Tim Berners-Lee worries?

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Thu, 29 Aug 96 23:12:21 PDT


> Meanwhile, standard-setting for the World Wide Web is beset by fighting
> between Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape Communications. Tim
> Berners-Lee, the research scientist who is credited with inventing the
> Web and now directs the World Wide Web Consortium, says he worries that
> in their efforts to one-up each other with unique features, these rival
> companies could spoil things for their customers.

Is that a direct quote?

Every once in a while it's helpful to read what's fed to the CIOs...



America Online's crash may portend constant crises unless the Internet is


Business Week: August 26, 1996
Department: Information Processing: THE INTERNET

It was the day America Online Inc. became America Offline. For 19 hours
on Aug. 7, the world's biggest online company and its 6 million
customers were blacked out while technicians tracked down what they
described as two crippling problems: a faulty roadmap of Internet
addresses and a bug in the software of a powerful switching computer
called a router. In an apology to subscribers, Chairman Stephen M. Case
wrote: ``I would like to be able to tell you that this sort of thing
will never happen again, but frankly, I can't make that commitment.''

That's for sure. Preventing blackouts may actually get tougher as online
services such as AOL--and the global network of networks known as the
Internet--run ever closer to the limits of their capacity. Outages at
overburdened Internet service providers have already become dismayingly
common. Says Allan H. Weis, CEO of Advanced Network & Services, which
sold its Internet service business to AOL last year: ``Maybe for the
first time in the history of the Internet, the demand is exceeding the
supply that technology can deliver.''

The Net is hardly going to pieces. But the growing pains are so severe
that stories about online screwups could easily carry this headline:
``Internet Becomes Victim of Own Success.'' And service failures are
just one problem. Devoted Internauts can reel off a slew of other
annoyances: Their favorite Web sites are always busy. Their brand-new
modem delivers data like a Volkswagen Beetle on a steep hill. Every
newsgroup they visit has been ``spammed'' with ads for get-rich-quick
schemes. They're stymied by fruitless searches for information. They
waste hours idly clicking from the Poisons Information Database to the
Exploding Head page to acupuncture.com. Aaarrgh!

Yes, the Internet. You can't live with it, you can't live without it. On
one hand, the Net aids scientific collaboration, builds virtual
communities, and streamlines commerce--most of the time, without
incident. In fact, a BUSINESS WEEK/Harris Poll of 1,186 people taken
June 21-30 finds that 79% of those who use the Internet rate the
experience excellent or good (page 66). But it's a long way from a mass
medium. Today's users are early adopters who tend to be tolerant of
glitches. The poll found that while 87% of the U.S. public has heard of
the Internet, only half the overall group use a computer at home or
work, and only 19% say they have used the Internet or the Web in the
past year.

MORE TOLLBOOTHS. So the Internet still has some growing up to do.
Security and reliability must be improved. Technical standards must be
established faster, even if less democratically. Lines of control must
be clarified. The Internet community must develop ways to settle debates
over sensitive issues such as contract law, privacy, and pornography--or
risk having governments step into the breach. Intellectual property must
be protected--forget that dippy slogan bandied about the Net that
``information wants to be free.''

Above all, financial incentives for investment must come into line.
Right now, customers who pay a mere $20 a month can blast the Net with
untold megabytes of data, voice, and video. Without usage-based charges,
service providers are called on to upgrade their infrastructure with no
clear promise of a return on their investment. For that reason, today's
Internet is destined to collapse under its own weight, predicts Edmond
J. Thomas, executive vice-president of Nynex Science & Technology Inc.,
in Price Waterhouse's book, EMC Technology Forecast: 1997. It will
reemerge, says Thomas, ``but there will be a lot more tollbooths on that
highway than there are now.''

The Internet's chaotic present stems from its anarchic past. It was
never designed to be an all-purpose, for-profit communications network.
Its predecessor, Arpanet, was started in 1969 by the Defense Dept. to
connect incompatible computers at universities doing military research.
The Internet emerged in the 1970s to connect Arpanet with other
networks. There was no need or way to bill for usage, since the
government paid for pretty much everything. Besides, the Internet was
designed strictly for data, which it breaks into packets that travel
disjointedly, to be reassembled at their destination. That's a liability
now that the Internet is handling live traffic such as phone calls and
videoconferences, where unpredictable delivery times are intolerable.


