Posted by: aboutalbion | February 21, 2013

The internet and the world wide web

I enjoy opportunities to use a computer, and a talk by John Naughton [Vice-President of a Cambridge college] has enabled me to catch up a bit on the background to what I do with computers.

He has some pithy ways of expressing things.  For example, “What is the internet?”.  His current answer is: “A global network for springing surprises”.

So, “What is the difference between the internet and the world wide web?”.  The internet is “a dumb network”, while the world wide web is “a smart application”.

In other words, the world wide web is big ‘surprise number one’.  He regards filing sharing and voice over IP as two other big surprises.  In his view, Wikipedia, Google, and Facebook are smaller surprises.

John Naughton referred to the two design axioms of the original internet.  Namely, (i) the internet should have no central control, and (ii) the internet should not be optimised for any one particular application.

His concern is whether, over time, the open internet is capable of (and will be) captured by a corporate organization – in much the same way as the (landline) telephone, the cinema, the radio were.  He referred with approval to Tim Wu’s recent book “Master Switch”, which narrates the histories of the communications technologies of the twentieth century.

John Naughton wonders if ‘net neutrality’ can be maintained …

[Naughton, John (2000) A Brief History of the Future (2nd edition).  Phoenix.
Wu, Tim (2012) The Master Switch.  Atlantic.]

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