As Internet turns 40, Faces Mid-Life Crisis




The Internet is facing a mid-life crisis. It’s impossible to set an exact date for the birth of the Internet. According to Stan Schroeder, you could say that it was born when the first two nodes of the ARPANET were connected between UCLA and SRI International in Menlo Park, California, on October 29th, 1969. Or you could say that it all began when Len Kleinrock and his team at UCLA transferred some data between two computers on September 2nd that same year. Either way, he claims it was last seen with a blonde in a red corvette.

According to Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer, a variety of factors that are seen as barriers to its growth are to blame. Spam and hacking attacks force network operators to erect security firewalls. Authoritarian regimes block access to many sites and services within their borders. And commercial considerations spur policies that can thwart rivals, particularly on mobile devices like the iPhone.

"There is more freedom for the typical Internet user to play, to communicate, to shop — more opportunities than ever before," said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor and co-founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "On the worrisome side, there are some longer-term trends that are making it much more possible (for information) to be controlled."

Early obscurity helped the Internet blossom, free from regulatory and commercial constraints that might discourage or even prohibit experimentation. "For most of the Internet's history, no one had heard of it," Zittrain said. "That gave it time to prove itself functionally and to kind of take root." Even the U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet's early development as a military project, largely left it alone, allowing its engineers to promote their ideal of an open network.

"Allow that open access, and a thousand flowers bloom," said Kleinrock, a UCLA professor since 1963. "One thing about the Internet you can predict is you will be surprised by applications you did not expect." That idealism is eroding.

An ongoing dispute between Google Inc. and Apple Inc. underscores one such barrier. Like some other mobile devices that connect to the Internet, the iPhone restricts the software that can run on it. Only applications Apple has vetted are allowed. Apple recently blocked the Google Voice communications application, saying it overrides the iPhone's built-in interface. Skeptics, however, suggest the move thwarts Google's potentially competing phone services.

On desktop computers, some Internet access providers have erected barriers to curb bandwidth-gobbling file-sharing services used by their subscribers. Comcast Corp. got rebuked by FCC last year for blocking or delaying some forms of file-sharing; Comcast ultimately agreed to stop that. The episode galvanized calls for the government to require "net neutrality," which essentially means that a service provider could not favor certain forms of data traffic over others. But that wouldn't be a new rule as much as a return to the principles of 40 years ago.

Now, what the Internet's leading engineers are trying to avoid are barriers that are so burdensome that they squash emerging ideas before they can take hold. Already, there is evidence of controls at workplaces and service providers slowing the uptake of file-sharing and collaboration tools. Video could be next if consumers shun higher-quality and longer clips for fear of incurring extra bandwidth fees. Likewise, startups may never get a chance to reach users if mobile gatekeepers won't allow them. If such barriers keep innovations from the hands of consumers, we may never know what else we may be missing along the way. As seen in The Week. Read the full story on Yahoo! Tech News, and read Stan's post on mashable here.
BHIMBGO,
Erin



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