Implications of the Information Marketplace: Dertouzous, Clark, TimBL

Rohit Khare (
Sat, 29 Mar 1997 14:25:12 -0500

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This is from a talk-respondent program about MLD's new book at the Tech
and Culture Forum at MIT many moons ago (announcment was on FoRK).



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Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

or, Implications of the Information Marketplace

[but don't worry about Michael -- his book is for sale outside :-]

There was another fascinating Technology and Culture Forum session yesterday Several folks responded to Dertouzous' new book about the Information Marketplace:


See () for a book review and () for the last TaC forum I attended, Freeway or Feeway? (which, by the way, was the subject of a Web Review article: ())

Personally, this got me thinking a lot about the ethics of protocol design and the principles we incorporate into our information systems. Dave Clark reiterated the influences


  1. 35 min Dertouzous
  2. 10 min each, TBL, DDC, Scolow
  3. 45 min questions

MLD: What is the IM?

10 years from now, the IM will be .5B machines doing 1) buying 2) selling 3) free exchanging of A) Info ('noun') and B) Info Work ('verb').

[see the book for the usual argument. E.g. $9Tn at stake in the world income… ]

I will skip the infrastructure, UIs, OSes, or the proximate uses -- to stay focused on the impact of the IM (after all, that's 2/3 of my book).

We spend 10% of the GNP on IT in usa, gdr, japan. Bangladesh is 0.1% This stuff makes the rich richer (and the poor poorer) if unfettered. We should control this influence.

Imagine: 1/2 Bn cpus times the average storage capacity = a lot of junk!

Will computers offload our brainwork? Well, so far, the Web has increaesed it, so far! Besides, we don't have a model for a work-free life.

[insert lots more from the book. Nothing wrong with that -- he pulled the right stuff]

This thin veneer of universal IM culture will grow stronger as a common bond.

"I know how to design information marketplaces that enhance dictatorships -- I discuss this in the book. But I think it's a democratizing force" because wealth-producing activities require globalization, letting the outside world in.

Remember: bits fly across the net, but emotions and presence cannot, in the end. Revolutions of things: pens, plows, engines, computers. Maybe we can move past the material, then…

TimBL responds

[If he had the time, he'd love to ski, play piano, and write -- but fortunately I have two kids who are much more amazing]

I just want to pick up one or two things. I envisioned lots of intermediaries who intelligently selected content (VL). But I talked to the Archie guy, and he admitted his unscalable, central indexing solution still worked economically. Search engines could be sufficiently good to skip past intermediaries. Scaling is a central issue at W3C.

Even if you know the path, and the stepping stones, you may still rely on serendipity for someone else, for some other purpose to lay this down. We may indeed HAVE to move sideways to move forward. I mean the way I finally launched the Web was by making it the ONLY way to access the cern phone book. They didn't care about global hypermedia.

I cared about annotation, but that never happened until PICS/pornography. Porn didn't really fire up technologists, but these are neat protocols. Java is driving trust management. At each stage we have to figure ou how to make the grand vision match up with the next practical step.

The final goal, a work-free society, more leisure time -- is wrong. People need work. At least I do…

Fragmentation of culture: are we going to be homogenized? A single-tv-channel culture? Or a hyper-balkanized series of cultural potholes of incredible depth [Big laughs -- well acted, very british gesturing]. Well people have to be simultaneously engaged at several levels -- personal, family, community, global. If you don't have that balance, you have to go to a shrink, it's in us and we spontaneously develop culture. It's not in the protocols.

[Moderator: "Tim, it has now been 11 minutes" "Well, ok, then, I leave you with that thought, then!" -- Tim's easily terminable ]

[Argh -- kind of hesitant performance, he didn't do his homework, or at least sit down and ask me what's in MLD's book to assemble a few clear response-themes; see Clark for a better example of a response theme]


Swarthmore BS, EECS 69 MS, 73 PhD, joined LCS immediately thereafter. Does research on scaling, speed, multimedia, pricing, control.

Tim and I have a contest who can speak faster. I was struck by a thought during MLD's stock talk. We called it an Information Infrastructure, but it's possible the real II is built out of *information*, the struggle to get all this information online. We are going to collectively create this incredible mass of computer accessible information. It's not there yet, but we're learning how to link. Soon in the future, we may learn we have bulit something. Perhaps the structure of knowledge. Maybe we'll cross a threshold, where we can analyze the structure of knowledge **as a side effect of people building their own corner of this space**.

