The Internet "Golden Age" is Closing

One of the first posts on this blog was about the future of the internet, and the likely decline of the “Golden Age of the Internet” to quote John Dvorak. My older post was about government and lawsuits causing a decline in online freedoms.  The freedom of the Internet seems to be on the decline once again, but this time the driving force to change is economic.

Some notes from around the Internet:

1.) This past week Rupert Murdock has stated that the internet is over. Advertising revenues are down and the business model for online news cannot be sustained without going to a subscription model.

I think the guy is off his rocker, and his plans to charge to access newspaper sites is quite dumb. Subscriptions for news online work for specialized newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or Variety because these papers are the paper of record for specific industries.  General news sites are a dime a dozen, and the only way a general newspaper could make money on a subscription plan is if every paper did so.

2.) You Tube is changing its business model, in light of half a billion dollar losses expected this year.   Check out this video, or at least the first couple of minutes. The guy starts blathering at around the 3 minute mark. To me, the video has an opposite effect on me than he intended.

When you are losing money as bad as You Tube is, you have to reorganize and go back to what works. Hosting users videos for free is a major component of the site, but it is also the least profitable. Hosting video from commercial distributors and advertisers that are good enough to get advertiser support is profitable, and that is exactly where You Tube is going to go.

I’ll even go as far as to predict that You Tube will  start charging a fee to host user videos. This will no doubt reduce the number of videos out there, but the overall quality will improve.

3.) Two of the largest and fastest growing websites, Twitter and Facebook, are both operating in the red as well.

Facebook is probably close to profitability right now. The last reliable numbers I saw were in 2007 when the site was spending twice what they were bringing in. Since then the employment has doubled, and I assume the expenses have as well, but also since then the user base has quadrupled, and hopefully the revenue has too. If so, they are close to being in the black now.

Twitter is a popular tool in need of a way to make money soon before they run out. There is minimum advertising there, and selling ads for tweets is likely to be a hard sell, especially since most tweets are sent and recieved via feeds that dont pass advertising messages.  Rumors have been flying that Twitter is ripe for take over. Who knows what will happen there.

We are not approaching the end of the internet (sorry Rupert), but we are at the end of the “Golden Age” of the internet.

The age of getting a site up and running with VC money and waiting 5 years for profitability are over.  The new model forward is going to be “Make Money quickly or Die”

As sad as I am to see a lot of the FREE benefits we have been enjoying online start to disappear, a leaner and meaner internet may prove to be a good thing in the long run.

The Future of the Internet Part 2

OK, Future of the internet part two. Sounds like I should write something really cool and insightful with a headline like that.

Let me just point out a few articles, that show where the internet may be headed.

The first is The Semantic Web by Tim Berners-Lee which was written in Scientific American’s special Internet issue in 2001. In a way, the RSS/XML feed technology which is catching on is the beginnings of the semantic web described.

The second is an article about self configuring wireless networks that the military is developing. The idea is to create a self sustaining peer-to peer network of mobile computers where wi-fi hubs are not available. The technology will no doubt spread to civilian use.

A third article that caught my eye is one from C-Net about how in faster and faster broadband services the slowest part of the web can become the DNS. The DNS is the rather elaborate system that translates “yahoo.com” to network reachable 216.109.112.135

If you open a DOS window and type “tracert yahoo.com” there are a bunch of hoops that you go through to translate. Your domain request goes to root servers who provide name servers, and the name servers provide IP addresses, and the IP addresses provide content. If anyone of them is slow, then your internet will seem slow. Your speed is only as fast as the slowest connection.

But DNS speed is not that big of a problem actually. While you are into the DOS window, type “ipconfig /displaydns”. When you visit a site, your computer will store the DNS info of that site temporarily on the computer. If you go back to that site, the jump hoops needed to get there are a lot shorter, because your computer remembers the name server and IP addresses of domains you have recently visited.

On the other hand, here is somethig to think about. The weakness of the WWW currently is that all new requests have to go to one of 13 root servers. If these root servers go down, the internet goes down.

But recently we have developed technology like bitorent, which was originally designed to get around copyright laws, distributes file sharing hosting and indexing tasks over the internet, rather than one central computer. Downloading files via bitorent services is often faster than downloading from central servers. There are other examples of distributed networks doing cool things like searching for really big prime numbers or searching for intelligent life in space that anyone with a computer can participate in.

So why not handle DNS chores using distributed networks? There is just such an operation at http://www.opendns.com/.

If such a system could be developed so that root servers are optional, it would also be possible to make up new top level domains completely out of the control of ICANN. Getting out of ICANN means getting out of potential government interference.

Ah, one can dream.

The Future of the Internet

Lately I have been interested in the future of the internet. Where is it going? Can it be stopped?

John Dvorak recently wrote a piece called The Golden Age of the Internet where he says we are currently in a Golden Age that is inevitably going to end.

