Table for two

The Web as we know it today was two years old in June 1997, when the page below went up. It lasted, according to Archive.org, until October 2010. When I ran across it back then, it blew my mind — especially the passage I have boldfaced in the long paragraph near the end.

The Internet is a table for two. Any two, anywhere. All attempts to restrict it and lock it down will fail to alter the base fact that the Net’s protocols are designed to eliminate the functional distance, as far as possible, between any two points, any two devices, any two people. This is the design principle for a World of Ends. That last link goes to a piece and I wrote in 2003, to as little effect, I suspect, as @Man’s piece had in 1997. I doubt any of the three of us would write the same things the same ways today. But the base principle, that table-for-two-ness, is something I believe all of us respect. It won’t go away. That’s why I thought it best to disinter @Man’s original and run it again here.

I have another reason. Searching for @Man is Michael O’Connor Clarke‘s last blog post before falling ill in June. I don’t know who or where @Man is today. I did correspond with him briefly when we were writing The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999, but all my emails from that time were trashed years ago. So I’m clueless on this one. If you’re out there and reading this, @Man, get in touch. Thanks.


Attention, Fat Corporate Bastards!

by @Man

Attention, Fat Corporate Bastards!
Attention, Fat Corporate Bastards in your three piece suits!

Attention Fat Congressional Bastards!
Attention, Fat Congressional Bastards in your three piece suits!

We know about your plans for the Internet. Although you won’t listen, we would like to point out how wrong you are now, so we can point out gleefully how right we were later.

According to a presentation given by Nicholas Negroponte at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto, called “The Information Age: Transforming Technology to Strategy,” here is what you Fat Corporate Bastards think we want:

  1. Movies on demand (94% executive approval)
  2. Home shopping (89% approval)
  3. On-line video games (89% approval)

Here’s what you think we don’t want:

  1. educational services
  2. access to government information

Here’s a clue: you can stick the first set up your bum, sideways.

Here’s what we really want. Don’t bother paying attention; I want you to learn the hard way, by wasting lots of time and money.

Desired Internet Service Attributes:

  1. Cheap, unlimited flat-rate international communication
  2. Hands off: No censorship, no advertisements, no lawsuits
  3. Respect
  4. Privacy

Desired Internet Services:

  1. Email, WWW, Usenet, IRC, FTP
  2. Explicit adult material
  3. Access to government and corporate information for oversight purposes
  4. Educational services
  5. Free networked multiplayer games

Guess what? We already have all the things we want. As soon as we’re ready for something new, we get it – for free. Why? Because the traditional consumer/producer relationship doesn’t exist on the Internet. Don’t you think that if we really wanted the things you think we want, we would have already developed them some time in the past 20 years for free? Free! Free! It’s so much fun to be able to use that word you hate. Take your margins with you and stick to trying to shove ads onto PBS and NPR.

You almost certainly think of the Internet as an audience of some type–perhaps somewhat captive. If you actually had even the faintest glimmering of what reality on the net is like, you’d realize that the real unit of currency isn’t dollars, data, or digicash. It’s reputation and respect. Think about how that impacts your corporate strategy. Think about how you’d feel if a guy sat down at your lunch table one afternoon when you were interviewing an applicant for a vice-president’s position and tried to sell the two of you a car, and wouldn’t go away. Believe it or not, what you want to do with the Internet is very similar. Just as you have a reasonable expectation of privacy and respect when you’re at a table for two in a public place, so too do the users of the Internet have a reasonable expectation of privacy and respect. When you think of the Internet, don’t think of Mack trucks full of widgets destined for distributorships, whizzing by countless billboards. Think of a table for two.

If you don’t understand right now, don’t worry. You’ll learn it the hard way. We’ll be there to help you learn, you filthy corporate guttersnipes.

With bile and premonitions of glee,

@Man


@Man, World-Class Data Snuggler

22 comments

  1. Brett Glass’s avatar

    What convenient revisionist history. The fact is that the Internet was never intended to be universal. Internetworking was developed not to connect every network in the world indiscriminately but rather to allow network owners to pass traffic to one another IF THEY WANTED TO, retaining control over the content and activities on their own networks.

    The original internetwork which was created by various institutions (initially, government, academia, and government contractors) — the ARPANET — was restricted to a limited number of uses and a limited set of people. It was never intended to connect anyone to anyone, nor was it ever intended to be a “dumb” pipe (it was smart, and did prioritization and access control, from the very beginning). And it never would have developed into today’s Internet if the institutions and businesses which joined it were told that they were going to be pressured to give up control over the networks which they owned and built. They simply would never have agreed to join.

