The Internet and Beyond:
Where No User and Information Has Gone Before
Paul Evan Peters
August 27, 1993.
Abstract = Less than ten years after the big bang in cyberspace that created
it, the Internet information environment has become home to a diverse and
rapidly growing population of communities. Many of these networked communities
create and use information in ways that represent modernized versions of
strategies and practices that were well-established before the emergence of the
Internet information environment. Other communities are striving to actualize
the genuinely innovative, even transformational, potential of the Internet as a
communication medium and publication channel. In this lecture I will survey
the large features of the current and relatively close horizon Internet
information landscape. I will also explore a number of areas in which
fundamental shifts in thinking are possible, even necessary, by creators and
users of networked information resources and services. Finally, during the
question and discussion period I will be pleased to entertain questions about
the politics and economics of the contemporary Internet, the National Research
and Education Network (NREN) program, and the National Information
Infrastructure (NII) initiative.
But first I would like to learn more about who you are. Some brief "session
aerobics" should suffice in this regard.
- Heard of the Internet.
- Use the Internet.
- Use the Internet for something other than electronic mail.
- Think the Internet was invented by the commercial fishing industry?!
- Faculty member.
- UNIX gearheads?!
The 12 year old girl in "Jurasic Park:" It's UNIX; I can handle this; Cool.
My basic perspective.
I represent a coalition of three large, primarily North American, associations
that address various aspects of knowledge management and information technology
in primarily higher education settings: ARL, CAUSE, and EDUCOM.
I manage a task force of 188 institutions and organizations that provide this
coalition with many of the insights, initiatives, and resources it needs to
pursue its mission of promoting the creation and use of netwworked information
resources and services to promote scholarship and intellectual productivity.
1/3 of the members of the task force are technology, information, and other
providers, and many of these are for-profit entities ... including UC Berkeley,
most of the other UC campuses, and the UC Office of the President.
The members of the Coalition and its task force have made major, perhaps the
major, investments of time, talent, and money in the Internet, and they are
eager to increase the returns on their investments by promoting the use of the
Internet for communication and publication as well as a for computation.
The Coalition is also a small business (3 folks and around $700K per year) that
offers a variety of networked information resources and services to the
We are ".org" and proud of it.
Bear with me as I develop two responses to the basic question "What is the
Internet?" I am sure that most if not all of you are comfortable with you own
answers to this question, or have long since given up worrying about as you
pressed on to using the capabilities of the Internet. Still, I want to
encourage you to think big about the Internet and its real and potential
impacts on research and education communities, and the best way I know to do
this is to begin by working through the basic question "What is the Internet?"
Let's start with a left-brain response, a response that should appeal to your
- The Internet is private, bypass, end-to-end digital network that serves the
research and education community, broadly conceived.
- It is a "virtual" private network in that it utilizes the carrier facilities of
the public network.
- It was built originally as a DOD effort to protect US computers from nuclear attack, a ratioanle similar to that which built the inter-state highway system.
- It was greatly expanded by the NSF to provide general access to rare and
expensive scientific instruments like supercomputers.
- As of the start of August, 1993 it contained 15,000 subnets in 60 countries, it embraced 1.75M computers in 26,000 domains, and it included email and other gateways to 175 countries.
- In July, 1993 it transported 6.75 terabytes of data on its NSFNET backone
segment alone, implying that nearly 100 terabytes of data were transported by
the NSFNET system of networks alone.
- It is an interoperating subset of the total IP address space which numbered
47,000 subnets in 91 countries as of the start of August, 1993.
- We do not know how many users are involved. Most informed commentators say
"Certainly as many as 3M regular users."
- It is managed in a highly decentralized manner that manifests all the strengths and weaknesses of how things are managed by / in research and education communities.
- Its US region was built with government funding that have always been highly
leveraged by non-government investments and funding.
- NSFNET is a $17M FY93 program.
- Related national expenditures estimated at over $300M.
- Over the next four year US government investments will move from the "network
supply" to the "network demand" side of the total funding equation, in accordance with the May 6 NSFNET solicitation.
Yes, I am a policy wonk and political junky and participating in long, tortuous discussions of the Internet public policy issues and strategies feeds my left brain.
Now let's try a right-brain response, a response that should appeal to your
- The Internet is the "networked information universe" that was formed by the big bang in cyberspace that occurred in 1986, when the NSFNet began production operation.
- A critical mass of performance and users has formed in the Internet, and this critical mass is generating networked information resources and services in a spontaneous and mutually reenforcing manner.
- A large portion of the opportunities and challenges presented by the contemporary Internet information environment can be described as embracing the realities that it presents.
