Multiple reports were expelled into the surrounding ether from the Supernova conference on decentralization in Palo Alto (blogged by Jeremy Allaire, Cory Doctorow, Glenn Fleishman, JD Lasica, Mitch Ratcliffe, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, according to Dave Winer and Dan Gillmor. Dan was even pressed into service to replace a scheduled keynote by Clay Shirky, stranded here in NYC by his airline). Dave Winer participated as a panelist on blogging but was tepid at first about even the bit of centralized meatspace the conference required:
Understandable. Conferences, like computer magazines, seemed to have been eclipsed by the immediacy of the web. But the unexpected seemed to happen as the conference was blogged from the floor by many who brought their unique insights, their own publics and shared the ability to look over each other’s shoulders. Even Dave seemed to warm to it, perhaps helped by companionship over spicy noodles:
Life’s like that. We’d rather stay in our own cocoons but are forced to congregate and we end up getting more than we expected. “April is the cruelest month,” T. S. Eliot lamented over spring’s annual invitation to party.
Like the Supernova conference, supernovas are the source of the heavy elements that have been organized into humans and other simple creatures. The Big Bang was certainly the archetype of centralization – everything’s been rushing to the edges ever since. The elements spewing from the big bang were lightweight: hydrogen, helium, some deuterium and lithium. Evolution’s just a process of combining in novel ways. In the primordial minute or so, sub-nuclear particles coalesced into subatomic particles and then into atoms, molecules, etc. My favorite data point is that a neutron has 10.3 minutes to join up with a proton or it disappears. I guess a 16-year-old could relate.
After spreading around the universe, the light elements coalesced enough to form stars and to fire up the fusion of hydrogen into helium and thence into bigger molecules right up to carbon, iron, etc. Cosmologists point out that life depends on supernovae to expel those elements out into space to populate the universe with enough heavier elements to support organic chemistry. Every interesting atom in our bodies was cooked in the fires of an unnamed sun and exploded into our sun’s orbit by a supernova.
David Isenberg seems to assume what everyone else seems to dismiss out of hand – that we can run fiber to the home and be done with it. If the cablecos could profit on coax 30 years ago, why is it assumed someone else can’t make sense of fiber today – it’s not like you can’t buy stuff using it.
Cory references George Gilder who is worth quoting here. Gilder’s Law of the Telecosm holds that bandwidth capacity grows ten times faster than Moore’s Law of microprocessors doubling every 18 months or so. He pointed out as early as 1992 in The Coming of the Fibersphere that, “In a world of dumb terminals and telephones, networks had to be smart. But in a world of smart terminals, networks have to be dumb“.
Gilder characterized an optical fibersphere, analogous to the atmosphere from which we use clever radios to pluck just the message we want while ignoring the rest. The rise of ubiquitous clever connected machines threatens every intermediary and its employees and shareholders. Whether they’re telcos, “content” companies, wireless providers or the politicians who work for them, there’s a zillion people and organizations which, however clueless they may be, can sense that there’s something radically wrong with their income model and a lot of franchises are about to be cancelled. His Fibersphere article hoped that the owners of fiber would just hook it all up together and let us light it from the edges, so that every packet is propagated everywhere to be grabbed by just the intended recipient. Under this model, a signal will travel down the fiber to Beijing faster than it will move from your microchip to the back of your computer.
The solution of the centralists is cleverness. We’re promised services that the smart machines don’t quite do yet (but will), like Voice Over IP, Pay Per View,
And that’s the take-away from any discussion about decentralization vs. concentration. When you buy a service, you don’t buy it from a company or its owners or its asset base or even a stable set of employees. You buy it from a business plan and nothing more. “The most malleable of all laws (Moore’s Law, Gilder’s Law) is accounting law.”
If the business plan doesn’t work out, your trust will be violated in a New York minute. Airlines routinely cancel flights to maximize their scarce returns, and probably don’t have a lot of choice. Clay Shirky, trying to get to the Supernova conference to deliver his keynote, could only hope that his reservation reflected a reservoir of resources, competence and intent adding up to a timely flight to the west coast. Unfortunately you don’t buy a plane ticket from a pilot, a worthy craft and loyal crew, but from a set of contingent, often promiscuous business intentions.
Separation of Church and Statement
I’m convinced we need to separate representations about quality from those from whom we seek quality. Until quality is quantified and rolled up into useful data across vendors, customers and individual products, we’ll continue to stumble around in the agora bumping into the stalls. It’s information that will never be organized by vendors since it chronicles the failure of business plans that were never going to work anyway, and in some vague sense, they knew it all along.