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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: futurent.txt

Future Networks by Mitch Kapor

Testimony Summary for "Networks of the Future"
FCC Hearing
Mitchell Kapor, Electronic Frontier Foundation
May 1, 1991

By the end of the next decade, today's computer networks and telephone
systems will evolve into a web of digital links connecting nearly all homes
and businesses in the U.S.  This "National Public Network" will support
commerce, learning, education, and entertainment in our society.

At its best, this National Public Network could be the source of immense
social benefits.  As a means of increasing cohesiveness, while retaining
the diversity that is an American strength, the network could help
revitalize this country's business and culture.

To design the NPN we must nurture a diverse community of participants, who
together will evolve the National Public Network to its fullest potential. 
The Commission is to be congratulated for seeking a diversity of counsel by
undertaking such programs as today's "Networks of the Future".  I am
pleased to appear before the Commission today as an entrepreneur, software
designer, and concerned citizen.

I want to share my vision of the applications which will drive demand for
services on the National Public Network.  Applications are so important
because users are interested in doing something new with technology in
order to make a difference in their lives.  They have an aversion to
technology itself.  We should therefore give as much attention to
applications as we do to the construction of the underlying  network.

Key Applications

We don't know and probably can't know the key applications of the NPN.  The
users and entrepreneurs of the network will surprise us, in the same way
that the electronic spreadsheet came as a complete surprise.  Just as the
Apple II personal computer was a platform that allowed others to invent new
applications, the NPN can be a platform for information entrepreneurship.

While we can't predict which applications will open up huge new markets, we
can make a few educated guesses, based on today's prototypes.  These
include the Internet, a decentralized, anarchic web of computers and
electronic mailboxes, linking major universities and industrial research
labs around the world.  Other "Petri dishes" of social ferment include
smaller, regional computer conferencing systems like the Whole Earth
'Lectronic Link (the WELL) and a turbulent mass of tens of thousands
non-commercial computer bulletin board systems linked in the Fidonet

Messaging will be popular: time and time again, from the ARPAnet to
Prodigy, people have surprised network planners with their eagerness to
exchange mail.  "Mail" will not just mean voice and text, but also pictures
and video -- no doubt with many new variations.

We know from past demand that the network will be used for electronic
assembly  -- virtual town halls, village greens, and coffee houses, again
taking place not just through shared text (as in today's computer
networks), but with multi-media transmissions, including images, voice, and
video.  Unlike the telephone, this network will also be a publications
medium, distributing electronic newsletters, video clips and interpreted
reports.  It will also be an information marketplace which will include
electronic invoicing, billing, listing, brokering, advertising,
comparison-shopping, and matchmaking of various kinds.

Innovation Enablers

I believe it is possible to identify several key innovation enablers which,
if applied in the context of the NPN, will result in a more rapid emergence
of high-demand applications.  These factors strongly imply directions for
national policy and business strategy which are mentioned under each point.

1.	Design the NPN as an Applications Platform

The most valuable contribution of the computer industry in the past ten
years is not a machine, but an idea -- the principle of open architecture. 
In computing, the hardware and system software companies create a
"platform" whose specifications are published openly and which seeks to
attract independent third parties to develop applications for it. 
Similarly, we need to think how to make the NPN into an attractive platform
for the development of new information products and services.

The most useful role of Apple's famous "software evangelists" is not
selling the virtues of the Macintosh to application developers, but
listening to them to help Apple improve the design of its platform. 
Perhaps the RBOC's need evangelists too.

It isn't possible for the platform vendor to identify an appropriate set of
application developers, but a well-designed commercial platform will
naturally attract developers.

The platform must be designed to be appealing to the application
developers.  It cannot be thought up in isolation and foisted onto the
market in the hope that it will be found interesting.

A computer platform is more than the hardware.  The NPN platform will be
far more than the wires.  It must include a basket of basic services for
directories and billing that are accessible and available to all providers.

2.	Understand and Capitalize on Market-mediated Innovation.

In the early stages of development of an industry, low barriers to entry
stimulate competition.   They enable a very large initial set of products
for consumers to choose from.  Out of these the market will learn to ignore
almost all in order to standardize on a few, such as a Lotus 1-2-3.  The
winners will be widely emulated in the next generation of products, which
will in turn generate a more refined form of marketplace feedback.  In this
fashion, early chaos evolves quickly a set of high-demand products and
product categories.

This process of market-mediated innovation is best catalyzed by creating an
environment in which it is inexpensive and easy for entrepreneurs to
develop products.  The greater the number of independent enterprises, each
of which puts at voluntary risk the intellectual and economic capital of
risk-takers, is the best way to find out what the market really wants.  The
businesses which succeed in this are the ones which will prosper.

It is worthwhile to note that not a single major PC software company today
dates from the mainframe era.  Yesterday's garage shop is today's
billion-dollar enterprise.  Policies for the NPN should therefore not only
accommodate existing information industry interests, but anticipate and
promote the next generate of entrepreneurs.

There should be thousands of information proprietors on the net, just as
there are thousands of producers of personal computer software and
thousands of publishers of books and magazines.  It should be as easy to
provide an information service as to order a business telephone.  Just as
every business is automatically listed in the Yellow Pages, every online
provider should be listed in a national digital Yellow Pages.

3.	Design the NPN for Transparency and Ease of Use

"Transparency," in computer circles, is a subjective state of awareness --
and a desirable one.  When a program is perfectly transparent, people
forget about the fact that they are using a computer.  The most successful
computer programs are nearly always transparent: a spreadsheet, for
instance, is as self-evident as a ledger page.

Personal computer communications, by contrast, are practically opaque. 
Users must be aware of baud rates, parity, duplex, and file transfer
protocols -- all of which a reasonably well-designed network could handle
for them.  When newcomers find themselves confronting what John Perry
Barlow calls a "savage user interface" the excitement about being part of
an extended community quickly vanishes.  On a National Public Network, that
would be a disaster.

Therefore it is crucial the NPN platform be designed with the proper basic
functions and capabilities to promote ease of use.

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