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Frank Remarks: DNS and RIAA: Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Your heart may go on, but it's time to get over the sinking of these systems, says Frank Fiore.
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I was driving to a client's office the other day and a bumper sticker on the car in front of me caught my eye. It read "The boat sank. Get over it!" It was, of course, a reference to the Titanic. It seems this particular citizen was tired of all the hubbub of the last few years over the sinking of the Titanic.

And he was right to feel that way. What is this infatuation with a tragedy that happened almost a hundred years ago? For a while there, you couldn't find a cable or news show that didn't rehash the sinking, agonizing over the arrogance and inability to see reality that lead to the demise of the doomed ship.

In a way, that's what's happening on the Internet today—arrogance and a refusal to face reality!

Who or what am I referring to? I give you two candidates: DNS and RIAA. You know them better as the Domain Name System and the Recording Industry Association of America. Both the registration of domain names and the RIAA's attempts at stifling the free exchange of music over the Net are merely attempts at rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Let me explain.

Refusal to Face Reality: DNS

First on deck is the DNS. I've been warning about the demise of URLs for some time now, based on two evolving developments:

  • The Internet is the database.

  • Internet-enabled devices are proliferating rapidly.

Both of these developments will extinguish the need for the popular http://www.hereIam.com URLs. But pick up just about any online industry journal, newsletter, or magazine from the last several months and you continue to see discussions, arguments, and plans for a virtual alphabet soup of new domain extensions, accompanied by high-pitched shrills of why we need them.

Let me tell you why this won't happen.

But first, a trip down memory lane with the phone company. Back when I was young—here I go again, dating myself—we had phone numbers like Beachwood 4-5789, in which Beachwood stood for the neighborhood, and you dialed the number on your phone as BW5-6789. (That number was also the title of a very popular song at the time. But I digress.) It didn't take long for the phone company to realize that using letters as part of a phone number would greatly restrict the number of phone numbers that could be created. So, like many things over the past 50 years that have diminished our sense of community, the phone company dropped the neighborhood reference and now uses only numbers.

This also applies to URLs. There are just so many words you can create that have any meaning for a company or individual, but there are an infinite number of number series that can be created. And we have that system today. It's the very set of numbers that a URL resolves to—its IP address. The DNS camp believes that what we need to do is create more extensions, which will only result in confusing people who want to reach a particular "address" of a device connected to the Net.

Notice that I said device. As you know, the PC and the web site will not be the only way to access information and people on the Net. In fact, someday soon, it will be one of the lesser ways, replaced by a corral of Net-enabled devices like cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, pocket computers—even your car, washing machine, refrigerator, and microwave oven. Many of these devices will not need to have—or even be able to have—URLs. They'll just have IP addresses.

If you listen to the news, you'd think that the DNS camp lived on another planet or are refusing to face the reality of the situation. They seem to be ignoring the very nature of the Net and the inherent problems of the DNS system. They can't believe that the unsinkable URL is just a fad and will go the way of the Osborn computer.

More Icebergs Ahead

There are other icebergs ahead for what we commonly call a web site. Individual servers that today are keepers of centralized information will soon be bypassed by technologies that can access information from any device connected to any point on the Internet. We're seeing precursors of such a technology in applications like Gnutella, LimeWire, and BearShare. These software applications can search for information on any PC connected to the Net and running their application.

Here's another looming iceberg on the web site's horizon: instant messaging robots, commonly known as IM bots. IM bots are high-speed smart applications that deliver content and services to instant message windows. Users simply add interactive agents to their IM buddy contact lists, like they would any other buddy, and then make conversational requests for things like movie show times, stock quotes, games, customer service help, company sales reports, and so on. One such company that offers this kind of application is ActiveBuddy. The significance of IM bots is a dark thin shadow cast from the future, proving that you don't need to go to a web site to obtain information, and that any communications application can search the Net and deliver information to you.

Every PC—and soon, every device connected to the Net—will become the database. This database will include documents, images, photographs, computer games, music, video files, and more. Couple this data on point-to point (P2P) hosts with browser-like software applications and you can still have as rich an experience as you do today on the World Wide Web. When this happens, centralized web servers—the current keepers of information—will no longer be necessary. By using next-generation applications, people can search for any data on any device, anywhere on the Internet.

Which leads us to the Napster controversy and the RIAA.

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