- Said otherwise, a paleo-electronic information environment has formed in the
Internet. It is an environment in which crude tools are being used to fashion crude but functional artifacts, in which the dominant personalities are hunters, gathers, and story-tellers, and in which institutions and organizations, including libraries and information centers and providers of all types, are hard at work securing the gains of these pioneers by constructing fixed settlements that are attractive tosettlers who are much more interested is husbanding domesticated flora and fauna that they are in exploring what's over the next horizon.
- Flora = databases; they grow, requiring weeding and pruning, and do not move
from one place to another on their own accord.
- Fauna = algorithms; they spawn, infect, and have minds of their own.
- Yes, I love science fiction and reading science fiction stimulates my right brain.
- John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider.
- David Brin's Earth.
- Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.
- Milton Wolf's and R. Bruce Miller's Intelligent Robots, An Aware Internet, and Cyberpunk Librarians.
This right brain response is not an entirely whimsical interest of mine. Language is important, especially in public policy, and metaphors are invaluable wheels for the mind. One metaphor, that of the "information superhighway" has seized most if not all of the early engineering and public policy conceptual space.
- It is essentially a left-brain metaphor. As is the case with all metaphors, this has had the effect, however tacitly, of including some people and things to the exclusion of other people and things.
- It conceives of the Internet as something being built to meet specified requirements.
- It calls upon capitalists, engineers, and regulators to play the key roles.
- It worships Apollo as the god of the Internet.
The "information universe" metaphor speaks to the human cultural aspects of the Internet.
- It conceives of the Internet as growing in response to aspiration and risk taking.
- It calls upon pioneers, inventors, and evangelists to play the key roles.
- It worships Eros and Dionysus as the gods of the Internet.
VP Al Gore at LC on 7/14 recommended that we all start thinking in terms of data being presssed into information, information being distilled into knowledge, and knowledge being fermented into wisdom.
We have to develop both metaphors, use both brain hemispheres, if we are going
to realize the full potential of the Internet moment.
Next I want to switch gears and conduct a brief survey of contemporary Internet information resource and service planning and development strategies as I conceive them.
Three basic Internet information product and service planning and development questions.
- What am I already doing that I can now do better using the Internet? = The
- Projecting pre-existing systems to the Internet.
- Replacing pre-existing practices with new practices enabled by the Internet.
- Reinventing pre-existing production chains in light of the Internet.
- Changing where and how values, costs, and profits are generated.
- Changing how the information life-cycle is differentiated.
- Before-market = pre-prints.
- Main market = journals, monographs, and textbooks.
- After-market = reprints and compilations.
- What can I do now using the Internet that I have always wanted to do but never had the effective means to do? = The "innovating" question.
- Integrating access to resources and services off the Internet as well as on the Internet. This is what Archie, gopher, WAIS, World Wide Web, X.500, Kowbotics, and now Mosaic are all about. It may interest you to know that gopher traffic now ranks seventh on the NSFNET "bytes transported" list.
- What can I do now using the Internet that has here-to-fore been literally inconceivable? = The "transforming" question.
- It's anyone's guess, really. I think that an answer, perhaps the answer, will emerge from the concept of "context of work."
- People (theorists and empiricists, experts and novices, local and remote, and so forth) are one element.
- Types of knowledge (theories, primary data, findings, commentary on theories and findings, documentation, curricular materials, and so forth) are another.
- Formats of knowledge (text, graphics, sound, photos, animation, moving pictures.
- The immediate, even intimate, "co-presence" of types of people and types and
formats of knowledge in Internet communities, coupled with the rapid and
frequent interactivity enabled by basic Internet technologies, yields a context
of work in which ideas and facts flow so widely and with such little resistance
and such high resolution hat productivity rises to much higher levels and knowledge accumulates at much faster rates than here-to-fore attained or even imagined.
In addition to these three basic questions and the responses that they
generate, I believe that we are in the early stages of a transition from a
world in which journals and monographs are the basic units of knowledge
production and access managed by the information systems that support research
and education communities to a world in which articles and chapters and then,
ultimately, facts, theories, and opinions are the basic units of knowledge
production and access. This implies that our information systems have to support four levels of addressing and access: item, surrogate, content, and feature.
A second useful way of looking at contemporary Internet information resource and service planning and development efforts abstracts lessons which can be drawn from all of our experience to-date. I believe that there are at least three of these.
- Creative behaviors of network users are showing the way.
- Breakthroughs from people who are too desperate or too "dumb" (in the sense of
being ignorant of the "received wisdom") to know that what they are trying to
do is generally thought to be impossible or not worth doing.
- Breakthroughs from folks who are working on priorities unknown to the managers
who keep them in computer cycles and network bandwidth.
