Since 2003, I have written regular articles on information technology for Connect, which used to be a separate trade union and in January 2010 became a section of the larger union Prospect. Originally the magazine was called "The Review" and then in April 2004 it was renamed "Connected". The text of all these articles, with relevant hyperlinks, are filed on my web site and this page brings together all those from 2004. If you would like to comment on any of them e-mail me.
Jan/Feb 2004 Are They Playing Tag With Your Liberty? March 2004 E-commerce Means Clicks And Mortar April/May 2004 Extremism On The Net June 2004 Has Net Growth Stalled? July/Aug 2004 Media Literacy In The Age Of The Internet September 2004 How To Unstitch The Web October 2004 The Battle Of The Browsers November 2004 Can The Internet Survive?
Secretly and silently a new technology is set to transform our lives. Our Internet columnist Roger Darlington asks:
ARE THEY PLAYING TAG WITH YOUR LIBERTY?
Very few people have heard of it and virtually no one has actually seen it. The technical name is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), but think of it as an electronic tag.
It is a tiny micro-chip. It measures less than a third of a millimetre wide - little bigger than a grain of sand. It contains a microscopic antenna - invisible to the naked eye - that broadcasts via very low-power radio. It beams information in the form of a 96 digit identity code to reader devices located up to 10 metres way.
It is set to replace the ubiquitous bar code and, in some ways, it is similar to it. The main differences are that it can be read at a distance and it can be encrypted, protected, and written to as well as read from.
It will begin - indeed it has started - with pallets and batches of products. A big boost was given last year when Wal-Mart [click here], the world's largest retailer, insisted that its top 100 suppliers use RFID tags by 2005. Even bigger news was the anouncement by the US Department of Defense that it would require the same from its suppliers.
Meanwhile there is a shop called the Future Store, owned by the Metro Group, in Rheinberg Germany which is already completely based around RFID through the extended supply chain, linking to in-store customer relations management (CRM) and loyalty programmes, and trolleys which are simply swiped past a check-out full of goods.
The next stage is to tag all consumer products and goods. Another major push came with the formation of the Auto ID Centre, a consortium of 100 global companies and five of the world's leading research centres, which has launched the electronic product code (EPC), the successor to the bar code [for details click here].
The EPC system will permit every product in the world to have a unique number. Via the radio transmission of these devices to readers connected to networks, they can all be linked to the Internet in what some people are already calling "the Internet of things".
But why stop at things? Animals with a high financial value, like cows, and animals with a high emotional attachment, like cats, are already being tagged.
Will it end with animals? Certain classes of criminals are already being tagged. What about tagging children so that, if they are lost or abducted, they can be easily found? What about tagging babies with details of blood group, allergies, or congenital problems? As the baby becomes a child and then an adult, one could add data on all inoculations and major illnesses.
Does this sound crazy? Well, a US firm is looking for banks willing to ask their customers to have RFID chips implanted under their skin as a replacement for debit and credit cards [for further information click here].
How quickly will things happen? The current consensus is that it will take around a decade for tagging to reach the level of individual products. I think it will be faster.
There are massive advantages, not all of which can be currently foreseen.
Manufacturers and retailers will be able to revolutionise supply chain management, significantly reducing costs and ensuring constant availability of goods, both benefits which can be passed on to the consumer. The customer will not have to queue at check-out desks because the RFID reader will scan all purchases instantly. If a food product is found to be contaminated, its entire history will be immediately available.
Once at home, tags could highlight when the 'eat by' date of food has passed or indicate if a medicine has contra-indications or if a plug has the incorrect fuse. When the technology develops a little, the smart fridge could order replacement products and the smart washing machine could determine the correct temperature for the wash.
There are an enormous number of applications in the fields of crime and security. London's new bus and tube tickets already work this way [for details click here]. The European Central Bank is working on a project to embed RFID into every Euro note by 2005. What about tagging every gun and rifle?
Of course, as with any new technology, there are dangers - in this case, many threats to privacy.
At its most fearsome, RFID systems could trigger CCTV cameras to record customers buying particular goods (this actually happened in a trial involving Gillette razor blades at a Tesco store in Cambridge).
Such privacy concerns have prompted the establishment of an alliance of 30 European and American libertarian organisations to issue a statement calling for a voluntary moratorium on the use of RFID until a formal technology assessment process involving all stakeholders takes place.
Some chance. It's already moving too fast - and it's coming soon to a store near you.