What's Wrong With The Internet

1. It's Too Slow

PROBLEM: The Internet is a highway that stays congested no matter
how many lanes are added. New capacity is swallowed up by
graphics-heavy Web pages, phone calls, video, and software
``robots'' that cruise for information.

SOLUTION: Market forces will help. Customers who need speed and
reliability will get it by paying extra. Usage-based pricing will
either kill off bandwidth-hogging services or give network
providers a financial incentive to make room for them.

2. Good Stuff Is Hard To Find

PROBLEM: Few Web sites have found a recipe that keeps customers
coming back. Search engines that find information are improving
but still generate dozens of useless ``hits.'' Sometimes, you're
better off going to the library.

SOLUTION: Artificial intelligence will make search engines more
discerning. People flailing around to create good Web sites will
gradually get the hang of the new medium. Intranets will offer
rich data to the chosen few.

3. It's Not Built Right

PROBLEM: The Internet is struggling with missions it simply wasn't
designed for. Security is weak. Important traffic gets stuck
behind low-priority drivel. It's not well-suited for voice and
video. There's no mechanism for counting usage--or charging for

SOLUTION: New software will let networks give certain traffic
higher priority and charge for the service. Encryption will
protect credit-card numbers, and digital signatures will unmask
people who pretend to be who they aren't.


That's no rap against the pioneers who designed the Internet more than
20 years ago. Phones and electricity fail sometimes, too. The Net has
held up remarkably well considering its rapid growth: The number of
computers connected to it worldwide is rising 72% a year, according to a
recent survey by Network Wizards in Menlo Park, Calif. Operators have to
switch out equipment on a monthly or even weekly basis. Such changes can
have poorly understood ripple effects, says Columbia University computer
science professor Yechiam Yemini. ``You don't change one of the engines
under the wings of a jet with one 10 times faster and expect the plane
to fly. It will crash,'' says Yemini.

While there aren't widespread blackouts, there are frequent brownouts.
The Web is already derided as ``slow television,'' or the ``World Wide
Wait.'' Imagine the traffic jams when couch potatoes can click through
the Web with remote controls--and thousands decide to check out the
Friends site during a commercial break from the TV show.

Computer experts have worried about Internet overload since its earliest
days. But the concerns were easy to dismiss as long as the state of the
art was well ahead of the demand. It isn't anymore. Advanced Network &
Services' Weis points out that the speed of the Internet backbone rose
700-fold between 1987 and 1992. Another 700-fold increase in the next
five years is hard to imagine. ``The big problems of the Internet
haven't hit yet,'' says Weis. ``We don't know what they are.''

Locating what you want on the Internet is already a challenge, and
threatens to get harder. The Internet is like a library with no filing
system, one that's constantly receiving more books in random piles.
Search engines like Yahoo! and Lycos create indexes of the Net's
contents by sending software ``robots'' on search missions--rummaging
through the growing piles again and again. That works O.K. on small
databases, but 'bots can be mighty annoying on big ones. When they hit
Los Alamos National Laboratory, some poorly programmed robots get lost
inside a vast database of physics research, tying up the lab's computers
by issuing up to 10 information requests a second.

DIRTY SECRET. The Internet is beginning to suffer from a lack of manners
as well. One dirty little secret is that most phone calls and
videoconferences ram their way past data transmissions by using a bully
of a communications method called User Datagram Protocol, or UDP. Unlike
the more polite Transmission Control Protocol, TCP, which drops back
when it detects congestion, UDP continues at full speed, elbowing ahead
of TCP traffic. Yet UDP customers aren't paying anything extra for
their fast lane. What's to stop it from being abused? ``It's really
basically altruism and peer pressure and people knowing each other,''
says Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason, an associate professor of economics,
information, and public policy at the University of Michigan.

