I have been writing my free weekly e-mail newsletter, A-Clue.Com, since 1997. In this week's issue I look at the past 10 years, and speculate on what may be coming.
It was more primitive. It was portals and push technology. The Dot-Boom was just getting rolling. But it was also more international. Those who had good Internet connections were elites, people with natural curiosity, and in its early years I often received e-mails from very far away.
Today's Internet is bigger, more technically adept, faster but also more local. It's a mass market phenomenon. There is plenty to do, see, and be in your own patch, so international traffic is reduced. And it's no longer an American lake. What can I tell a Korean or Japanese user about Internet commerce, when their connections are 100 times faster than my own?
Yesterday's Internet was in English. Today's is in a myriad of languages. And this is one of the key challenges facing the Internet's future. Internet name spaces in local languages create a natural balkanization. Hardly anyone here will have the language support needed to reach a Chinese or Thai or Arabic namespace, and folks there won't come here, either.
Translation is the key. Google's translation service remains primitive. It is unfortunately the best we have. And it needs to be deployed, now, in all these new namespaces, if people speaking different languages are to have any connection in the future. This starts with applying it systematically to other character namespaces – add a .abc (for the name of the language in English) to the URL coming here, and a .abc (in the other language) going the other way. This will also tell the user that the page is translated.
The main problem is that, in terms of this challenge, groups like ICANN are dirt poor. It's firms like Google which have the technical chops to take this on, but how do you move the work without also moving the business, without privatizing the Internet's operation further? All this at a time when governments are seeking greater control, both of their own networks and what they link to.
Fortunately the U.S., because of its poor-quality broadband, can become a de-facto leader in this area. The way forward here is AJAX – Asynchronous Java And XML. The combination of Java applets with XML tags not only makes database calls more flexible, it minimizes downloads and makes a slow network appear to be much faster. (It's also pretty.) Since AJAX can be adapted to mobile environments easily, this also gives American programmers opportunities. And, since Sun has decided to make Java itself open source, starting next year, there's no excuse not to learn.
Finally we come to Always On, the Internet in the air, the Internet of Things, the dance of sensors, motes, and wireless networking, all connected to the Internet. I recently learned why this revolution has yet to get off the ground.
Politics was involved, but not in the way I thought. The conservative assumption there is no such thing as industrial policy, which is in fact an industrial policy, has resulted in China being given a veto over U.S. technology hardware. Every bit of tech gear you own is made in China or Taiwan. The only orders that makes sense, then, are big orders. But innovation depends on small orders, experimental products seeking to rise up the demand curve. Foreign production has knocked the bottom out of that curve.
A more nationalistic policy, one that encourages American designers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs, is all that is needed to jump-start this area of technology. That is going to come, because American business is going to start demanding it.
But we need more. We desperately need a new assumption in our law, a 10th Amendment assumption that your data belongs to you by default, that no one else can hold it or even ask for it without first going through a transparent legal procedure in which the assumption is they won't get it. With personal data as a marketplace good, the instinct of most users is to stop creating data on themselves. Google the name of Google founder Sergey Brin sometime – you will be surprised at how little you learn. He understood this fact early-on. It's time to change the incentives for people like him, or else he'll never create the personal data he may need to save his life.
So there are many ways in which government can help or hinder the growth of the Internet, and Internet resources. Government at every level – international, national, even state and local. That is the open source thesis' connection to economic growth. Enshrine these Internet values in law and you can have growth. Fail to do so, out of fear, and you will continue to stagnate, as you are stagnating now. And the world will die.
Those are the real stakes.