    As for commercialization: it is actually commercialization which is fueling the attempts at revisionist history. David Isenberg, David Weinberger, and Berkman are heavily funded by Google, an extremely nasty commercial interest which makes big money from (yes) video on demand and other products which that amusing Web page links to “corporate bastards.” which is promoting this misinformation in an attempt to appropriate the use of the private networks that form today’s Internet via government force. And it’s succeeding, Doc, with the help of people like you who do not call “Bullshit!”

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett,, I’m just familiar with Internet history as you are. And I don’t think commercialization is the problem. I could tell you what I think the problems are, but I expect you’ll tell me that Google is the bad guy and I’m paid by them to ignore that. I’m not. But I don’t expect saying that makes any difference, either.

  3. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Doc, I would not expect you to condemn commercialization of the Net; if you did, you would be forced to condemn Google. Instead, you condemn the operation of networks as a business (as if the expensive equipment, operating costs, and grueling maintenance could possibly be sustained otherwise).

    What you seem to want is analogous to being able to monopolize a “table for two,” in a restaurant, indefinitely without buying any food. And you want that table to be as big as you’d like — big enough to hold a lot more than two people. And to do absolutely anything you want at that table — even if it destroys the table or disturbs other patrons.

    At least that’s what Google wants, because it wants to make money entertaining (and advertising to, and spying on) the people at those tables while the restaurant owner goes broke.

    Alas, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett, what I “seem to want” isn’t what you say it is. Let’s just leave it at that.

  5. Paul Bouzide’s avatar

    @Brett I get your concern about proper compensation to those who own (and operate, I think is more your point) components of the overall worldwide network infrastructure and agree that the should be able to earn profits sufficient to (re)capiltalize their (evidentally socially useful) business. And I also have my own issues about Google’s ability to cross-subsidize content that formerly had direct monetary value on its own with their massive advertising revenue (like the geospatial data business I work for).

    But regardless of the possible fact that “the Internet was never intended to be universal”, I think the point of what Doc and Berkman are advocating is that there is a considerable net-sum benefit to overall commerce (note I didn’t use the political red herring “overall society” here) of a universal non-content-discriminating, non-commercial-entity discriminating internet analogous to freely usable and non-discriminating public roads. And that such commercial benefit is indeed available to network operators (who might even be uniquely advantaged by their niche as network operators) while still being “properly compensated” (in some abstract yet reasonably transparent accounting sense) for the use of their infrastructure in their role as bit transporters.

    And regardless of the fact that that same “extremely nasty” Google’s business is currently based on advertising in the service of supply (and not as you imply the YouTube video service per se), this actually as far as I can tell runs counter to the demand side empowerment that seems to be part of Berkman’s mission (or at least Doc’s piece of that mission).

    Obviously Doc certainly doesn’t need me to defend his points and mission. But maybe it’s helpful to have someone else provide their own interpretation. Someone who also wants business and commerce to thrive and also understands that innovation (as in the path that the TCP/IP technology stack has grown to power this fantastic global network and ancillary economic growth, also worldwide) sometimes means that businesses – and yes also network operator’s businesses – need to evolve, rather than cling to a business model that might’ve been valid at the dawn of the internet. Ain’t this what any capitalist means when they talk about “creative destruction”?

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Paul.

    FWIW, “table for two” (to me) applies to TCP/IP, and the connectivity it supports, for anyone anywhere connected through it. What @Man spoke to (with that metaphor) was the widespread belief in 1997 that the Net was for primarily for e-commerce, secondarily for advertising, and tertiarily for everything else. That belief is no less widespread today. In fact advertising is far more wild today than it was back then. All “table for two” says is that there is something fundamental about the Net that supports everything, and not just those two. Pointing that out does not mean I am against commerce or advertising. It means only that I’m aiming toward something deeper.

    In “The Longing”, one of David Weinberger’s chapters in The Cluetrain Manifesto, he does a good job (in 1999) of expressing the spirit of what I had hoped to get at with this post.

  7. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    @Paul – Brett’s talking about the fight between Google and large ISP’s over video (YouTube), which while it’s not Google’s current cash-cow, is territory that all the players know will be *huge* in the future. The Berkman Center is not quite an organizational extension of Google here, but given all the connections and career interests, one could be forgiven for a bit of hyperbole in terms of viewing that as functionally true in spirit if not precisely in letter.

    Anyway, in the above, Doc is attempting to read a sort of benevolent social message from Internet protocols, and that tends to irritate people because this doesn’t exist at several levels. The network story is way oversimplified, and it doesn’t mean the moral read into it anyway. It’s akin to the attempts to create a justification of robber-baron capitalism from evolution. You know, the people who claim that survival of the fittest means that predators are best, therefore, economically, multibillionaires are the fittest of the market and so taxes are against the natural order of things. Then they can say they just want to allocate resources efficiently, what’s wrong with that?

