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Six Things you need to know about Bubble 2.0

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2. What's value for money in the New Walled Gardens?

But what limits are acceptable? Most of us can agree that when mobile operators block well-established TCP/IP services, such as SMTP and POP3, this isn't on. And many Reg readers don't view DRM as acceptable, either. However, the only way to ensure DRM is banished forever for the consumer is either to legislate it out of existence, or to ensure there is no financial incentive for rights holders to pursue those locks and keys - and that attractive alternative compensation paths exist. Given the strength and brutal effectiveness of the rights lobby - and the ineptness and navel-gazing of the technology lobby - the legislation we've seen so far has been entirely in one direction. Like many people, I've concluded that only a blanket license, or some kind of compensation pool for digital media, can fix this. It's proved successful for other new technologies, from the player piano, to radio, to loudspeakers in public places. And it'll eventually work for digital media, too.

So until the rights holders can be convinced of they're better off under a blanket license - and they're actually far less opposed to it than they publicly admit - we're going to be stuck in a DRM dark age.

However, cracks are appearing in the dam. 2006 will see some further fragmentation of what we've traditionally accepted at the unitary open internet, as the rights holders give their blessing to experiments such as Mashboxx and PlayLouder MSP.

In these networks, subscribers can merrily swap away, knowing that artists will be compensated. The bargain means that the ISP will try and stop leakage of copyright material leaving the network - which is undoubtedly a technological limitation. But there's hope that these silos will eventually have enough common purpose to merge - effectively introducing, from the bottom-up what probably won't be introduced top-down by an order from the Library of Congress' Copyright Office.

Will these experiments work? It depends on what balance they strike, of course.

Reader Scott Pedigo is vehemently opposed to blanket licenses on principle, but says he might accept a service if these criteria were met: "1) the idiots quit attacking their own customers; 2) the price is right; 3) there is either no DRM, or one which doesn't get in my way AT ALL."

I'd agree - that's a good criteria. For now, no one knows how these new systems will play out. If they're successful, it'll be because they're offering much better value-for-money than either 99 cents a song, or the $14 a month subscription surcharge services such as Rhapsody charge on top of your monthly ISP fee. In other words, the cost of participation will be so much lower and the choice of music (everything on everyone else's hard drive) much richer. If they go badly, it'll because they offer the worst of both worlds: restrictive DRM and more blocked ports. We'll see.

But the Walled Gardens are an example where the cry of "t0tal fr33d0m dUdeZ!" is no longer a destination.

3. Packet-level Balkanization

Ironically, on the day Bubble 2.0 kicks off, there's a peering spat between two backbone providers, Level3 and Cogent. It threatens to slow down or block off their customers, and anyone trying to reach them. We've taken much of this for granted - and no one ever gives issues that concern ISPs much of a thought, even expensive issues such as the internet's Background Radiation.

Expect more such disputes as the GoogleNets, SkypeBays and Walled Gardens begin to exert their influence. When infrastructure providers also deliver content, packet prioritization and QoS become the next battleground. There's currently a lobby insisting that no controls be put in place: ostensibly to stop Big Telco borking Skype. Once it becomes an economic imperitive to do so, this will either be circumvented on the sly, or ignored by the New Walled Gardens.

And that's just in the West (see #5). If you're in China, ask your local Communist Party representative about the special QoS offers available today!

4. On every Commons, a toxin

When closed networks are unregulated, their owners inhibit technology that threatens their business. When open networks are unregulated, they're filled with spam. It isn't pretty: email spam, phishing, blog comment spam, TrackBack litter, fake SEO sites, Wiki wars, and now tag spam. As long as spam pays, it will flourish.

The cumulative effect of careless infrastructure design is now taking its toll. For the first time, Gartner Group warns, security concerns are hitting e-commerce where it hurts: in the wallet, with the analyst company revising predictions downwards.

So how do we strike a balance? There's no easy answer, but we must first acknowledge that there's is actually a problem first before we can begin to tackle it.

And not all spam is created by nefarious scamsters. In 2003 a few thousand weblog users managed to knock out Google, thanks to Trackbacks - a hack that allowed bloggers to leave comments with each other. It scored high on ingenuity, and thrilled the Wiki-fiddlers, but made the search results unusable. Sounding rather like Tom Lehrer's Wernher von Braun, Trackback's creator Ben Trott acknowledged the problem, but declined to take any responsibility: "This evolution of weblog pages isn't designed to conform to any one search engine (or journalist)," wrote Ben.

So, "the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?" as Tom Lehrer put it. "It's not my department".

It would help if every technologist must share the ecological concerns of the terraformers - - and at least a little sense of social responsibility.

5. The China Syndrome

The US is in one of its periodic bouts of panic - this time about the inexorable rise of the Chinese economy. This panic isn't shared by the Hive Minders, for whom the sky is always blue, and who assume with that peculiarly Californian sense of entitlement, that this new world is theirs by right.

But Asia has a history of doing things differently, and it has a distinctly pragmatic approach to computer networks. Asians doesn't mistake the Web for being the only computer system in the world, and many Register readers in the West appear to agree.

China has vowed to control its own technology destiny. It's ruthless about "openness", and unlike Japan, is developing through innovation not imitation. In addition to its own CPU, DSP and 3G air interface, Chinese engineers have already proposed a successor to IPv6, IPv8. One wonders whether the PRC needs a next generation TCP/IP when it has already created a Walled Garden using today's IPv4.

You can argue that the China factor really belongs with #4 - but it's more economic than technical. A nation which isn't afraid to tell Bill Gates' Microsoft where to get off, feels no obligation to listen to HTML jocks.

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