SMART Letter #54b
April 9, 2001

!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*() ------------------------------------------------------------ SMART Letter #54b -- April 9, 2001 Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg -- "no more specific than necessary" -- -- 1-888-isen-com ------------------------------------------------------------ !@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*() CONTENTS > 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 Multimedia Supercorridor. 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 great food. 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 appliance). 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 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 its members. "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 form groups. "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 capacity. "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 implications elsewhere. "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 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 connect. 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 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 -- 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 ------- COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Redistribution of this document, or any part of it, is permitted for non-commercial purposes, provided that the two lines below are reproduced with it: Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com ------- [to subscribe to the SMART Letter, please send a brief, PERSONAL statement to (put "SMART" in the Subject field) saying who you are, what you do, maybe who you work for, maybe how you see your work connecting to mine, and why you are interested in joining the SMART List.] [to unsubscribe to the SMART List, send a brief unsubscribe message to] [for past SMART Letters, see] [Policy on reader contributions: Write to me. I won't quote you without your explicitly stated permission. If you're writing to me for inclusion in the SMART Letter, *please* say so. I'll probably edit your writing for brevity and clarity. If you ask for anonymity, you'll get it. ] ** David S. Isenberg, inc. 888-isen-com 908-654-0772 ** -- The brains behind the Stupid Network -- **