    Maybe this is good politics in terms of language. But it’s just allegory best, like fables with talking animals, and like Social Darwinism at worst.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Seth. That’s good criticism, which I do appreciate.

    FWIW, I don’t see a “benevolent social message” in the Net’s protocols, but rather a larger context that can’t, or shouldn’t, be reduced to any of the constituent parts (such as a particular network among those inter-networked). I see in “table for two” a useful metaphor for understanding that larger context. And, unlike many of my friends (including Berkman ones) I don’t yearn or lobby for policy answers to bad behaviors by carriers and others. I think it’s too early for those.

  9. Paul Bouzide’s avatar

    I don’t know why the common-carriage road example isn’t apropos, even the “table for two” allegory isn’t too far of a stretch if you consider that the public road network supports transportation to any arbitrary source/destination pair. And I’m sympathetic to arguments about streaming video requiring additional investment in (segments of) the network, whose investment deserves a proper return. But notwithstanding the current problems funding road infrastructure using a fuel tax financed trust fund (problems because fuel consumption per mile driven is dropping), there are mechanisms in place to ensure (imperfectly) that heavy-haul trucks pay for a larger share than lighter personal vehicles. So again I don’t mind network operators trying to get more revenue from larger traffic sources, but I do mind Comcast or Verizon setting discriminatory pricing against Netflix because they want to get into the VoD business too. This would be as if J.B.Hunt owned and operated a tollway and charged Schneider tolls that made their service uncompetitive while keeping J.B. Hunt’s portion of the road consumption maintenance expense an accounting secret. Which is of course how business works *except* in cases where the business involves infrastructure that is regulated in the public interest to remain non-discriminatory (which still does not preclude the profitability of this business). And finally I’m quite a bit less sympathetic to pricing for small scale users that serves to inhibit “table for two” scenarios that lie well outside table hogging behavior or “content supplier/consumer” behavior. Some of these represent potential commercial innovation that I would venture is priced out due to the way that the bit carriage business seems to be evolving.

  10. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    @Paul – the issue is that, to simplify a bit, ISP’s here are legally NOT common carriers. You may think it would be good economic policy that they should be (and they don’t like that at all). But there’s much history about how the Internet should be commercialized on the basis of ISP’s not being common carriers, and ISP’s of course lobbying to keep it that way. So anyone proposing ISP’s be common carriers runs into the policy grinder of 1) They aren’t now, why change it and 2) Privatize/deregulate/government-bad (this causes some amusing contortions with the Berkman Center, which serves a certain group of money and power, trying to find ways of saying government regulation is absolutely necessary of business here, but don’t get the wrong idea that other government regulation of business would be good).
    This is why the FCC had a hard time in court with Net Neutrality regulations (not that I necessarily agree, just stating it descriptively).

    @Doc – here’s where I see that benevolent social message – “All attempts to restrict it and lock it down will fail to alter the base fact that the Net’s protocols are designed to eliminate the functional distance, as far as possible, between any two points, any two devices, any two people.” I don’t think you meant there “Copyright infringement is impossible to fight, people who are extensively libeled just have to take it, privacy is dead get over it”.

  11. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Not only are ISPs not LEGALLY common carriers; they were never intended to be. Internetworking, and the Internet, were designed to allow PRIVATE networks, owned by PRIVATE entities, to exchange the traffic which their owners and operators allowed them to exchange.

    In this, they were specifically designed to be different from the telephone monopolies of the time, whose lines WERE akin to public roads because they were subjected to extremely heavy regulation in exchange for their government-granted and protected monopolies.

    The now-outmoded Bell System, a circuit-switched network which made calls between two places at a time, was designed to provide that “table for two,” more commonly known as a “telephone call.” (This model was later extended to data via the commercially unsuccessful ISDN, which likewise made calls between two locations.) The Internet, based on a collection of agreements between private entities, departed from that model and beat the phone system model cold. To try to impose that model on the Internet to satisfy the greed of corporations like Google (and people who receive money from it, including Isenberg, Berkman, etc.) would be to destroy it.

  12. Brett’s avatar

    Not only are ISPs not LEGALLY common carriers; they were never intended to be. Internetworking, and the Internet, were designed to allow PRIVATE networks, owned by PRIVATE entities, to exchange the traffic which their owners and operators allowed them to exchange.

    In this, they were specifically designed to be different from the telephone monopolies of the time, whose lines WERE akin to public roads because they were subjected to extremely heavy regulation in exchange for their government-granted and protected monopolies.