Association for Automatic Identification and Data Capture Technogies click here
RFID Journal click here
Home Office Chipping of Goods Initiative click here
No Tags UK campaign click here
"Chips with everything" by Mary O'Hara click here
Thought e-commerce had flopped? Think again, urges our Internet columnist Roger Darlington.
E-COMMERCE MEANS CLICKS AND MORTAR
Remember the late 1990s? The media was full of e-commerce taking over the world and spotty young entrepreneurs were becoming paper millionaires by opening a dotcom company with the vaguest outline of a business plan.
Inevitably it all went horribly wrong with the stock market crash of April 2000. Since then, we've heard very little about e-commerce - so what's going on?
According to IMRG [click here], the trade body for on-line retailing, UK consumer sales increased by around 80% in 2003, taking the total to £14 billion. This may still be a small proportion of the total retail market, but Net sales are growing at something like 10 times the retail market as a whole. Already Royal Mail believes that on-line sales have overtaken mail order catalogues in its share of the total retail market.
British success stories include such very different businesses as the travel operation lastminute.com [click here], the gadget company firebox.com [click here], and the bra business amplebosom.com [click here].
At the global level, we are seeing some major dotcom companies actually making money. Both Amazon [click here] and Ask Jeeves [click here] have announced their first full-year profits. Google [click here] is planning a stock market flotation.
BBC 2 television recently ran a feature in the Money Programme series entitled "Dotcoms Bounce Back". So, why is it different now, compared to the crazy days of the dotcom boom?
On the supply sides, companies - and crucially their bankers and investors - are now much more tough-minded and realistic about their prospects and plans. On the demand side, we have twice as many people on-line and many are now on broadband.
The other interesting development is that most of the successful companies are not pure on-line operations, but extensions of businesses with real assets and a proven record in the physical marketplace - a case of 'clicks and mortar'.
Here in Britain, only four of the top 20 Internet retailers are pure e-commerce: Amazon [click here], e-Bay [click here], Kelkoo [click here] and CD Wow! [click here]. The rest are well-established retailers like Tesco [click here], Next [click here] and Argos [click here].
In many respects, Amazon is an example of e-commerce at its best.
When I access the web site, because I have already made purchases from the site, it welcomes me by name and makes recommendation as to the books, CDs and DVDs that I might like to purchase based on the tastes revealed by previous transactions. Since the site has a record of my credit card details and my delivery address, I have the option of making a further purchase quite literally with one click.
But not all e-commerce operations are this slick and not all Net users are so familiar with such transactions. The key factors determining the growth of e-commerce can be categorised as the 'four Cs'.
First, connectivity. It is self-evident that you cannot engage in e-commerce unless you have a connection to the Internet and, in spite of recent growth, half the population is still not on the Net and penetration seems to have stalled.
Second, cost. It is essential that consumers can surf at leisure, so that they can compare and contrast e-commerce offerings and take time to choose best value products and services, so broadband prices need to fall still further.
Third, cash. By definition, e-commerce has to involve some form of payment and this is primarily through the use of credit cards, but there are some consumer concerns about the privacy of data and credit card scams, so we need to develop various new forms of e-cash including smart cards.
Fourth, confidence If e-commerce is to thrive, consumers should not fear ordering goods and services because they are concerned whether they will receive exactly what they want and whether they will be able to return easily defective or unwanted items, so we need effective and trusted best practice schemes among e-retailers.
Unquestionably, the main factor holding back consumer e-commerce is concern about security.
IMRG has established a scheme called Internet Shopping Is Safe or ISIS. This scheme carries out an annual audit of security and service on the sites of its members. The Office of Fair Trading has a section of its web site devoted to shopping from home [click here] and the Department of Trade & Industry has launched a special section of its web site to advise consumers on e-shopping.
Meanwhile most of e-commerce is totally unknown to and unseen by consumers because it is business-to-business (B2B) as opposed to business-to-consumer (B2C). On some estimates, B2B accounts for around 80% of all e-commerce. Such operations link retailers, manufacturers and suppliers, strengthening the supply chain and reducing costs to the ultimate benefit of consumers.
This issue, our Internet columnist Roger Darlington considers a subject most of us would rather not think about too much:
EXTREMISM ON THE NET
As regular readers of this column will be aware, I am a passionate enthusiast for the Internet. But I have always been well aware that the Net has a dark side.
My concerns were brought into sharp focus when I was recently interviewed for ITN in my capacity as Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation [click here]. My interviewer was Sue Barnett, the sister of Jane Longhurst who was murdered by Graham Coutts [for information on the case click here]. During the trial of Coutts, the court heard how he had repeatedly accessed web sites depicting violent sex and how elements of his actions mirrored what he had seen on-line.
