At the risk of swamping everybody's mail systems, I thought it might
be useful to forward this document. It deals with just the issues of
commercial use of the Internet that have come up recently on this list.
| Bennett Dyke |
| Department of Genetics Internet: bdyke at darwin.sfbr.org |
| Southwest Foundation Phone: (210) 674-1410 Ext 281 |
| P.O. Box 28147 Fax: (210) 670-3317 |
| San Antonio, TX 78228, USA |
INTERNET GROWING PAINS - By Andrew Lawrence
When Laurence Canter decided to promote his law firm's immigration
advisory services by posting out messages across the global
Internet computer network, he suffered the electronic equivalent
of being run out of town.
Tens of thousands of Internet users from across the world showed
their displeasure by swamping the Canter & Siegel company mailbox
with angry warnings not to repeat the mailing. Their messages,
along with a large number of genuinely interested responses to the
advertisement, caused the computers at Canter & Siegel's
commercial Internet providers to crash under the strain.
Caught in the cross-fire, two suppliers decided not to carry
Canter & Siegel's Internet traffic. They will probably face legal
action. Meanwhile the law firm, unrepentant, quickly found a new
Internet provider, and Martha Siegel, Laurence Canter's partner is
promising more mailings and more controversy.
To those who have never come into contact with the Internet, the
bitterness surrounding Canter & Siegel's actions is something of
mystery. After all, the Internet, a massive web of interconnected
computers extending across the globe, is ideally suited to
mailings of this kind and can theoretically deliver a vast global
audience of potential customers. When the National Science
Foundation, the US government body which owns part of the Internet
backbone, lifted its semi-official ban on advertising last year,
it was almost inevitable someone would start pushing at the open
But to many in the Internet community, Canter had committed a
gross breach of 'Netiquette', the informal set of rules which
govern behaviour on the Internet. Posting unsolicited electronic
junk mail, or distributing advertising across the electronic
bulletin boards (known as newsgroups) is considered by many to be
a serious offence. "Don't even think about going down in Internet
history this way" warns the moderator of one of the newsgroups.
"It was utterly unconscionable behaviour", says Bill Washburn,
executive director of the Commercial Internet Exchange
Association, an industry association. "Obnoxious and intrusive"
says Mike Godwin, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
But Martha Siegel is neither deterred nor repentant. She sees the
dispute as part of a wider struggle between the new pro-commercial
users of the Internet and the academic community who once
dominated the network but are now losing control. "If you cut
through all this what you will find is a group of old timers who
don't want their private domain invaded".
That domain is certainly being invaded. The Internet, which
started out as means of exchanging non-commercial information
between government and academic research centres, has reached a
critical phase in its history: it has become so large, and is
growing so fast, that the pressure for its full commercialisation
has become intense.
Between half and three quarters of all traffic on the network
originates from commercial organisations. At present, these
organisations are enjoying the benefits of a powerful, low cost
and reliable international resource. But, like newcomers crowding
onto an unspoilt beach, their activities may need to be controlled
- and they must understand the limitations - if the Internet is to
reach its full potential.
Recently, the US government funded research agencies which played
such an important part in the establishment of the Internet
concluded that funding or attempting to police huge parts of the
Internet is no longer desirable or feasible. They have relaxed the
rules on its use for overt commercial gain, and told individual
research centres to fund their own Internet activities.
With "the prohibition period over", says CIX's executive director
Bill Washburn, the Internet is undergoing massive
commercialisation. Driven by the prospect of a huge market, aided
by new technology which makes it easier to use (see below), and
encouraged by the new business culture, dozens if not hundreds of
individuals, companies and consortia have started projects,
businesses and technical initiatives to exploit the Internet for
"We're talking about a whole array of business opportunities for
conducting business in a new, high speed, heterogeneous
environment of the future", says Washburn. The Internet, he says,
can help companies reach untapped markets; overcome geographical
constraints and language and legal barriers; sell more without
fewer sales staff; and improve the speed of business
communications and administration. It has the potential to
completely revolutionise some areas of business.
Tony Rutkowski, executive director of the Internet Society,
agrees. "The Internet is now overwhelmingly commercial. There are
an enormous number of commercial users". But the optimism should
not distract from many of the limitations of the Internet. Even
Washburn, an avid supporter of business on the Internet, counsels
that commercials organisations would not expect too much. "For
business, the first question should be 'How can I participate in
the Internet and save money. Lets forego the question of how to
make money for a while".