“A golden age ends either when something new comes along (as with radio’s golden age, killed by the advent of TV), the government gets involved, or entropy sets in—usually a mix of these elements. In the case of the Internet, we are already seeing a combination of government, carrier, and business interactions that will eventually turn the Net into a restricted and somewhat proprietary network, with much of its content restricted or blocked. Only a diligent few will actually have access to the restricted data, and in some parts of the world even trying to view the restricted information on the Net will be a crime.”

We are right now seeing elements of change coming. For example the whole “Net Neutrality” debate has to do with new technologies being implemented right now to bring about what has been dubbed “Web 2.0”.

For years utilities have been laying millions of miles of fiber optic cables that are currently not being used because new technologies have made it possible for lots more data to be transmitted over current systems. If we ever get around to lighting up the dark fiber optic cables, bandwidth and speed will only be limited by the laws of physics.

Well the use of these fibers will also be controlled by the laws of the land as well as politicians like to have a say in these things. What the Net Neutrality debate is all about is the use of this faster web. The companies that own these cables want to charge a premium on the faster bandwidth and thus control access to it.

Content providers, like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, EBay etc. are united in favor of bandwidth neutrality. They want the telephone companies to transmit all data at the fastest speed possible, regardless of what that data contains.

Then there is the content makers like the movie and television studios, the recording industries, the software companies, the book publishers, and artists who have a vested interest in protecting their intellectual property being offered for free by web services like You Tube and Bitorents.

Then we have the politicians like Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) who insist on introducing draconian legislation “to protect the children” that in fact seriously restricts internet access for many http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-6071040.html.

Meanwhile, “entropy” is becoming a concern. Once upon a time, e-mail was on the verge of practically replacing the telephone. Then “spam” became a problem which created new industries of spam protection. The rules of spam protection vary everywhere and it is making e-mail very unrealiable even for legitimate use because when you send an e-mail you have no idea if it will actually reach its intended destination, or be blocked along the way, or end up in the receivers bulk mail box.

The same applies for internet downloads. It is not safe to surf the internet without virus protection, adware detectors, malware detectors, and firewalls enabled. The Golden Age of the Internet is also proving to be the Golden Age of Internet Security.

A new secure system of e-mail is going to have to be created and implemented if it is ever going to return as a primary form of communication.

Meanwhile, social networks, like MySpace are the new cool thing these days, their success is spawning million dollar lawsuits from “victims”. I feel for victims of sexual predators, but I believe it is up to the users of these services to protect themselves rather than the services to provide that protection. It is entirely possible that these services could be legislated or sued out of business simply because of a few bad apples.

The very infrastructure of the World Wide Web is being threatened with change. Right now ICANN (the international organization that controls domain names) is under attack from many governments as their contract expires in September. Among the desired changes to the system is restrictions on registration of trademarked domain names and the desire of many to own domain names for life. Every year thousands of domain names are lost because the owners forget to renew them, some system of lifetime ownership is needed to stop domain name theft. IMHO if someone runs a website under a domain name for five years, and that domain name does not contain any trademarks, that domain name should be yours forever.

Such a plan could mean initially big money for registrars, but eventually it could mean stagnation of the domain name market. But, it is not the only threat to the domain name market. Google “search words” is on the verge of replacing the whole domain name system, and unlike the WWW where there is government oversight, search words are controlled by corporate entities.

But it is not just domain names, the future of hosting services, the source of 90% of all web content, also has a limited future.

It is amazingly easy to host a website. Any one can host a site on their own home computer for no more than the cost of their current internet connection. There are three good reasons why you should go with hosting instead. 1) Dedicated web hosting means the computer is only dedicated to running the website. If you host the site on your own computer, then everytime you run a resource heavy program (i.e. Video game) your website will be slow. 2) Dedicated bandwidth. Most hosting servers are connected to reliable and expensive high traffic lines. Most home computers are connected to cable, sattelite, or wi-fi where upload times are restricted. 3) Dedicated sys-ops are monitoring your website traffic and making sure your site is up at all times, and doing regular maintenance and daily backups of your data.

Its a law of computing: Computers will continue to find ways to get faster and more reliable. That means reason #1 may soon disappear. As I pointed out earlier, we are on the verge of having massive amounts of bandwidth for everyone, that means reason #2 may soon disappear. Once those two are gone, it is only a matter of time before technology eliminates reason #3

Another threat to hosting is the increasing number of specialty services out there. You can host your videos at You Tube, and your pictures at Flickr and your podcasts at ipod and your links at del.icio.us and your blog at any number of places, then just have them link to each other.

Then as I pointed out in an essay on the metaverse, there is going to be inevitable growth in a 3D web at the expense of the 2D one. Maybe that is where hosting companies will move to, from dedicated web hosting, to dedicated world hosting.

All of this points to the internet being a very different environment in five to ten years. There are lots of very powerful forces tugging on it in all directions, and lots of important issues to be resolved. Lots of material we can get for free now may soon require payment, but it will be instant on demand accessible. There will be an inevitable loss of true anonimity and privacy to stop stalkers, spammers, scammers, virus makers, and identity thieves.

The important question is: Will we still be able to express ourselves any way we want to and form communities in a secure environment?