- Deadends from folks suffering from the "got a hammer, then everything is a
- Right now Internet technologies and policies allow us to do much more than we
are actually doing. We have to make the most of this temporary situation.
- Information is beginning to look for users
- The nomenclature of choice in contemporary Internet communities is resource discovery rather than resource organization.
- Registration is taking its place next to cataloging as a primary means for proving information to resource discovery and resource organization processes and servers.
- The Internet is becoming populated by actual information rather than by surrogates if information. Over time it will become populated by surrogates of users = algorithmic representations of users, of individual user interests (subjects, topics, formats, people, etc.) and characteristics (knowledge base, skills, budget, etc.).
- Every user should have her or his own personal model of the Internet information environment.
- Design to realize the full potential of Internet technological capabilities, not to convert things and practices from the pre-Internet environment.
- Self-determined (-located, -timed, and -based).
- Multi-media: not just text.
- Multi-host: all points on the network are both clients and servers.
- We are no longer designing "interfaces," we are design "stages."
- Interface -> A control panel where buttons, sliders, etc. need to be manipulated.
- Stage -> An environment where agents need to be directed.
It is time to conclude but I cannot end without saying something about the contemporary politics of networking and networked information. Governments at all level across the entire nation are now talking and beginning to do something about networks and networked information, and information applications figure prominantly in most of those conversations ... we're definitely in trouble now!?
- Some state and regional infrastructures.
- Power of applications and tools.
- Diversity of user population.
The "national information infrastructure" (aka the "national info-structure") is the umbrella concept for the sum total of all these efforts. It is not yet a well-defined concept. I hope that it comes to be understood as a very high performance, completely digital telecommunications system that serves at least as many homes, offices, and institutions as are served by the current telephone and cable systems and does so in a way that is consistent with public policy principles advanced by the Communications Act of 1934, Computer Inquiries I and II, and the Modified Final Judgement, principles like ommon carriage, universal access, and universal choice.
No matter what the political rhetoric would have us to believe, the primary
issue is not ways and means for designing and constructing an information
"superhighway." As George Gilder, to cite just one of the many experts on this
subject who coule be cited, has persuasively argued, most recently in his short
and wonderful book Life after Television, the issue is ways and means for
constructing the local road systems and on/off ramps to the superhighways that
already exist. Only 1% of the existing fiber in the United States has been
laid is being used, and that which is being used has 25,000 times more capacity
than is currently being utilized.
The research and education community has made the most progress to date with installing its "last mile" connections, because, to greatly simplify things, the research and education community has been able to demonstrate that it is more productive with networks that it is without them.
Never forget that the research and education community played a zero-sum funding game with itself to build its networks, and that federal government funding have been highly leveraged, by a factor that is at minimum 6 to 1, by funding from the research and education community. Other communities that are now hard at work on their last mile connections are ...
- A community that wants to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of enterprises and industries that have a wide geographic, perhaps even global, scope ... the Clinton / Gore community.
- A community that wants to create a retail paradise for couch potatoes ... the Barry Diller community.
- Stories about Barry Diller in the February 22 New Yorker and as the cover article of the February 28 New York Times Magazine.
- What does it mean that a former head of prime-time television for ABC
Entertainment, chief of Paramount Pictures, and chairman of Fox has become the CEO of QVC ("Quality, Value, and Convenience") Network, the home shopping division of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) the nation's largest cable company, less than a year after he had his first rhapsodic encounter with an Apple PowerBook?
- A community that wants to make government more accessible and accountable to
citizens ... the Ross Perot commnity.
- The research and education community has everything to gain by getting involved with, seeking to influence, and, ultimately, supporting the efforts of each of these "last mile" constituencies.
Questions and discussion.
- The May 6 NSFNET solicitation. Fear, uncertainty, and dread (FUD) arising from the four year transition from a NSF -funded backbone to a user -funded cloud.
- The resulting network will scale to new levels.
- The resulting network will be AUP -free.
- The resulting network service providers will regard their customers to be the
users of their facilities rather than the NSF.
- The discipline of the marketplace will influence cost.
- Short-term bias will be toward more users rather than more bandwidth.
- The NSF will be funding the demand rather than the supply -side.
- The MFJ of the Internet.
- No longer a monopoly long-haul provider.
- Concern about availability of local service.
- Concern about cost of local, and long-haul, service.
- The time available does not permit me to describe the tremendous victory won by the Internet community in general and by information resource and service sector in particular when The High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, the legislative vehicle for the NREN program, was signed into law on December 9, 1991 as PL102-194. Nor does time permit me to explain what an awful let-down 1992 was for the Internet community, and why. Some information on both of these topics is contained the annotated outline that I have given to Dave, and I would be pleased to get into these topics during the question and comment period or by way of a one-on-one conversation with any of you who would like that.