The issue of violent sexual images on the Net is simply the most high profile of a range of deeply offensive material which includes political fascism, skinhead fascism, white power, white supremacy, militia groups, race hate, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, world conspiracy, religious cults, Islamic militancy, virulent anti-homosexuality, pro-anorexia/bulimia, virulent anti-abortionism, violent propagation of animal rights, sports hooliganism, violent political activism, bombmaking information, and suicide assistance - to name a few.
Of course, some of these categories merge into one another or overlap. For instance, many white supremacy sites endorse conspiracy theories and many Islamic militancy sites are anti-Semitic.
Now these views have always been held and propagated, but with 'old' media - such as pamphlets, books, newspapers, radio and television - outlets are limited and usually come at a price, while publishers, editors and regulators exercise a web of control. In the case of the Internet, anyone can publish any view at any time with virtually nil cost and no controls whatsoever.
It is as easy for a white supremacist to put up a web site as for a multi-national company and the same number of Net users - approaching half a billion world-wide - have the same private access, literally at the click of a mouse. In this new kind of virtual environment, the extremist has a voice of a power and reach that he could never hope for in the physical world.
What is to be done?
First, we have to accept that the Internet will never be controlled like radio and television and, in many respects, this is a strength of the medium. It empowers citizens and democratises our world.
However, governments and legislatures around the globe need to review the relevance and adequacy of laws devised before the Net was even imagined, so that maybe UK laws on obscenity and race hate need modernising to make them more appropriate to the world of the web.
We need to understand though that, wherever the law draws the line, it is likely to be different in different countries and we are dealing with a worldwide network. Furthermore, wherever the line is drawn, there will always be plenty of material on the legal side of that line that is grossly offensive to many and potentially harmful to children.
Therefore, when grossly offensive material is brought to their attention, hosting companies should ask themselves whether they really want to host such material. Understandably such companies do not want to appear to be acting as moral guardians or censors.
However, where the creation of such material involves abuse or harm or where viewing such material may well encourage or incite the viewer to commit harm, there is an obligation on the company to think very hard about their responsibility.
Ultimately, though, all Internet users - and especially parents, teachers and those with responsibility for children and other vulnerable groups - need to accept a measure of responsibility for the use of the Net by those in their charge.
Rating of web sites and use of filtering software certainly have a role to play, but are far from perfect tools. Parents and teachers need to have clear understandings with children about acceptable and responsible use of the Internet and to monitor that use closely and sensitively.
There has been too much moral panic about the Internet, whipped up often by populist newspapers that know little about the web and are mainly interested with selling more copies of their paper. What we need is more informed and balanced debate about what is technically possible and politically acceptable and what role each of the parties - including you and me - have to play.
"Sex On The Net" click here
"Extremism On The Net" click here
We act as if everyone is busy surfing the web, but half of Britons are still not connected. Our Internet columnist Roger Darlington wonders why and floats an innovative idea.
HAS NET GROWTH STALLED?
Of course, Internet subscriptions and broadband take-up continue to grow - but not as fast as they should. There are now 14.5 million Internet subscriptions in the UK which is 50% of all households. Broadband accounts for 3.5 million subscriptions, about a quarter of the Internet total.
What seems to be happening is that existing Internet users are up-grading to broadband, but the total of Internet users is only edging up slowly, as we appear to reach some kind of plateau.
A similar thing seems to be happening in the USA where the number of Internet users is also increasing only slowly now, although the plateau there is higher at around 60-65% and around four out of ten of those have broadband.
Another interesting point is that those who switch to broadband frequently do so in order to do exactly what they have previously done with a narrowband connection, but with the convenience of an 'always-on' connection and a flat-rate subscription. Put another way, broadband users are not using the extra bandwidth for services which require that additional speed.
Which all leads us to two related dilemmas. Why aren't people connecting to the Internet in much greater numbers and, once connected, why aren't they using the extra bandwidth which is now available?
No doubt cost is factor, especially for lower income groups, and prices need to fall still further. The new communications regulator Ofcom will be looking at the pricing of BT's wholesale broadband product and at the options for competitive wholesale offerings through local loop unbundling.
Certainly we need more compelling broadband services and content. BT has made some useful moves recently with the launch of Broadband Voice and Rich Media and other players need to rise to the challenge.
But I suspect that more fundamentally there are two related answers to the questions on slow take up and low-scale usage: lack of confidence and lack of knowledge.
