In the past 10 years the Internet has emerged as a global
network that enables instant communications and borderless
commerce. The popularity of blogs and the roll out of high-speed
wireless connections have already begun to reshape the Web, but what
will the Internet look like a decade from now?
The Wall Street Journal Online invited Web pioneer Vint Cerf and
tech pundit Esther Dyson to discuss what they expect in the next 10
years. Mr. Cerf envisions an interplanetary network, while Ms. Dyson
ponders a loss of privacy and an information glut. Their conversation,
carried out by email, is below.
Mr. Cerf begins: Mobility has entered the world, big time,
during the past ten years and the Internet is adapting to
it. Geo-indexed information has increased in value as users query
"where is the nearest..." and get answers because the system knows
where you are when you ask, thanks to the Global Positioning
System. Combining media in processing information is increasingly
common. Voice a question but get the answer back on your laptop's
display, the car's navigational display or your mobile's small but
high-resolution screen. Take a photo with the phone and send it
automatically to your blog which you just dictated.
Vinton G. Cerf is the chief Internet "evangelist" for Google
Inc. where he is responsible for identifying new technologies. From
1994 to 2005, Mr. Cerf was a senior vice president at MCI. Mr. Cerf
co-designed the TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the
Internet. In 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for
his work on the Web. He has been chairman of the Internet's regulatory
body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or
ICANN, since 2000.
Esther Dyson is editor at large at CNET Networks Inc., where she is
responsible for its quarterly newsletter, Release 1.0, and its PC
Forum executive conference. Before selling her business to CNET in
2004, Ms. Dyson had co-owned EDventure Holdings and edited Release
1.01 since 1983. She is a technology investor focused on emerging
markets and serves on the board of several start-ups. She was chairman
of the Electronic Frontier Foundation from 1995 to early 1998 and
founding chairman of ICANN from 1998 to 2000.Broadband is finally
coming, and is highly penetrant already in some communities such as
Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo. Our experiences with entertainment video
will almost certainly change as we tend to download and watch later
rather than watching only what is currently being transmitted.
Channel surfing will be replaced by menu selection. And advertising
will change in very interesting ways as a result -- but that's for
By the end of the decade, we will have a two planet Internet in
operation as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is prepared to serve as a
store-and-forward relay to ground-based rovers, a mobile science
laboratory and other future missions to Mars. The Interplanetary
Internet, serving robotic and manned missions, will grow from this
simple configuration to a more complex backbone of interplanetary
links as each new mission is launched to the planets and satellites of
our solar system. Virtual visits to our near-space neighborhood will
be as common as a trip to the local supermarket as we amass enormous
amounts of information about the region of space in which we
live. Kids will have virtual field trips to visit the Spirit and
Opportunity sites on Mars and other places from which we have gathered
so much information already and will gather in the next decade.
Ms. Dyson writes: The Internet will have become more ubiquitous
but less visible. It will still exist as PCs and monitors, but it will
also be all around us in other devices: everything from buses and
luggage transmitting their locations so they can be tracked, to
friends and children signaling their presence anytime you might want
to reach them. Rather than being a separate virtual world, the
Internet will encompass the physical world as well; most things will
have Internet identities available remotely as well as a physical
presence available only if you are nearby.
What will the Internet look like a decade from now? Join a
discussion3.For most people and applications, the biggest issue will
be not search but filtering: So much will be knowable, but what do you
want to know. People will initially be overwhelmed with choices, but
vendors -- competing vendors, I hope, rather than monopolies or
governments -- will make default choices for individuals. My hope is
that those defaults will be socially valuable, but visible and easy
for any user to change for himself; "Paradox of Choice" author [Barry
Schwartz] has called this "libertarian paternalism."
Mr. Cerf: Esther is spot-on about the Internet of devices: they
will be manageable through the network and various services will help
us to do that. Entertainment equipment and other consumer electronics
will likely be the first to undergo this transformation. Household
equipment will be next and then office equipment and the things in our
cars and festooned on our bodies.
As to the information glut, we'll use all the tools we've used
in the past to cope with too much information. We don't read every
book, newspaper and magazine published. We don't see every movie. We
don't listen to every radio broadcast. We look for clues from friends,
trusted sources, personal experience, interest to refine and
select. We'll use all those tools and our automated search engines to
help out here.
Ms. Dyson: I think you'll see a fundamental shift in the balance
of power towards individuals. Individuals will declare what kinds of
vendors they want sponsoring their content, and then those vendors
will have the privilege of appearing, discreetly, around the user's
content. There will be much less "advertising" and much more
communication to interested customers. Advertisers will have to learn
to listen, not just to track and segment customers.
So the message to marketers is: If you can't sell your product
(assuming it's already in the market), fix the product! Don't try to
change the situation by advertising.
Consumers will publish wish lists for marketers to scan. Also,
their choices will be influenced by their friends' comments much more
than by marketers' messages.
On the other hand, it will be much harder for consumers to get
free content anonymously, because advertisers will want to know more
about the people they are paying to reach. In many cases, whether
email or ads, users may even get a share of the marketer's
payments. (See AttentionTrust.org4 or my op-ed on Goodmail5 or my post
on Release 1.06.)