I'm fascinated by the imponderability of the future. I could refute each of your points. For example, if you're an infobusiness, you could migrate anywhere in the world, balancing economic growth by exporting your info-work. (someone once called human order-takers, human modems, but that's still infowork…). The IM could bring the poor up. I asked Tom Malone about what impact this will have on corporate structures: well, my models could yield company with avg #emp = 5, or avg #companies=5…

When we construct realspace, we have all kinds of physical constraints, but cyberspace waives them and we don't know what will happen. Cites Diamond Age. But is cyberspace not just a thin veneer over real space, not a separate hallucination. I was thinking of mitnick-shimomura, which ended up driving on the street with a radio finder. But, cyberspace will evolve real fast, so we'll learn soon. The relationship of c-space and r-space is completely imponderable.

Richard Scolow

He's from the Loca institute is dedicated to making science responsive to democracy. See

I've only read the last chapter of his book. I really support his unification goal: we will confront similar voluntary choices with similar resources. But in the realworld, most tech decisions are made by large companies or wildly undemocratic government science policy -- not the bulk of 'we'.

Look at the telecom reform act -- it was dominated by money. The interest groups couldn't even get a copy of the bills being debated in back-rooms near the end. But even the public interest groups don't represent the middle -- just overenthusiastic computer users.

There are many more splits than just techie-vs-humie. Foremost is the opinion of real people dealing with technology: what will the 'street' use? Second is social science, which is neither one. But sometimes individual social choice cannot make community outcomes happen, only coordinated public intervention.

Here's a hypothetical: The Cyber Wal-Mart Effect. Suppose 1/2 people do 1/3 shopping at Wal-Mart. 100% of people want the downtown, but removing 16% of the money tips the downtown to decay, and it accelerates in favor of Wal-Mart. Coercive and pathological. He believes no one person can prevent this -- only collective action. Well, e-commerce could corrode real-world commerce. Worse, your local-respending is weakened, which completes the destruction of local economies.

We can bring these perspectives together with 1) participatory design of products and 2) participatory policy design. Appoint a representative ordinary-citizen committee to study the issues. No experts allowed.

[What's with the noble-savage faith in 'lay' decision making? ;-) --RK]

mld responds

  1. Tim: I believe in virtual neighborhoods
  2. richard: the old-lady story is not hypothetical, there are thousands on seniorNet (out of millions…).
  3. Dave: the poor can offer their work, but they need training, phone lines, computers… left to its own devices, those resources will not arrive.

Question Time

The web will reduce barriers-to-entry, allowing small-town economies to compete.

Will physically-nomadic people emerge (that will make government problematic?).

Will broadcast/push-web return to central-control of info? TBL: we are trying to do two things: handle streams, and handle one-to-many comm models. The question of topology does get tricky, though, I agree (huh?) Also, externalities: what if wal-mart is on your desktop, but your local store's web page is not.

How can we prevent rich-richer, poor-poorer? MLD cites LEO satellites with bandwidth for all, since they cover the world anyway -- that may be the only way they get b/w.

Tim, did you plan ahead and consider the social impact of your technology? Well, I built it because I wanted to use it… we can't really ever deploy technology for technology's sake. Richard: it's not necessary for techies to do this -- it's NOT the inventor's perogative to offer insight about social dynamics. Yes, they should broaden their perspective, but even more important for everyone to be involved.

RK: can we have moral and immoral protocols? DDC: well, internet culture/ideology works well. I do think there is a strong a priori and post-facto emphasis on symmetry, openness, etc.

[PS. Phillip Hallam-Baker is working on a self-proclaimed blockbuster philosophy-of-the-web book…]

Is the IETF democratic and fair? DDC: No, it's self-selected. At the NRC, we do represent balanced mixes, not open-call. But mailing lists are very threatening places… open mailing lists can actually be very narrowing.

Complainant says, hey, we sell arms, not self-help resources to the third world -- why should cyberspace be better? Rich-richer, no? MLD says "The world is lucky to have Bill Gates, who can promise Teledesic will offer free communications to the developing world" There are also institutions, like MIT and the World Bank, and so on. Complainant: having BillG as the Great White Hope is part of a paradigm which is NOT ENOUGH.

The net happened because of publicly funded research. Isn't this an enormous giveaway? DDC: I don't accept your premise. The gov't spent very modest sums of money on actual standards (10^7) and some little bit more on operating a backbone network when the economics were very very uncertain. We gave away the standards -- they're really free, and any other use would have been destructive. As far as investment in operations, there's nothing there. The money those contractors got did not make a difference in their eventual competitive positions. The Internet Research budget was $1-2 million/year.

TBL: it may soon be that more people are disenfranchised from the Web in the developed country because of illiteracy than by lack of a box.