SMART Letter #54b
MORE TRIP NOTES FROM A SHRINKING PLANET
April 9, 2001
SMART Letter #54b -- April 9, 2001
Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
isen.com -- "no more specific than necessary"
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> Quote of Note: Brian Wilson
> Trip Notes from a Shrinking Planet (continued)
Malaysia: The MultiMedia Supercorridor that Wasn't
Reed's Law over Kurdistan (pirated from JOHO)
Israel: Land of Technology and Traffic Jams
> Conferences on my Calendar
> Copyright Notice, Administrivia
QUOTE OF NOTE
"Round, round, get around, I get around."
Brian Wilson, I Get Around, _All Summer Long_, 1964
TRIP NOTES FROM A SHRINKING PLANET (continued)
By David S. Isenberg
MALAYSIA: THE MULTIMEDIA SUPERCORRIDOR THAT WASN'T
I was in Kuala Lumpur to give a keynote address at the Asia
Pacific Regional Conference on Operating Technologies
(APRICOT). It is the premiere Internet geek's conference on
the Asia-Pacific rim. But first, international, irrepressible
Izumi Aizu squired my friend Anders Comstedt (Stockholm's
open-access fiber network honcho) and myself out to the new,
government-subsidized business development region called the
From the new KL Airport to the Supercorridor, Malaysia seems
to be the beneficiary -- and victim -- of top-down planning.
The airport was huge, over-designed and impersonal. The
Supercorridor was carved out of the jungle far from the heart
of Kuala Lumpur, and its institutions and enterprises were
miles apart. There was no fiber in the ground. With all the
space, it was easy to see why companies would build factories
there. But it was hard to see why a knowledge worker would
*want* to work there.
MIMOS is a Supercorridor landmark. MIMOS is the Malaysian
government's huge technology laboratory, reminiscent of Bell
Labs, NIH or the Pentagon. It seemed that they were doing a
bit of everything. The focus and intensity of a do-or-die
startup was missing entirely. We met the boss, Dr. Mohd
Azzman Shariffadeen Bin Tengku Ibrahim. He was very nice,
very smart, very pleasant. He was politely interested in the
revolutionary message that Anders, Izumi and I carried. It
was a government lab. It was business as usual.
If the Multimedia Supercorridor is to be more than a
government subsidized factory district, it needs to be
attractive to knowledge workers. It needs neighborhoods. It
needs restaurants and shops and housing. It needs public
transportation. And it needs fiber. We shook our heads as we
traveled -- It would have been so easy to bury fiber under the
new roads we were driving upon when they were being built.
In contrast to the Supercorridor, downtown Kuala Lumpur was
delightfully chaotic and complex. Three vital cultures --
Indian, Chinese and Malay -- live there. It is impossible to
call any one of them a minority. To a first approximation,
though, the Malays dominate politics, the Indians are the
doctors and lawyers, and the Chinese are the entrepreneurs.
There is some ethnic friction, but mostly the mix works.
Izumi took us to an open-air style Indian restaurant with
Malaysia has eight STM-1s to the rest of the world -- a total
of 1.2 Gigabits a second. But apparently only one of these
are "filled" -- the rest are for yet-to-materialize traffic.
Malaysia doesn't yet seem to understand that telecom has
changed. Telecom Malaysia is still in control.
If we assume that Malaysia's 24 million people have access to
all 8 STM-1s (1200 Mbit/s) there are only 50 bits per second
per person. This is 24 times lower than New Zealand's BQ. In
fact, with only one STM-1 filled, it is 192 times lower.
Dial-up connectivity was poor. My modem connected at decent
modem speeds, but downloading email from the US (through a
Malaysian POP) took forever. I heard speculation that this
was due to a cable cut near Shanghai. Apparently a fishing
boat had cut a new major trans-Pacific cable a few weeks
previously. The redundant link had not yet been hooked up.
At APRICOT it was a delight to see many old friends -- Gigi
Wang, Bob Berger, Tan Tin Wee, and others. And it was
delightful to make new friends, too from Brunei, Korea, China,
Taiwan, and the U.S. I enjoyed Japanese Internet pioneer Jun
Murai, in another keynote, describe his work extending the
Internet to the automobile (the next mobile Internet
I was honored to address the creators of the Asian Internet.
I tried to explain why incumbents would not deliver the very
features that define the Stupid Network. I ended by
suggesting that we could do it ourselves. The message seemed
to get across.
REED'S LAW OVER KURDISTAN
I caught a midnight Lauda Air flight to Vienna, there to
transfer to Tel Aviv.