- The High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 = PL102-194.
- The NREN program is a networked information initiative as well as a networking
infrastructure initative = It promotes the use of research and education networks as communication media and publication channels as well as computational matrices.
- Access Provisions -- "The Network shall provide access, to the extent practicable, to electronic information resources maintained by libraries, research facilities, publishers, and affiliated organizations." NSF was charged with seeing to the connectivity of constituencies, like those associated with libararies and schools, that would otherwise not be connected.
- We did not make as much progress on the NREN program during 1992 as we thought
we would, but perhaps our hopes for the better of our expectations.
- Concerns about whether procurements by the NSF have been on or will be on a
level playing field.
- The High-Performance Computing and Communications Advisory Committee was not appointed.
- NSF was not funded to fulfill its responsibilities under the NREN Program to see to the connection of new or underserved elements of the research and education community.
- The OSTP report on six key NREN questions reenforced the growing impression that the NREN was being developed as a"Federal" rather than as a "National" networking initiative, in accordance with the vision of Bush Administration, as clearly and consistently expressed by the Science Advisor, rather than the vision of the Congress, as clearly expressed in PL102-194.
The political development that I want to jump to immediately is the election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore last November. I believe that this election changed the politics of the Internet, the NREN program, the NII program, and networking in general in a major and positive direction.
Bill Clinton's thinking in this area has been strongly influenced by now Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and an excellent source for insights into Robert Reich's thinking is his book The Work of Nations.
"The skill of a nation's work force and the quality of its infrastructure are what makes it unique, and uniquely attractive, in the world economy. Investments in these relatively immobile factors of worldwide production are what chiefly distinguish one nation from another; money, by contrast, moves easily around the world." [p. 264]
"The new organizational webs of high-value enterprise, which are replacing the old core pyramids of high-volume enterprise, are reaching across the globe." [p. 110]
The transition from "vertically integrated" to "virtually intgrated" production / marketplace relationships as explored by, among others, William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone in 1992 The Virtual Corporation.
"In the high-value enterprise, profits derive not from scale and volume but from continuous discovery of new linkages between solutions and needs. [p. 85]
"In the high-value enterprise ... the claims of both routine labor and financial capital increasingly are subordinated to the claims of those who solve, identify, and broker new problems." [p. 104]
"In the high-value enterprise, only one asset grows more valuable as it is used: the problem-solving, -identifying, and brokering skills of key people." [p. 108]
Al Gore's thinking and credentials in this area are better known than is the case for President Clinton. Of particular and not very widely reported interest is the analogy between US information policy and US agricultural policy offered by then Senator Gore in a speech at the 1991 ALA MidWinter Meeting in Chicago.
- US agricultural policy pays farmers to produce food which the US government then buys to store in silos where it often rots even though we live in a world of hunger.
- US information policy pays scientists and scholars to produce food which governments at all levels then buy to store in libraries where it often rots even though we live in a world of ignorance.
Bill's and Al's excellent adventure in Silicon Valley on February 22, 1993 when
they released Technology for America's Growth: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength.
"We are moving in a new direction to create an educational and training system
that challenges American workers to match their skills to the demands of a
fast-paced economy and challenges our students to reach for resources beyond
their classrooms, We are moving in a new direction to dramatically improve our
ability to transmit complicated information faster and further, to improve our
transportation systems, our health care, our research efforts, ... " [p. 2]
"Improve technology for education and training by supporting the development
and introduction of computer and communications equipment and software that can
increase the productivity of learning in formal settings, a variety of business
training facilities, and in homes." [p. 5-6]
"Provide funding for networking pilot projects through the National Telecommunication and Information Administrations (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce. NTIA will provide matching grants to states, school districts, libraries, and other non-profit entitites so that they can purchase connections needed for distance learning and for hooking into computer networks like the Internet. These pilot projects will demonstrate the benefits of networking to the educational and library communities." [p. 5-6]
"Promote dissemination of Federal Information." [p. 5-6]
The next steps in the Administration's strategies will be taken this Fall.
H. R. 1757 "The National Information Infrastructure Act of 1993" aka "The Boucher Bill":
This is a strong bill that has broad support among Internet/NREN constituencies. It provides funding authorization for access and connections to the network for all levels of education, libraries, museums, state and local governments. It sets goals for service to all citizens. It includes a reasonable balance in the roles of the pubic and private sector in developing and evolving the network toward a fully national information infrastructure. It includes provisions for training in network use, and it emphasizes the information access and dissemination capabilities of the Internet.
Has passed the House but may not make it through the Senate and into law this
Session due to the press of other items on the national agenda.
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