Altruism is hardly a workable ethic for an Internet that has become
huge, impersonal, and profit-minded. The Net's deficiencies are
reflected in the lives of people like Rick Cunnington, a mechanical
engineer from Chandler, Ariz. After discovering the Internet, he says,
``I jumped into it with both feet,'' using it to plan a vacation,
exchange E-mail, and weigh investments. But when he researched the
purchase of a water softener, all he got was product puffery. And he
spent five hours over three days searching for historical stock data.
Finally, he got off the Information Superhighway, into his car, and onto
Interstate 10, down to the Phoenix public library. There, he spent less
than an hour getting the information from microfilm. Cunnington's
advice about cruising the Net: ``Take your sleeping bag.''

It's a bad sign when the likes of Cunnington get disillusioned. A survey
by Mercer Management Consulting Inc. identified only two groups making
up 17% of the population--the ``Wired Elite'' and ``Upgrade
Families''--that account for two-thirds of the market for electronic
commerce and network-based services. Says Mercer Vice-President Michael
E. Smith: ``You're probably talking about a cap of 25% to 30% of the
households that are really willing to step up to the plate to put up
with the difficulties.'' Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.,
predicts that the average Web publisher will lose money until the year
2000. ``Content providers who joined the Web gold rush find themselves
tumbling down a long, dark mine shaft,'' writes Senior Analyst Bill

CLEARER PATH. Internet skeptics--or perhaps realists--are redirecting
their money away from the Net and toward private ``intranets,'' where
they see a clearer path to profitability. These internal networks work
like the Internet and can communicate with it but are built for a
company's own employees, big customers, and suppliers. Intranets aid
collaboration by pulling together data on incompatible computers. Zona
Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., predicts that in 1999, spending
on host computers and software for intranets will exceed Internet
spending by 6 to 1 (chart).


The Internet, in contrast, suffers from topsy-turvy financial incentives
because of its legacy as a government-subsidized enterprise. Big
Internet service providers such as MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint
Corp. have long accepted traffic from many of the smaller ones without
demanding payment. But that practice has become onerous. So they're
raising standards for admission to the club of ``peers'' that exchange
traffic for free. All others must pay.

That change will spill over to the way carriers charge their customers.
If one carrier is charged by others for sending them lots of, say, video
signals, it will turn around and raise the fees for that kind of
traffic. Such usage-based payment will discourage capacity-hogging
traffic that doesn't make economic sense. And it will raise money for
investment to support other services that do make sense--phone calling,

The next step is to get the phone companies and cable-TV operators to
invest more. Today, says Roger S. Siboni, national managing partner of
KPMG Peat Marwick, the carriers that provide Internet infrastructure
``are fearful that they'll be segmented out of the value
proposition--they'll be reduced to a commodity while others will add

If phone companies don't hold back the Internet, standards wars might.
Net technologies will take hold. Trouble is, no one really runs the
Internet. ``The framework that people cooperated in before is
collapsing, and a new framework has to emerge,'' says Robert G.
Moskowitz, a technical support specialist for Chrysler Corp., a big
Internet user.

Meanwhile, standard-setting for the World Wide Web is beset by fighting
between Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape Communications. Tim
Berners-Lee, the research scientist who is credited with inventing the
Web and now directs the World Wide Web Consortium, says he worries that
in their efforts to one-up each other with unique features, these rival
companies could spoil things for their customers.

The battling creates headaches for people who need to place bets on
which technologies will take hold. Trouble is, no one really runs the
Internet. ``The framework that people cooperated in before is
collapsing, and a new framework has to emerge,'' says Robert G.
Moskowitz, a technical support specialist for Chrysler Corp., a big
Internet user.

So the Internet is at a turning point. It has certainly impinged upon
the public's consciousness--AOL's Aug. 7 crash made front-page news
across the country. Moskowitz recalls that in the early 1950s, the
American public turned against the space program after a Redstone rocket
blew up on the launchpad on live television. ``There is a concern in the
Internet technical community that we can lose the consumer. This is
completely recognized.'' His prediction: ``We'll get things
straightened out.'' The community has a powerful incentive to do just
that. After all, worrisome as they may be, the Internet's problems stem
not from decline, but growth.

By Peter Coy in New York, with Robert D. Hof in San Francisco, Paul C.
Judge in Boston, and bureau reports

Copyright 1996 The McGraw-Hill Companies. All rights reserved.

This page was updated by the Webmaster on August 19, 1996

BW Home Page