    The now-outmoded Bell System, a circuit-switched network which made calls between two places at a time, was designed to provide that “table for two,” more commonly known as a “telephone call.” (This model was later extended to data via the commercially unsuccessful ISDN, which likewise made calls between two locations.) The Internet, based on a collection of agreements between private entities, departed from that model and beat the phone system model cold. To try to impose that model on the Internet to satisfy the greed of corporations like Google (and people who receive money from it, including Isenberg, Berkman, etc.) would be to destroy it.

  13. Brett Glass’s avatar

    In other news: Berkman is apparently being offered a $600,000 bribe — er, settlement — to accept weak privacy constraints on Facebook (and, by extension, Google+ and similar services). Given its past behavior, it seems likely to sell out: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/07/groups-get-facebook-millions/all/

  14. computer repair sacramento’s avatar

    “The Internet is a table for two. Any two, anywhere. All attempts to restrict it and lock it down will fail to alter the base fact that the Net’s protocols are designed to eliminate the functional distance, as far as possible, between any two points, any two devices, any two people.

    You might think the things that you do online are between you and your computer. Not so. Your cyber-privacy is constantly being chipped away: by your Internet provider, your cell phone carrier and lawmakers. Before you post to a social-media site or browse the Internet for that report you’re compiling on pedophiles, keep in mind how your actions online are anything but private.

    At issue is the struggle to protect privacy rights while fighting the online theft of American intellectual property. Here is what you should know:

    SOPA Shelved, or is it? Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives shelved its proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA (H.R. 3261). The legislation’s surface intent seemed sound: It would have given holders of music, films, books and other intellectual property copyrighted in the United States some teeth to stop its illegal distribution, even if that property was stored in an offshore server. But the bill required such sweeping enforcement that Google communications director Bob Boorstin said, “YouTube would just go dark immediately.” If you were caught unwittingly posting a video of your niece singing along with the latest Taylor Swift tune, you could be blocked from Facebook and by your Internet provider and you’d have the burden of proving your innocence.

  15. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Boorstin’s statement is an admission of what we already knew: YouTube encourages piracy and relies on it for revenue. However, SOPA would not have shut it down. Contrary to the lies promulgated by Google’s lobbyists, SOPA only allowed foreign sites dedicated to piracy to be blocked.

  16. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    Actually, no, SOPA had a provision that could have cost Google a huge amount of money, related to “safe harbor” rules. That’s why Google opposed it so extensively. This is what’s driving Internet politics, basically the “Fat Corporate Bastards” of the above.

  17. Brett Glass’s avatar

    In fact, those provisions, which were a bit murky, were modified — and many of them removed — during the markup process. And more clauses were added to the bill to emphasize that it was applicable only to foreign servers dedicated to piracy.

    But Google is committed to fighting ANY bill that might strengthen copyright enforcement. This is because it makes huge amounts of money by encouraging, and then turning a blind eye to, the posting of infringing material. It also makes millions from AdSense ads on sites devoted to copyright infringement. And it WANTS to make still more by delivering copies of books without paying the authors (the Google Books case).

    Its latest move includes the formation, via the multiple lobbying shops that it funds and controls, of the so-called “Internet Defense League.” The purpose of this group is to allow Google to trigger knee-jerk, astroturf campaigns against anything that might be adverse to its business interests, including (but not limited to) laws that protect authors’ and creators’ rights. The group will point to whatever law is being proposed and falsely claim that it would “break the Internet.” A sort of supersized version of the old “modem tax” scam. Such reputable (not!) sites as TorrentFreak have enthusiastically supported the effort.

  18. lisbeth jardine’s avatar

    I’ll just add my two-cents worth–I was actually looking for some other thing–I have about got to the point where I am going to ditch the internet because I cannot stand the advertising. There seems to be no way to escape it.

  19. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    Brett, do you really believe that Google spend all that money just to fight a bill that would only affect foreign sites, and not YouTube?

    Doc, you’re so modest. You haven’t posted that you are, in the words of your past co-author, a “WSJ centerfold!” Or “Actually, it’s more like Doc Searls: Wall Street Journal Cover Boy!”

    Oh, those “Fat Corporate Bastards”. They must be so stupid, in making a “centerfold” and “Cover Boy” (not my phrases) out of someone who is just going to destroy their power. How do they even tie their shoes, much less amass vast amounts of wealth?
    What’s Wrong With This Picture?

  20. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Seth, I’m not even sure what to say yet. So I’m letting it slide for now, and just dealing with all the Q&A on various channels other than this one.

  21. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Seth, Google spent relatively modest amounts of money fighting SOPA; its lobbying mechanisms were already in place and had resources to spare.

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