There is a whole generation of consumers - broadly anyone over 40 - for whom computing and the Internet are strange, even frightening, phenomena, unless their work has brought them into contact with these technologies.
These consumers are not comfortable with fitting a modem and connecting to an Internet service provider, they worry about the risk of viruses and spam, and they are terrified at the idea of the PC crashing.
They have no real idea how to make focused use of a search engine, they know very little about how to create and organise favourites, and they know nothing about downloading software or MP3 files. They might be excited about the idea of having a simple web site or weblog but would have no clue about how to start.
Now, of course, many people - typically those under 40 - have used the technology at school, college, university and work. Far from fearing the technology, they love it and delight at searching out new sites and trying out new applications.
So, is there a low-cost, user-friendly way of connecting these two constituencies to enable Internauts to help out Internoughts?
We could have a national web site where those who need help and those who can offer it can register and then a postcode search facility would enable people to find each other. At the local level, churches, residents' associations, community groups, and newspapers could act as 'clearing houses' to put those who need support in touch with those who can provide it.
How would it work?
Albert, a retired postal worker of 64, is visited by Jason, a 19 year old media studies student at the local college. Jason sets up Albert's Internet connection and installs a firewall and anti-virus protection. He calls round for an hour each weekend for the next couple of months to answer Albert's queries and show him how to make best use of his e-mail and the web.
When Albert gets into trouble, he telephones or e-mails - or texts - Jason who immediately offers practical advice and reassurance. Albert and Jason find that they enjoy each other's company, do other things together, and introduce some of their friends.
The scheme - provisionally called NetAid - would benefit from national branding and resources, but essentially would be a local, volunteer-driven initiative. Any takers?
Getting connected to the Net is only the start, argues our Internet columnist Roger Darlington. We want users who are informed and critical or, put another way, media literate.
MEDIA LITERACY IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET
The new communications regulator Ofcom has no less than 263 statutory duties as a result of the Communications Act 2003. One of the least known, but most important, is a specific duty - set out in Section 11 of the Act - to promote media literacy.
The notion of media literacy is an extension to the audiovisual world of the traditional idea of literacy with which we are so familiar in the written world. Originally media literacy concerned radio, television, video and cinema, but Ofcom - in spite of having no responsibility for regulating Internet content - rightly appreciates that the Internet cannot be left out of any initiatives which are taken in this field.
There are many reasons why media literacy must embrace the Internet:
Ofcom's consultation document on media literacy gives a succinct but comprehensive definition, suggesting that "media literacy is a range of skills including the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and produce communications in a variety of forms".
The four elements of the definition are expressed as "the ability to operate the technology to find what you are looking for, to understand that material, to have an opinion about it and where necessary to respond to it".
In the particular context of the Internet, these four elements raise the following issues:
In fact, the specific proposals in the Ofcom document are limited in number, although quite ambitious in scope.
First, there will be an Ofcom programme of research to determine consumer knowledge and needs. This should include what users appreciate about the dangers of illegal and harmful content on the Internet and what they know about the tools available to minimise access to such material.
Second, Ofcom will promote what it calls "connecting, partnering and signposting" to direct people to advice and guidance concerning the new communications technologies. As far as the Net is concerned, this should include direction on how to deal with spam, scams, and viruses as well as problematic content, the danger of chat rooms, and difficulties with e-commerce operations.
Third, Ofcom wants to encourage a common content labelling scheme for electronic audiovisual material delivered across all platforms. A system for labelling Internet content already exists [see the ICRA site click here] and the relationship between Internet content and other audiovisual material must be part of the debate.
It is a substantial agenda but, at its best, media literacy means an efficient worker, an informed consumer, an active citizen, and a protected child.
Ofcom's strategy on media literacy click here
"What Is Media Literacy?" by Sonia Livingstone click here
"The Changing Nature And Uses Of Media Literacy" by Sonia Livingstone click here
"Assessing The Media Literacy Of UK adults" by Sonia Livingstone with Nancy Thumim click here
As the Web is weaved ever wider and deeper, it becomes more and more necessary to know where to go and how to search. Our Internet columnist Roger Darlington offers some tips and techniques.
HOW TO UNSTITCH THE WEB
In 1994, there were merely 3,000 web sites. Twelve months later, the number of sites had climbed to 25,000. By 2000, it was 7 million. Today the figure is something like 10 million.
Some web sites are literally one page. But one I use a lot contains 32,000 articles. A large number of sites contain rubbish. Many which are not rubbish are nevertheless seriously out of date.