There are several reasons why he gives this advice. The Internet
was not designed to carry commercial traffic, and is fundamentally
unsuited to it. Although it is being changed, this is happening
only gradually and not without disagreements. There are several
area where business practices need to be thrashed out and the
technology improved if the Internet is to live up to its
According to Internet statisticians, the Internet is growing so
fast it is almost out of control. Some twenty five million people
are said to be on the Internet, and every twenty minutes a new
user is connected. At current growth rates, says Tony Rutkowski
of the Internet Society, the number of registered computers on the
Internet will surpass the number of people (five billion) on the
planet by the year 2001. With figures like these, it is not
surprising that businesses are rushing forward to participate. But
they do not tell the full story. The size of the business audience
is far smaller.
John Quarterman, president of Texas Internet Consulting and the
publisher of Matrix News, points out that measuring the size of
the Internet is a very complex problem: " No-one knows its true
size". His research suggests that while the Internet is
undoubtedly the largest network in the world, and is growing fast,
its size is often exaggerated. The most widely used method of
measuring the size of the Internet is to use the known number of
IP (internet protocol) hosts - these are the computers that have
an internet address. There were about two million of these in
December 1993, according to Quarterman. Some estimates argue that
for every IP address, there are ten computers or end-user
workstations which can connect to each Internet node. This makes
20 million Internet users, a figure that is frequently rounded up
to 25 million to take account of recent growth. A more realistic
estimate, used by Quartermann, is 7.5 users per host, making 15
million Internet users. Quartermann also points out that many of
these Internet hosts, for a variety of reasons, are not actually
reachable; in fact, he says, the 2 million figure of IP hosts may
only be 0.5 million. This means the number of internet users could
be as low as 3.75 million. In all likelihood, the number of
Internet users is nearer 15 million than 3.75m - still an enormous
number but short of the some of the more dramatic estimates for
the Internet. These figures do not, however, include people who
can access the Internet via commercial gateways, such as MCI Mail,
Sprintmail or CompuServe. The availability of Internet services
across gateways is usually restricted to electronic mail and some
access to newsgroups.
The little demographic research that has been undertaken (again,
by Quarterman of Matrix) suggests that most users are young (below
25), and nearly three quarters are either students or are working
for educational or government establishments.
From a business point of view, this a difficult demographic
profile, since while the number of budget holding decision makers
may still be high, they will be very dispersed. Its promise lies
not in today, but tomorrow, when many of today's Internet users
more responsible positions. The problem is further compounded
because there are no centralised directories and the sheer size of
the network makes targeted communications extremely difficult.
There are already signs of a market developing in lists of
newsgroups; this may later extend to mail addresses of influential
If the demography of the Internet is a problem for organisations
new to the Internet, overcoming the sentiment against its
development for business is likely to be even more so. The
reaction against Canter & Siegel is a clear demonstration of what
happens if an organisation oversteps the mark. "For purists, the
use of the Internet for commercial activity is still pretty
unacceptable", says Washburn of CIX.
The lack of public email directories makes targeting difficult and
advertising and promotion much more desirable; in theory, the way
to do this is to post electronic promotional messages to the
Newsgroups, yet 'netiquette' forbids this unless done very subtly.
This is one area where Canter & Siegel believes things must
change. "It is highly presumptuous of those individuals to think
that the Internet should not be carry advertising". says Martha
Siegel. She is now forming a company to help people do exactly
this, a move which will certain bring her into bitter dispute with
many Internet users.
According to Bill Washburn of CIX, advertising is not expressly
forbidden - but 'in practice there are real constraints'. Those
that do advertise, he says, "must not be intrusive, especially in
a junk mail sense. You need to provide value and not send out what
looks like, feels like or sounds like propaganda".
Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consulting
company, agrees: "There have always been people who try to make
money [over the Internet]. Don't confuse advertising with
obnoxious and intrusive advertising".
At present, the battle between those pushing for more
commercialisation, and those who want less, is finely balanced.
But as pressure grows, the temptation to push back the barriers of
netiquette will grow, provoking angrier reactions from the groups
The impending battles have no adjudicators, since the Internet is
not under anyone's control. In theory, the battles could end up in
the courts, with a radical liberal wing arguing against constraint
of trade and alleging nuisance against those who try to prevent
them sending out messages; against them, network access providers
could claim that breach of contract led them to cut off Internet
There have been occasional calls for bodies such as the standards
setting IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), the Internet
Society or the CIX (which represents commercial network providers)
to take responsibility and try to put forward some kind of
constitution which could be written into network access providers
contracts. However, none of these bodies is likely to feel
remotely prepared for such as massive policing job.
