Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Book review: The Future of the Internet

The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It, by Jonathan Zittrain

I have always been a bit disturbed by the trend to rely on distant servers for specific purpose software that could be written for the desktop computer instead. This book did a good job of explaining exactly why my discomfort is justified. Zittrain makes the argument that the internet is valuable because of its "generativity", but also that that very openness, plasticity and freedom that leads to its success also leads to malicious uses. Those malicious uses lead people to ask for more "secure" solutions, by which they mean less generative ones: locked-down PCs where nobody can install anything without a central authority approving it, exactly like the iPhone. So the very thing that leads to the internet's success indirectly leads to its downfall, too.

It can get a bit dry and detailed, but that's to be expected in this type of book.

The potential solutions are where things start to fall down, as always, and some of the proposed answers have a faint tinge of unintended consequences. If you attempt some things to fix the internet, they won't work, and other things will just subtly break the system or cause a redirection in the arms race. That's not to say that it can't be done, but to my mind the solutions didn't quite ring totally true. Also, although tethered appliances under the control of their suppliers still have a security problem. It's just that there's a different group in charge of what can and cannot run on them.

Still, I think this is a very valuable book, and well worth reading, if only to understand what makes the internet work and what makes it fail. If you care about people or technology and where they might push each other, this is the book for you.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have always preferred writing desktop software rather than websites.
PPS - Even when they're highly functional and clever websites in really nifty languages.

No comments: