[ih] Fwd: History of "accounts"

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Wed Feb 12 10:02:05 PST 2014

"Accounting" is probably not quite the right term for the concept I'm
trying to describe.   What I'm seeking is more like a feedback mechanism
for The Internet - something that makes users "feel" their increased usage
so that they're aware of how much resource they're using and feel some
pressure to control that usage.  Some way of reflecting usage of a resource
back to some "account" that is deciding how much to use.  It doesn't
necessarily even involve billing.

Per-packet billing and such schemes would provide such feedback, but I
agree they would have prevented The Internet from becoming what it is
today.  But I keep thinking that some kind of feedback is needed, in any
system, to achieve stability, and I still don't see any here.

Today, I could hang a picture on my wall.  I could instead hang a large
flatscreen, and feed it with high-def video from a webcam on the other side
of the planet.  Perhaps a view of the Serengeti.   We'll put a nice
tropical beach in the bathroom too.  And the security cameras from the
house, to a corner of the screens in the office.  Or ...?   Run it all
24x7.  Why not?   If I do it, no one will notice.  If several hundred
million people do it, that's another story....   it works as long as the
ISPs keep the supply ahead of the demand, which may be getting difficult,
or at least figuring out who pays for it.

In the early days of the Internet, we were inherently limited by the size
of our pipes, and adjusted our behavior accordingly.  We had "data caps"
simply by the line speed.  Now with pipes approaching gigabit/sec capacity,
there's no reason not to use more - and "data caps" are how the industry is
responding, since that's what they can do.    When every house in the
neighborhood has a 3/4-inch water pipe, nobody can use very much water.
 There's an inherent "data cap" providing feedback.  But if every house
instead got a 4-foot pipe?

Broadcast TV is interesting.  It seems to be free and unmetered.  But I
think that depends on your perspective - who you think the users are.
Most of us are probably consumers, watching TV, and we perceive the TV as a
device for consuming entertainment, information, etc.   It's all free and
we can watch as much as we can stand.   We think we're the users.

However, another perspective of TV is from the corporate offices of the
advertisers.   From their perspective, the purpose of TV is to deliver
advertising.   Entertainment is overhead, necessary to keep the eyeballs in
front of the screen.   Advertisers of course pay heavily for their usage of
"free" broadcast TV.   The more ads they deliver to more eyeballs, the more
they pay.  So broadcast media isn't really "free" at all.   It's metered by
the second and the users pay more for more usage.  Cable TV didn't change
much -- except to add an additional revenue stream from the consumers who
can still watch as much as they can stand.  The users of broadcast TV are
the advertisers.

Of course that begs the question - who are the users of The Internet?   We
think it's us, sitting at our desktops/tablets/phones.   But perhaps it's
really the advertisers. We use the 'Net to consume what we seek, immersed
in a sea of pop-ups, banner ads, and screens increasingly full of
advertising content surrounding what we sought.   The Internet is replacing
broadcast media, but has similar characteristics - delivery of advertising
(what someone else wants you to see) along with entertainment and
information (what you want to see).   We think we're the users of The
Internet.  Maybe not.

I don't know anything about the economics and mechanisms of that
advertising machinery, but it seems to be very big and very effective (ask
Google...).  There must be some pretty powerful feedback mechanisms that
reflect usage back to the users who send out all the ads.  The limiting
factor seems to be simply screen real estate - how much of the screen can
be filled with ads versus what I asked to see, before I stop coming back
for more.

In that case, if you believe that the true "users" of The Internet are the
advertisers, there is already an accounting scheme in place which reflects
increased usage (more ads) back to the users (advertisers pay more).  The
humans in front of the screens are just eyeballs.

Still, that leaves open the question of feedback to those other "users"
whose decisions affect resources - e.g., why shouldn't we all put up webcam
artwork everywhere, and see if someone can figure out how to overlay ads on

I think we're in one of those tipping points in Internet History where this
gets sorted out, or at least changes noticeably.  The emergence of data
caps, and the prominence of "Net Neutrality" discussions are visible
symptoms.   Perhaps some ISP along the way will soon refuse to carry my
webcam feed, since it's not tied to some advertising account....

Sooner or later, I think we'll see the feedback mechanisms solidify (aka
"accounting").  I just still wonder if this is unique to The Internet,
taking 40+years to come to a head.

It would be interesting to see some kind of overview of the economics of
the Internet - who pays whom for what to keep it all going.  Also
interesting to see how that has changed over time, starting in the 70s with
DARPA/NSF/etc.    This phenomena has lasted for 40+ years but it's not
obvious, to me at least, why.   Or if the great experimental technique of
"keep the supply ahead of the demand" is about to end.

/Jack Haverty
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