At 35,000 feet over Kurdistan between Diyarbakir and Tabriz I
got an itch to catch up on my email. I happened across the
interview below between David Weinberger, perpetrator of JOHO
(Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization) and David Reed in
JOHO's Jan. 19, 2001 issue. (To subscribe to JOHO (free)
visit http://www.hyperorg.com/forms/form.html.) The
observation explained below as "Reed's Law" could actually
improve how we think about the Internet. Not only that, it is
consonant with our experience. Not only that, it can be
reduced to mathematics.
From JOHO, Jan 19, 2001:
"David Reed is an Internet 'graybeard,' there at the
beginning when the first wires were connected with
duct tape. He was a professor at MIT and then the
chief scientist at Software Arts, the company that
developed VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet and the
killer app that made PCs worth owning. He went to
Lotus as chief scientist where he helped Lotus
expand beyond 1-2-3. He's now an entrepreneur and
consultant. He's also a really decent guy who works
with non-profits and is a voice of sweet reason in
some highly charged enviroments.
"We asked him about what others call 'Reed's Law'
which is based on the fundamental insight that the
Net's value comes from its enabling of groups, not
just of individual-to- individual connections.
"[NOTE: This is an edited version. For the full
interview, please see the online version.]
"JOHO: Here at JOHO we like groups. So do you. What
do you see as the role of groups on the Net?
"REED: Group forming is, in my opinion, the technical
feature that most distinguishes the Internet's
capabilities from all other communications media
before it. Beyond either the hub-and-spokes
broadcast networks of print, television, and radio,
or the peer transactional networks of telegraph,
telephone, and online financial transactions, the
Internet's architecture also supports group-forming
networks whose members can assemble and maintain
persistent communicating groups.
"Though broadcasting of content, catalog sales, and
user-to-user messaging and financial transactions
easily carry over from old media to the Internet,
novel group-oriented functions that did not exist
before computer networks have grown rapidly as well.
Functions ranging from the 'reply-to-all' feature in
e-mail, chat-room hosting on AOL, web hosting sites
such as GeoCities, auction-hosting on eBay, and
buddy-lists in instant-messaging all enable,
enhance, and sustain huge numbers of member-
organized groups. The key thing about these groups
is that they are freely formed and the purpose of
each group is shaped largely by some common needs of
"Contrast the Internet with the telephone network or
the commercial broadcast networks. In those
networks, which have no architectural features to
support groups (save, perhaps, telephone conference
call services, and the MCI 'Friends and Family'
billing group feature), participants never organize,
never share, and devote few network resources to
sustain their associations. The associations exist -
just ask a group of teenagers who check in with all
their friends every day - but the network doesn't
know it, and certainly doesn't provide services to
enhance the natural social tendencies of humans to
"JOHO: So how do you connect groupiness to economic
value? And talk slowly; I am a mathematical idiot-
savant, except without the savant part.
"REED: In a network like the telephone network, there
are two kinds of valuable benefits that a network
creates. One kind is capacity - how much stuff it
can transport per unit time for each user. The
other kind is connectivity - which increases with
the number of different destinations a user can
choose to contact at any point in time.
"A potential connection is what economic thinkers
call an option, which is the right, but not the
obligation, to perform an action at some point in
the future. The key to understanding a lot of the
value of networks is that they create options, and
that those options are valued by the users.
"Consider a cable TV network. Even though you can
only watch one program at a time (the capacity), the
choice of a hundred channels is worth more to you
than the choice of three channels. The more options
a network creates, the more value it creates for its
users. And since the number of pairwise connection
options created in an N member network is N^2, then
if all options are equally valuable, the network's
option value tends to grow much faster than its
"It was one of those Eureka moments. As a student at
MIT, I learned that the number of distinct subgroups
that can form in a set of N members is 2^N, which
means that the number and value of group-forming
options grow exponentially as N increases. (I won't
repeat the proof of that simple fact here.)
"JOHO: Thank you.
"REED: So any system that lets users create and
maintain groups creates a set of group-forming options
that increase exponentially with the number of potential
members. And I immediately understood why so much
Internet traffic was observed to be due to
newsgroups, chat rooms, etc. And why AOL's
electronic community was much more sticky than
Compuserve, despite similar content.