Washburn is hoping that some kind of community spirit prevails.
"There is a huge reservoir of sentiment for keeping the Internet
viable. I would say lets puts the community on top of the priority
list and work out what we can do in terms of sentiment".
If this spirit does not prevail, the newsgroups could become
swamped with messages, forcing details of their existence to be
kept quiet or even password protected. Similarly, many electronic
mail addresses will be forced to go "ex-directory". Both measures
would harm the openness, and to some extent the usefulness, of the
The Internet is practically free to most users. However, the
growing numbers of people using the Internet, largely fuelled by
the development of the world wide web and the Mosaic graphical
interface, is starting to cause problems. Several providers of
information have been swamped by demand, causing them to re-assess
whether, or indeed why, they should invest to maintain their
levels of service to non-paying customers.
"In my opinion, things must change. A lot of people have put up
free information on the Internet because it was mutually
advantageous. Now, some things are so valuable and so popular that
the suppliers can't afford to cope with the level of demand" says
Washburn. As a result, some academic sites are turning over their
resources to companies who charge commercial users but not
academic ones who provide complementary information.
Jon Crowcroft of the University College and an Internet committee
member, agrees. "Commercial users may get charged where academic
ones do not" he says.
Such restrictions are unlikely to slow the growth of the Internet,
but they will diminish its appeal. The likely impact is that
information and services on the Internet will start to fragment
into categories: some will be free but have little commercial
appeal; some will be free but will be 'sponsored' by advertisers;
and some will be restricted or charged by connection time or a
In the information and publishing business, commercial providers
are already starting to develop strategies around this fragmented
model. The London Financial Times and Reuters, for example, are
both evaluating plans to offer some services over the Internet
using passwords to control access. Uses will then be charged by
connection time. Internet Publishing, a London based electronic
publisher, takes a different approach. "Our philosophy is that
there should be no barriers on entry. Those that put up boundaries
will quickly be ignored" says Eamon Wilmott. Internet Publishing
publishes valuable newsletters paid by sponsorship, and will
offer books and software using a model similar to the OMG
Business applications demand security, especially if money is
involved; the Internet has a dire reputation for viruses, hacking
(unauthorised entry into computers) and the theft of passwords. A
recent example occurred in New York when a network access provider
discovered that someone had been "trapping" passwords and email
addresses. It never discovered who or why.
The security problem is non insurmountable. As Dr John Crowcroft
points out, "the attitude of people on the Internet is not
immature. They understand that security is the responsibility of
the end system".
There are several ways to do this, starting with "firewalls".
These ensure that messages from outside the Internet cannot get
beyond the Internet gateway and into a company's main network. The
result, however, can be to restrict use of the Internet among
employees to simpler services such as electronic mail. Moreover,
the Increasing use of passwords by all users is likely to inhibit
the free access that runs deep in the Internet culture.
One encryption method is now becoming established as standard - a
'dual key' system known as "Pretty Good Privacy" or PGP. PGP
appears to be uncrackable, and is the subject of enormous
controversy, partly because of a dispute over the ownership of
algorithms, and partly because the US government - and some others
around the world - do not want it to be used commercially. The US
government is pursuing a case one of PGP's developers, Philip
Zimmerman, alleging that he put PGP onto the Internet, thereby
violating export controls.
Is PGP going to be secure and flexible enough for business use? It
is not clear. Sandy Whitsun, Electronic Data Interchange business
manager for Hewlett Packard has been grappling with the problem:
"The question is "What is security? What methods do you use? Is
encryption enough? If so, which method do you use?" She believes
there are different answers to these questions depending on the
application. A multi-level approach might become common on the
Internet. "There are some transactions we couldn't care about who
sees them or when they get there", she notes. For others,
encryption would be a minimum requirement.
A partial solution would be to use the X.400 message handling
standard developed for business purposes by the International
Standards Organisation. This is already the chosen method being
used by thousands of companies representing millions of users who
interlink their electronic mail and other systems. They are
unlikely to move such sensitive applications onto the Internet
until there is a clear business case, and security is guaranteed,
says Roger Dean of the European Electronic Messaging Association
X.400 standards can be used over the Internet, and many
multinationals already do. But is the security of X.400 preserved
when an Internet backbone is used? "That isn't clear" says Dean.
