The downside of getting readers

It’s been an interesting day.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bothering friends of mine with questions about how the Internet as we know it might die. Many of them are part of the Bitcurrent crew. We came up with a decent list, which I cleaned up and posted on GigaOm.

1500 Diggs and a lot of comments later, I have a lot of thoughts on the responses. First (though I shouldn’t be surprised) is the vitriol of Digg. It seems like any “top 10” list is instantly considered lame, while at the same time it drives huge traffic. But there was some useful dialogue in the noise, too.

I started looking at the problem in the context of the OSI model – physical (cabling), network (BGP), service discovery (DNS) but the conversation quickly moved to the real threats of net neutrality, legal restrictions, balkanization, and so on. So the list seems a bit scattered (as many have pointed out.)

There were, in fact, several other candidates that didn’t make the cut:

  • Plug-ins (like Skype and pmog) change the web so each of us sees it differently, leading to multiple “overlays” on the website the designer intended, which makes it harder to troubleshoot and design online experiences
  • Someone finally breaks SSL, through the use of quantum computing or another form of attack or a vulnerability
  • Phishers and spammers finally learn to spell and compose full sentences, tricking millions into acting on their spam
  • Microsoft spending $1M per US citizen per year for them to use Microsoft’s products, services, and portals exclusively for 3 years. Some folks mentioned this as an April Fool’s prank elsewhere, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than buying Yahoo.

Some of the more interesting suggestions from here and Digg:

  • Mike Cerm suggested that Flash, rich Internet apps, and a move away from HTML poses a threat because it can be repurposed as a kind of DRM for web applications
  • Alan Wilensky pointed out that the economics of peering are a major threat, where what once used to be handshake agreements based on mutual benefit now become the basis for competition
  • Keith Shepard said “haters” (and judging by a number of the comments here and elsewhere, well, let’s just say one has to have a thick skin when writing about technology.) This is really an outgrowth of number 4, death by a thousand fragments, but it’s certainly a threat because people will avoid a hostile environment in favor of a safer, watered-down one.
  • LP suggested that the semantic web might make it easier for AI/bots/scripts to get close enough to humans that they replace a lot of the creativity online
  • Hank Fox suggested taxation and government involvement in general
  • Nitin suggested obesity (though as long as it grows slower than our ability to index and store it that’s less of an issue.)
  • Several people suggested, in a nicely ironic way, Top Ten Lists. Not sure if the associated Rickrolls were also relevant.
  • EW suggested overt commercialization ultimately causes consumers to reject advertising and monetization, making much of the “free” Internet unable to pay for itself.
  • Several folks suggested the CERN Grid would supplant the Internet

A couple of other points (since folks brought them up.)

  • The link to black holes was actually about how unlikely they are. But hey, I guess I need a sarcasm sign.
  • As several kind commenters over on Digg pointed out, I mentioned a virus could take routers out. This is a bit of an oversimplification: It may have been better to just say “vulnerability”. While router viruses that infect a core router OS (like Cisco’s IOS/ENA, JunOS, etc.) are theoretically possible, they require a compromise at the manufacturer in most cases. But the most likely vector for compromising BGP (according to the Cisco article referenced in the original post) is “deliberate misconfiguration of a trusted router.” This is most likely to happen (IMHO) when a highly trusted sysadmin has a Trojan or virus that lets an attacker take control of their system, in turn granting them access to core routers. I may well be a “noob who really has no concept of major topics involving computers in general” but my smart friends tell me this is so. 😉
  • Out-of-band connections to backbone routers are indeed a good way to circumvent widespread router failures, as Jason said.
  • Redsoxmaniac is indeed right – this is a “could,” not a “will,” conversation (though many people believe that several of the things listed have already happened.)

Anyway, it’s been, umm, interesting to read all the feedback on this one. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Reason #11: The Internet will finally buckle under the weight of crap articles like this.
  • i’m pretty sure this author took CS III. Just take a look at any one of these gems here, like no. 3, someone could just start to cut all the cables and the internet would like die!
  • What if the tubes get clogged?
  • He must be a fun guy to hang out with….
  • They couldn’t even think of a decent 10. That last one is pretty lame. Buried for lameness.
  • wow, are u from india or something? I mean, I’m a computer science graduate and I definetly enjoy a varierty of discussion concerning teh internets but wow… i can spot a shitpile noob who really has no concept of major topics involving hm, idk, computers in general? Why is it that people like this feel the need to get a blog, then draw in as many readers as possible?
  • lol what a pathetic list. proof: “a really good virus”. the writer doesn’t even know what a computer is.
  • This is a post explicitly designed to stimulate conversation.
  • Thanks for the checklist. I’m sure some 12 y/o anti-socialite is now hard at work.
  • You are a complete f*cking idiot and you should NOT be writing articles! or anything else for that matter. I am not even going to try to debunk this crap. I’ve wasted 3 minutes of my life of this bullcrap an I am not going to waste any more. Consult a REAL technician and he’ll explain to you why you are wrong on so many counts.
  • At least we can count on one thing: Lolcats will survive, no matter what.

And my personal favourite…

  • 11. By promoting to popularity vapid pieces of trash fauxnalism like the exemplary selection of fermented Yak jizz this submission happens to be.

Ah, well. I guess that’s the downside of readership; when you try to make something succinct enough to be readable, you also wind up making it imprecise enough to invite the wrath of Diggers everywhere.