So how can we make sense of this huge information network and find the material we want? The answer is two-fold: creating a comprehensive set of 'favourite' sites and learning a few good search techniques. Many Connect members will be very familiar with such tools but might want to advise and assist less Net-savvy family and friends.
The starting point for any list of 'favourites' should be a couple of good news sites. Personally I think that the BBC [click here] and the "Guardian" [click here] are the best general news sites in the world. Google News [click here] is useful because it syndicates different sources
Weblogs (or blogs) are frequently great sites for news because they are often focused on a particular interest, are usually up-dated very regularly, and display the most recent material at the top of the site.
For instance, Connect members could do worse than check out my blog CommsWatch [click here] which carries news of telecommunications, broadcasting and the Internet. Two other good blogs on communications issues are OfcomWatch [click here] and that of my Ofcom Consumer Panel colleague Azeem Azhar [click here].
Any set of 'favourites' should include a weather site such as that of the BBC [click here] and a couple of travel sites such as National Rail Enquiries [click here] plus a finder or locational site such as Streetmap [click here].
There are now over 100 competing directory enquiry services, but I do not understand why anyone on the Net would want to use them when one can access BT's on-line directory service [click here].
It is a good idea to have 'favourites' which enable you to locate your Member of Parliament, such as TheyWorkForYou [click here] and various Government Departments and your local council, such as Directgov [click here].
Obviously you will want some 'favourites' which reflect your hobbies or interests. For instance, I am a big film fan and there is nothing better for me that the Internet Movie Database [click here]. My favourite television programme is "The West Wing" and I can check out episode synopses and background information on a fan site [click here].
The last type of 'favourite' which is an absolute must-have is some sort of on-line encylopaedia and, for me, there is little to beat Wikipedia [click here].
Most large web sites - including my own [click here] - have a search facility and certainly, when exploring the web as a whole, you will need a good search engine.
Currently the best search engine is Google [click here], but this may not always be the case and it is rumoured that Blinkx [click here] is one to watch. It is worth studying advice on the Google site about the basics of searching and how to conduct an advanced search. This advice includes the following points:
The basics of Google search click here
Advanced search on Google click here
Thought that the browser war was long over? Well, serious skirmishes continue. Our Internet columnist Roger Darlington reports from the battlefront.
THE BATTLE OF THE BROWSERS
After e-mail, the most used feature of the Internet is unquestionably the web. But no surfer would be able to make sense of the web without a browser, the software that converts masses of complex code into text and graphics.
For most people, this is not an issue because they simply use the browser which comes bundled into their operating system and, since the vast majority of PC owners use Microsoft Windows, that means that they use Microsoft's browser Internet Explorer (IE).
Yet it was not always so. The first mass-market web browser was Mosaic developed by Marc Andreessen. In 1995, Mosaic morphed into Netscape Navigator which is still around. However, Bill Gates quickly realised the importance of the web and paid out $2M to buy browser code from a company called Spyglass and subsequently launch Internet Explorer.
IE was bundled into Microsoft's Windows 95 and war commenced. In 1997, Netscape Navigator was the clear leader with 72% of the browser market, compared to Internet Explorer 3's 18%. But, towards the end of that year, there came IE 4. This was much better than Navigator and, by bundling it into Windows 98, Microsoft dealt a killer bow to its rival. So, within a couple of years (1996-1997), Gates had won a crushing victory over Netscape.
One of the most damaging features of the browser war was that it weakened compliance with standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
For years now, IE's dominance has been near total with around 96% of web surfers using the Microsoft product. Besides the lack of competition and choice, there have been two main problems with this hegemony.
First, Microsoft essentially stopped developing its browser. With only one major up-grade since 1999, IE is now technologically behind its rivals with significantly fewer features.
Second, Explorer is a security nightmare with plenty of flaws that can and have been exploited by hackers and virus writers. Since the browser is so ubiquitous, these flaws literally have worldwide consequences with viruses infecting million of PCs in a matter of days or even hours.
Microsoft has promised that in 2006 it will launch a major up-grade of its Windows operating system code-named "Longhorn". The company claims that this will deliver "major improvements in user productivity, important new capabilities for software developers, and significant advancements in security, deployment and reliability".
In the meanwhile, the battle is not totally over and there is a rumble in the hills. During the summer, it transpired that - according to figures from US analysts WebSideStory - Microsoft's market share fell by a percentage point from 95.73% to 94.73% as rivals started to eat into Gates' lead. This might yet signify a significant turning of the tide.