There is a further problem: it is extremely difficult to prevent
surreptitious traffic analysis over the Internet. This can matter
in some situations: for example, two companies that suddenly start
sending large volumes of information to each other could arose the
interest of takeover speculators. The solution is for the network
access providers to agree to continually generate random messages
as background noise. No such agreement looks likely for some time.
"We need a bank to put funds transfer onto the network. Whoever
sets something up quickly and deploys it should win the spoils",
says John Dawe, head of Internet access provider Pipex.
To date, there are at least three initiatives aimed at putting
some form of funds transfer onto the Internet. They include
Commercenet in California ; the Internet Engineering Task Force
using proposals from Bell Arbacus; and Digicash in Holland, which
is developing a system using electronic tokens.
None of these systems is yet up and running, and the transfer of
money securely remains a major problem. Today, the most common way
to send money is by sending a credit card number in an electronic
mail message - a method which is clearly vulnerable, since mail
messages frequently get intercepted, copied and distributed
without the sender knowing.
In the absence of a better method, groups such as Commercenet in
the US are likely to use credit card numbers along with
encryption. However, this is only suitable for small sums, not for
large or bulk payments.
In Silicon Valley, California, home of many leading computer and
router companies, the Internet culture already runs deep. But its
use for business purposes has, with a few notable exceptions,
largely been restricted to electronic mail and the exchange of
The CommerceNet initiative aims to change all that. "This is
monopoly busting. We think there will be an immediate demonstrable
edge in competitiveness for companies that are participating",
said Jay Tenenbaum, chairman of Enterprise Information
Technologies when the plan was announced earlier this year.
The lead partner in Commercenet is EIT, but it includes major
computer companies such as IBM, Hewlett Packard and Digital
Equipment, component suppliers such as Intel and National
Semiconductor, and, so far, one bank, the Bank of America. The US
Government's Technology Reinvestment Program is providing $6
CommerceNet sets out overcome practically all the shortcomings
that affect the Internet today. It will develop secure multi-media
messaging, build up privately and publicly accessible mail
directories, and is exploring the best methods to support
electronic funds transfer. It will use the PGP (Pretty Good
Privacy) encryption technique, allowing for the transmission of
electronic letters of credit and digital electronic signatures.
Special applications, involving electronic data interchange, are
being developing for the electronics industries in California.
Participants in the group are developing a start-up kit for easy
access, which will include the supply of high quality affordable
connections. Commercenet be heavily promoted - but only in
Northern California. In a marked switch away from the global
emphasis of almost everything on the Internet, Commercenet is
designed to serve a local geographic area. Other similar
initiatives are expected to be developed in the Boston, Austin
(Texas) and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
In spite of the commercial opportunities, the goal of Commercenet,
is more about saving money than making it, says Sandy Whitson,
electronic data interchange business manager for Hewlett Packard.
"Our motive is the proliferation of the technology - its part of
the evolution of electronics".
Tony Rutkowski of the Internet Society thinks the lack of a funds
transfer system will not inhibit the Internet's appeal. "There are
an enormous number of uses that don't require an exchange of
money" he says, citing research and development, public relations,
customer support and distribution as functions which can all
benefit from using the Internet.
A common complaint about the Internet - that it is too difficult
to use for most business people - is now rarely heard. The reason
is the development of graphical navigator's such as Mosaic and
Cello, and the multi-media World Wide Web These systems have
transformed the Internet, making it far easier to use and
attracting new types of user and boosting traffic levels.
"Although the Internet is huge, it hasn't really started to
happen" says Eammon Wilmott of Internet Publishing. He sees the
Web as the "first superhighway application" which will fuel
spectacular growth. "A year or two ago, you had to put in twenty
hours to learn to use Internet. Now its point and click".
The effect of Mosaic has been dramatic. From a standing start, the
World Wide Web accounts for 10% of Internet traffic, and is rising
fast. The National Center for Supercomputer Applications in
Illinois, which developed the Mosaic application, is getting 1.3
million connections per week, simply because Mosaic 'defaults' to
logging into its computer unless it is changed by the user.
The Mosaic software, which runs on Windows, X-Windows and the
Apple Macintosh, is free. However, several software suppliers are
moving into the market, buying rights from the NCSA to develop
more advanced applications around the product. These include
Quarterdeck, Santa Cruz operation, and several smaller companies.
