The baroque Net

This morning’s Observer column.

“Dumb network, smart applications” was the mantra that they [the designers of the Internet] used to express the philosophy that all of the ingenuity should be left to those people developing applications at the edges of the network.

These turned out to be very good ideas. They enabled the “organic” growth of the network to happen. And they triggered an explosion of creativity as smart people thought up clever applications that the network could be used for. Some of these applications (for example the web) were beneficial; some (viruses, worms, and malware generally) were destructive. And many (file-sharing) were somewhere in between. The consequence was that, over time, a network that was originally seamless and uncluttered came to be overlaid with a grotesque accumulation of add-ons and patches, to the point where it begins to resemble a baroque excrescence rather than a classical design.

This is beginning to concern some people whose job it is to worry about these things…

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