The competitors include Mozilla's Firefox , Apple's Safari and Opera. According to Mozilla, downloads of its Firefox browser have hit 200,000 per day and I have recently become one of its newest users.
Firefox is open source, completely free, and easy to install. It has several advantages over Explorer and has richer features than the market leader.
It is much more secure and keeps your computer safe from malicious spyware by not loading harmful ActiveX controls. A comprehensive set of privacy tools keep your online activity your business. Also it stops those utterly infuriating pop up advertisements.
It provides a function known as tabbed browsing. This enables you to view more than one web page in a single window. There are open links in the background, so that they are ready for viewing when you are ready to read them.
Another feature called Live Bookmarks is popular with people like me who read weblogs. This is a new technology that lets you view RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news and blog headlines in the bookmarks toolbar or bookmarks menu.
It may be that the battle of the browsers is about to get bloodier. The Net is buzzing with rumours that search engine specialist Google is now working on a web browser. Several weblogs have put together a series of developments which suggest that the search engine is developing new web tools, while one US newspaper has reported that Google has poached former Microsoft workers who created early versions of the Internet Explorer browser.
The war is not yet over
The browser war click here
Internet Explorer click here
Netscape Navigator click here
Mozilla Firefox click here
Our Internet columnist Roger Darlington is known for 'thinking the unthinkable', but maybe even he has gone too far in asking:
CAN THE INTERNET SURVIVE?
This was the title of a seminar that I attended recently. The event was held at the London Business School and organised by the Oxford Internet Institute [click here]. The main speaker was Professor David Farber, of the Carnegie Mellon University in the United States. So - in spite of the seemingly alarmist title - the discussion was a serious affair.
At one level, the answer to the question is obvious: 'The Internet has to survive because it is now so critical to so many governments, companies, organisations and individuals'. At another level, though, the answer is very different: 'The Internet is now being used for so many more purposes by so many more people than for which it was designed that it cannot continue to exist in its present form for much longer'.
Above all, the Internet is just so vulnerable to attack and to failure - as a result of viruses, worms, hackers and spammers.
For most people, the major use of the Net is e-mail. But the growth of spam e-mail has resulted in something like 80% of all e-mail now being unsolicited and unwanted. The volume of spam is literally slowing down the Net and it is forcing many people to rethink their use of this incredibly useful and versatile facility.
At the corporate level, companies are suffering 'denial of service' attacks (when web sites are overwhelmed by e-mail from multiple locations) and 'phishing' (when web sites are mocked up to look like genuine commercial sites) plus straightforward hacking and theft. But the Net was never designed to locate the original source of data or a message, so tracking down offenders is often very difficult.
Even where there is no malevolent intent, we have problems. The Net was never intended to operate with the reliability of a public telephone network, yet increasingly it is being used for services where reliability is critical such as telephony itself, airline ticketing systems, and - much more seriously - critical infrastructures such as the electricity network or national security systems.
To understand how all this has come about, we need to start at the beginning. The Internet was first developed and used by a small number of technical and academic individuals (mostly Americans) who knew and trusted each other. Therefore the sociology of the Net is one of an open community - free for anyone to enter and free for anyone to do anything.
These early pioneers had few thoughts about security or commerciality and never envisaged that some users would set out deliberately to frustrate and undermine the experience of others. Therefore the open architecture of the Net makes it a wild frontier for spammers, scammers and hackers, for copyrights abusers, for child pornographers, and many more.
The whole philosophy of the Net is to enable those data packets to get through by one route or the other. The network does not know, still less care, about the content or the importance or even the source of the data.
Vint Cerf - often described as 'the Father of the Internet' - has been reported as commenting: "I think we're still in the Stone Age when it comes to serious networking".
Of course, technically it would be perfectly possible to bring about a fundamental re-engineering of the architecture of the Internet. After all, companies regularly do this with their private communications networks and telecommunications companies periodically do this with their public networks (for instance, the current move to Internet Protocol networks, such as BT's 21st Century Network).
However, there are two huge problems here.
First, nobody owns or manages or regulates the Internet. So, even when one has a new, improved feature - such as IP version 6 which is a decade old - there is no means to enforce or require global implementation.
Second, the companies that invest in the physical infrastructure of the Net are not generally the ones that make money from the Net. The later tend to be service companies like eBay or Amazon. So there is little incentive for manufacturers to make large-scale, high-risk investments.
As a result, there has been no fundamental changes to the core technologies of Internet in a decade or more. So, how are we going to get out of this mess? Well, that will have to be the subject of another article.