"What's exciting to me about this scaling law for
group-forming networks, which friends and colleagues
have been kind enough to call Reed's Law, is the way
it links my long-standing intuitions about the
importance and value of group behavior in networks
to relatively hard-nosed economic models. To
someone who understands the structure of such
models, the recipe for designing networks that
maximize value for readers, customers, etc. becomes
crystal clear. I've discussed some of the
"Networked communities that support group-forming are
growing in scale and reach, and network
architectures that enhance group-forming processes
are still being invented. Anyone who is serious
about the 'net must learn to 'get' the power of
group-forming communities that Licklider and Taylor
inspired with their article in 1968."
David Reed has more information at http://www.reed.com/gfn/.
You can find the full, unedited text of this interview at
ISRAEL, LAND OF TECHNOLOGY AND TRAFFIC JAMS
At the Vienna airport, I couldn't connect to the Internet in
the business lounge. Despite the fact that the Vienna POP was
a local call, I had to use a credit card phone that looked
like a safe and demanded a fourteen-step procedure. I called
the help line over eight times and got at least six different
explanations of how to use it. Then, when I tried to describe
what I was doing, they told me that they did not do technical
support. I worked at it for over 90 minutes without success,
getting more frustrated at every turn. I finally gave up --
in all the world, it is the only time I have been unable to
I filled out a customer complaint form on this, and only
recently got a letter from Austrian Air expressing regrets for
"the problem [I] reported" and wishing me better experiences
in the future. Why do airlines even waste the paper?
I had come to Israel to attend the Bar Mitzvah of my brother's
Number Three Son. It was my first time in Israel. I was not
prepared. There are three things in life that I will go far,
far out of my way to avoid: standing in line, waiting in
traffic, and scraping dog sh*t off my shoes. I am happy to
report that I did not need to scrape any dog sh*t off my shoes
in Israel. There were long, long, long, unruly lines at
Immigration, and, except for the first day I was there, and a
return trip to the airport in the wee hours, I got stuck in at
least one traffic jam every day.
Tel Aviv looks like Silicon Valley, with techie office
buildings sprouting chaotically. Stuff happens when you make
digital signal processing a national priority (which Israel
did over a decade ago).
The Bar Mitzvah was very nice. Nephews #1 and #2, pleasantly
surprised me with their deep appreciation for bebop, and with
their talent and sticktuitiveness (on horns and keyboards
respectively) that did justice to the music. The older boys
entertained the Bar Mitzvah guests with jazz, and their father
bopped a rap in Hebrew and English. The next day my brother
and sister-in-law took Uncle from America to the countryside
north of the Sea of Galilee, where we ate cheese and olives
and drank wine in a restaurant reminiscent of the Mud Brick
House in New Zealand.
The next day, my brother and I were in yet another traffic
jam. Many vehicles with lights and sirens were racing the
other way. We turned on the radio -- there had been a
Palestinian suicide bombing in Netanya, just a few miles from
my brother's town. Our traffic jam was due to an Israeli army
roadblock. As in the Balkans, conflicting deeply held
assumptions make hostile neighbors. After my visit to New
Zealand, I was having trouble understanding why so many see
this land as their paradise.
I was to have spent three days in Europe visiting the Swedish
Ethernet service provider Bredbandsbolaget (The Broadband
Company). But scheduling glitches and The Phantom Snowstorm
that never destroyed the U.S. Northeast caused a postponement.
(I saw Bredbandsbolaget board member Peter Ekelund at PC Forum
a few weeks later -- watch this space for new developments.)
An irrational (but widely held) belief in the Phantom
Snowstorm kept me in Israel two extra days. Finally I was
able to fly home to New Jersey. The pilot found Newark
Airport right where I had left it. The world is, indeed,
round, and it turns me on.
CONFERENCES ON MY CALENDAR
May 1-2, 2001, Richardson TX. Jeff Pulver's SIP Summit. I
will put something together on "Why SIP is hip", scheduled for
Monday 5/1, 4:30 to 5:30. Don't come to hear me, though.
Come to understand why SIP is appropriate end-to-end Internet
communications technology at the feet of experts like Henning
Schulzrinne and Jonathan Rosenberg. Info and registration
materials at http://pulver.com/sip2001
May 16, 2001, New York City. I'll be speaking at about 6:00
PM at the Wharton Club of New York City. SMART People
welcome! I think there might be a modest registration fee.
Contact Jim Synk for more info -- Jim.Synk@icn.siemens.com
July 1-2, 2001, London UK. World Technology Summit and
Awards. I will be giving a keynote speech on the usual
topic(s). Twenty-four awards will be made for technologic
contributions in almost every human endeavo(u)r. Find out
more at http://www.wtn.net/
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Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
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