Antimatroid, The

thoughts on computer science, electronics, mathematics

The next decade of the Internet

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This post marks the return of The Antimatroid after a four month hiatus. I will be resuming my monthly publication format. Next month’s post will be on multi-agent consensus forming followed by infectious diseases modeling.

Last month, specifically- October 29, 2009, marked the 40th year of the Internet- which got me thinking a bit about the direction the Internet is heading in and how people will ultimately utilize the Internet in the future. Part of this thought exercise is thinking what devices people will use to connect to the Internet, what they will do once connected and what type of networks their data will travel over. Naturally, thinking about what information those devices are capable of collecting, presenting, processing; what people will share, interact and consume while connected; and finally the technology behind the network, who owns the network and how it is regulated. The other half of this exercise, is looking at the trajectory that history has provided us for extrapolation.

According to Gartner, there were 41.0 million smartphones sold worldwide in the second quarter of 2009. At present, there ought to be roughly a billion smartphones worldwide, each of these phones is connected to some kind of network capable of accessing the Internet. Most of these phones have built-in cameras, voice recorders, GPS and accelerometers. Just about any other sensor could be added to these phones. Imagine each one sending up that sensor data to The Cloud- GPS information coupled with images could allow for image recognition to be performed real-time to tell the user about what they are looking at, weather sensors could be added to capture accurate weather information to provide more accurate weather models. Another aspect to consider- each smartphone has processing power of 500Mhz to 1Ghz. That is a lot of potential processing power left untapped, on the order of an exahertz. Telecoms could lease out this processing power to whomever and make a bundle if the margin is right.

With all this information that can come up from smartphones as well as traditional machinery, the Internet becomes much more real-time and much more focused. To make sense of this information, there will continue to be a need for efficient and effective searching- Google isn’t going anywhere- but it will have to become more specialized providing location aware searching, e.g., being able to walk into a bookstore and having instructions on how to find a copy of an original print favorite of yours down to the bookcase and row. Aggregation sites that understand how to filter down the data and present it in a meaningful and insightful way will be necessary to make sense of all the data. Sites that present media from multiple sites, multiple social networks and results from multiple search engines will gain value. The ability to take in multiple data streams in a standardized way is important- a common interface for real-time data.

Data, obviously, isn’t just text, it is audio, pictures and video. We saw how streaming media was a boom in the late 90s for music. The emergence of VoIP as an effective replacement for telephone lines- both residential and commercial- has seen adoption in leaps and bounds. News organizations have adopted the net in varying degrees allowing for much faster distribution of news as it happens. The remaining media is television. YouTube, Hulu, Netflix have seen the commercial benefits of bringing streaming video to the world. Traditional media outlets are streaming their programs online – Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC etc all have fantastic options available for free. The trend here being that we can bring all of our traditional media onto a single delivery system: news, documents, images, audio, video – all the media we’ve come to adopt over time – can be delivered to you on a single pipe.

People will continue to share information, but the focus will be on better management of their networks, their social circles to be more precise- both virtual and physical. Networks like Facebook and LinkedIn do a decent job now of connecting people with one another, but fail to adequately manage which information is dispersed amongst the associates in our networks. The focus on managing, marketing and protecting our identities and personas will become more prominent; publishing, sharing and distributing information that we find, produce and rehash will become easier.

Of course this is a very North American view of the Internet. It is estimated that 25% of the world’s population is connected to the internet according to Internet World Stats. Of that quarter, Asia represents roughly 42.6% of all internet users followed by Europe at 24.1% and North America at 14.6%. Among all Internet users, 27.6% speak English, 22.2% Chinese and 7.9% Spanish. Unsurprisingly, the corresponding number of web pages by those languages are not proportionate to their language base. English website constitute 68.4% of all pages followed by Japanese at 5.9% and German at 5.8% according to ClickZ. When you get down to it, the Internet contains a lot of information, but most likely in a language that the user doesn’t speak, unless they happen to know English. I believe that we will continue to see English as the dominate language of the web until new standards come in to place that allow for better support of the Unicode character encoding at each part of the Internet technology stack. At which time, I would expect to see page share by language to be proportionate to world language shares. I would not expect to see an increase in the number of Middle East and African users given the more pressing matters of each region- as of now each represents less than 4% of internet users. Naturally, as language shares normalize, automated translation will become increasingly important as great ideas are not limited to just one language.

As I draw to a close, I’d like to mention one more area of interest: regulation. I believe that this area will become more contentious as the number of individuals on the Internet from minority nations increases in the coming decade. It should seem reasonable that anyone, anywhere has the right to access, produce and discuss the lawful content of their choice without obstruction from a foreign body. Problem being, what is lawful content? We should all be able to recognize that there exist ideas that should be allowed to spread freely, even when we do not agree with those ideas and that that information should be spread freely unobstructed by any entity.

The second aspect to this problem of regulation is how people will be charged to access the Internet. Internet Service Providers should not charge customers to access certain sites, doing so is a form of censorship as well as a form of control a companies primary resource: users. ISPs could have the ability to reduce a website’s user traffic by charging those users money to access that site and thus reducing the number of users that might go to a website and thus reducing the profitability of that website. Likewise, if an ISP did not want users to visit a particular website, they could drop all packet requests to that website or return that the site does not exist. practices such as these are why it is important for different nations to adopt the policy of Network Neutrality. As the Internet reaches its next phase of development it will become increasingly important that the foundations that made it so popular are not disregarded in favor of those motivated by political or corporate ideologies.

The Internet has proven to be the truest of democratic forms, a wildly successful bazaar, a comprehensive library and ultimately a platform that enables people from every background to access, distribute and discuss information. I suspect that we will see the Internet become real time, it will be able to provide us with location aware content, be on the smallest and largest of gadgets from our cellphones to computers. We will access all of our information from the Internet: music, radio, television and news. It will become easier to manage our social networks and personal data. The shift from English to local languages will begin to build momentum as Unicode support becomes more widely adopted. There will be potential for underrepresented regions to start having a presence on the Internet. Last but not least, it will start to see an increased trend towards less censorship and more regulation towards keeping it an open platform.


Written by lewellen

2009-12-01 at 8:00 am

Posted in Business

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