This makes sense from advertisers' point of view, but it has a
social downside: People who buy Porsches can earn more from marketers
than people who buy used cars. People without money will find it
harder and harder to get free content -- which means a role for
nonprofits in funding access to content for all.
Mr. Cerf: Advertising is going to be different on the network as
broadband kicks in. "IPTV" is a sort of misnomer that misleads into
thoughts of streaming audio and video when in fact it is an
opportunity to download and play later. In addition, it offers an
opportunity to download ancillary material that expands on the video,
perhaps adds some interactive software that might be relevant to it,
or even download advertising material associated with products placed
into the video program. One could even imagine freezing the screen
(pausing the video) and mousing around to click on objects in
view. Some of these might have had advertising material
downloaded. And since it might be known roughly where you are and at
what time you are watching, the advertising might contain live/Web
components that are tailored to these factors.
Ms. Dyson: I'm going to take this in a slightly different direction.
There's a lot of, er, attention being paid right now to the
so-called "attention economy." Indeed, O'Reilly [Media Inc.] subtitled
its recent (March) Web 2.0 conference "The attention economy." It even
featured author Michael Goldhaber, who wrote about the concept some 14
years ago for my newsletter Release 1.0.
But people are generally missing the point; Mr. Goldhaber has
trouble getting attention for the mirror he is holding up. Most
commentators see the attention economy as the intention economy, where
attention = intention (to buy). That version of the attention economy
is all about sales leads and monetization of attention, and radical
ideas include the notion of users getting paid for their attention, as
I mentioned earlier, whether in the form of surfing behavior
(www.root.net7) or a willingness to read email.
While adults worry about privacy, kids seek attention. They post
poetry, photos, exaggerated tales of personal exploits, music in order to
create an online presence that garners attention.
Doesn't this all come down to money in the end? you might
ask. Don't kids buy things in order to get attention? Sure. And in the
same way, the new financial-industrial economy all came down to food
and shelter as we made the transition from an agrarian, feudal
economy. But there are new dynamics worth noting. Most users are not
trying to turn attention into anything else. They are seeking it for
For sure, the attention economy will not replace the financial
economy. But it is more than just a subset of the financial economy we
know and love.
Mr. Cerf: This is an interesting observation and frankly I'd not
thought about it in quite the same terms that Esther uses. I must
admit that the behavior patterns do look as if some of these users
(many of them young) feel "paid" when they have lots of "friends" or
lots of hits on their Web sites. I wonder how much of this is youthful
"I am ME! Look at ME!" Is any of this a kind of search for identity?
Is it exploration of different personas (as in the role-playing
games)? Some of this might be attributed to a natural desire to feel
part of a group (gangs, cliques, teams, etc.).
To some extent, the infrastructure needed to support this
potentially self-centered behavior is being paid for through
advertising revenues, making it appear to be free to many or most
Ms. Dyson: Yes indeed, it is youthful behavior etc. - just as it
once was youthful behavior to be obsessed with money and to want more
money than you could use, which horrified the sages who cared more
about old-fashioned values. The shift is not absolute; it's where
society focuses (or where some societies are starting to
focus). Indeed, Mr. Goldhaber has been writing about this for many
years. In some ways it's an outgrowth of TV as much as of the Net. TV
makes people want attention; the Net enables them to get it.
And yes, advertising supports most of it. It's just that the
advertisers are not the center of attention the way they would like to
Mr. Cerf concludes: The Internet reaches only about a billion
users so there are another 5.5 billion to go. It is beginning to
include a good deal of information in many languages, but the domain
name system needs to be outfitted with a similar capability. Access
speeds are increasing but in a very non-uniform fashion. Business
models for supporting various parts of the Internet are also in flux
with new models being tested almost daily. Mobility is a component of
the Internet that is plainly of increasing importance and will drive a
variety of new applications. Entertainment media will be augmented
with Internet counterparts with results that may not be entirely
predictable but which will almost certainly have an interactive
component missing from the traditional media. A plethora of "things"
will become Internet connected and managed. There will be inventions
for the use of the Internet that will come from academic and user
settings to surprise us all when they appear, as they have in the
past, in unexpected ways -- propagating through viral
advertising. There's an Internet in your future, resistance is futile.
Ms. Dyson closes: Let me add just a couple of points:
The Internet so far has existed mostly in cyberspace, linking
computers fed data by humans and by other computers. The Internet of
the future will be much more tightly linked to physical space. First
of all, many of its future users will connect via cellphones, and the
net will know more about their physical locations and their identities
than it does about those who reach it by computer. Beyond that, as
Vint writes, the Internet will link things in space (on Earth as well
as in off-Earth "space").
The Net of the future will know much more about the physical
world and all the things in it ... and of course that information will
be available to human users. The big challenges in the future will be
limiting distribution of that information (security, privacy,
confidentiality, etc.) on the one hand and filtering it out on the
other (not search, but data-mining, exception-reporting, spam
filtering, friend recommendations, behavioral targeting and the
like). The big questions are who controls the filtering: individuals,
organizations or governments? Will it be done transparently?
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