If Mosaic has put strain on the network by boosting traffic
levels, the plans of the major software companies could put some
sites into crisis. Microsoft, Novell and Lotus are all developing
seamless interfaces for linking their PC and network software into
the Internet. This is certain to encourage a new wave of end users
to join the Internet.
The traffic levels are certain to create problems, although Tony
Rutkowski points out that they will be most significant at the
periphery. "The big carriers have all the bandwidth in the world"
Because of the impact of the world wide web, slow response times
and clogged telecom lines are already common at some popular
sites. An example was seen at the Winter Olympics, where the
information service was overwhelmed with 100,000 enquires on the
There are three parts to this problem. First, many sites will have
to buy more or larger computers to support a growing number of
log-ons (and to support a fast growing routing table of at least
10 megabytes); second, many users will be under pressure to
upgrade their telecommunications lines; and third, the Internet
addressing will ultimately have to be changed.
The first two problems are financial, and will be dealt with on
that basis. Those that cannot afford to upgrade their computers or
lines will have to restrict access. The third is technical. "The
original design of the protocols had not envisioned this kind of
success. The routing of the network is becoming unmanageable" says
Jon Crowcroft, a member of the IETF's next generation working
group. "We have until 2008, plus or minus three years, until we
run out addresses"
The IETF is considering the introduction of a new protocol, which
has more hierarchical levels and longer addresses. But it will
have to be compatible with existing systems, which cannot be
changed. Indeed, it is not even clear that the IETF would have the
power to force through changes if Internet users did not want
Some believe that the introduction of a new addressing system -
which would necessitate changes to software - will further
fragment the Internet into different groups with different
technologies and profiles.
THE SUPERHIGHWAY MYTH
The dramatic take-off of the Internet has co-incided with another
related development in the field of computing and
telecommunications: the first experiments in video-on-demand and
the first plans to build high-bandwidth information superhighways.
It inevitably leads to the question: is the Internet already
established as *the* international superhighway.
The question can be broken down into three: will the Internet ever
be able to support the kinds of high-bandwidth interactive
applications which are associated with the idea of a superhighway;
is it commercially suited to carry such applications; and is there
or will there ever be such thing as a superhighway.
The Internet's ability to support high-bandwidth interactive
applications is being explored by the IETF at present. Time
Warner, the entertainment giant, and Reuters, the information
services company, are among those that are believed to have
submitted ideas. However, it seems unlikely that existing lines or
protocols will easily support the piggy-backing of continuous
video streams; any video of demand type applications are likely to
be on the periphery of the Internet among organised groups of
The IETF is also looking at other issues which the Internet needs
to address if it is to support large numbers of business and
mass-market applications. These include support for much larger
numbers of devices, mobile computing, guaranteed response times,
multicasting (simultaneously sending streams out to many stations
at once) and media independence (ie support for satellite, radio,
dial-up lines etc).
Some of these technologies are relatively simple to fix, some will
take many years and some may require the use of non-Internet type
protocols. Even Internet enthusiasts think it unlikely that the
business community will wait until the Internet technology is in
place before pushing ahead. "It is easy for people that are coming
from one point of view - telecommunications, of Cable TV, or the
Internet, to say that they have the foundation of the
superhighway. My view is that it will be a motley combination of a
few" says Bill Washburn of CIX.
Has the use of the Internet been over-exaggerated. Certainly, the
difficulties have been played down and the size, scope and
uniformity of the Internet has been played up. As it is currently
set up, the Internet is a difficult commercial environment for
many if not most types of business, especially those that need
guaranteed levels of security, guaranteed responses, the ability
to mass market services and impose charges.
Its evolution as a business tool will happen more slowly than the
growth of traffic levels suggests. In the process, business users
will have to deal with the increasing fragmentation of the
Two of the Internet's great advantages are in danger of eroding:
Its homogeny, in that most users today have similar attitudes,
similar access methods, similar technical requirements and use
similar protocols; and its ability to provide free access to
virtually any host on the network.
In its place, a larger, more powerful, but fragmented Internet
will emerge. This will ultimately be more useful for business, but
creative approaches will be needed to gain competitive advantage.
In effect, the Internet will have ceased to exist as one entity,
and become what it was always intended to be: a meeting point for
thousands of smaller and often very different networks.
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