporate data portability (“Who Owns Your Friends?” July/August 2008) touched on an important problem. We’re making the transition from a Web made up mostly of documents to one of activities and relationships. This transition is going to be painful, both for the companies who derive value from monetizing the captive attention of their members and for the individuals who interact on a single network.
But the future demands this shift, and the welfare of the Web requires it. By incorporating decentralized technologies, social sites can help their members weather the coming changes.
San Francisco, CA
The Next Bubble
I, too, was part of the Web bubble you discussed in the July/August “From the Editor” column (“The Next Bubble”). Though my company did well while the bubble was expanding, the prospect of making unrealistic amounts of money in short amounts of time quickly clouded our better judgment to sell holdings while the market was being kind. I often refer to the original bubble days as “the Internet lottery,” as the question of who succeeded or failed was often governed more by luck than by good business execution.
Some of the smartest people I know still seem to believe that it’s possible to build vast wealth quickly on the basis of nothing but a working prototype for a service and the intangible promises of an Internet startup. But as most lottery winners prove, those who are unable to build value are usually unable to manage it as well.
New York, NY
A New Collider
I read with interest your articles related to experimental physics (May/June 2008). CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may cause the United States to relinquish its crown as the world’s leader in physics. This is unfortunate, since the U.S. abandoned construction of its Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas in the early 1990s. It was to have had an underground ring circumference of 54 miles–more than three times the size of the LHC. The U.S. Congress canceled the SSC project in 1993, when its cost rose from $4.4 billion to more than $12 billion. While CERN searches for the Higgs particle, the U.S. is now left with a $2 billion hole in Texas consisting of 14 miles of tunnel and 17 shafts to the surface.
Albert C. Costanzo
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