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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Multicasting - The element prior to 2003 that should be added to the Internet History course

I think the course should include multicasting on the Internet. Multicasting is delivering content from a single sender to multiple receivers. It is similar to broadcast, but does not incur broadcast's overhead or router limitations. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) are negotiating Multicast protocols. And are advocating a broadcast system that keeps IP traffic to minimum on the ISP's network, no matter how many users are connected. Multicast is for live, scheduled broadcasts only.

Searching for coelacanths

I was involved in a small team that pioneered live streaming broadcasting in South Africa in 2001. I worked with very clever entrepreneurial start-ups and and a team of online mavericks at a traditional newspaper publishing company Avusa Media, then known as Johnnic Communications.

In one of our early video streaming experiments we agreed to live-stream a deep dive looking for coelacanths at Sodwana Bay on the Summit TV website. The team included Geoff Cohen, now CEO of and Jonathan Banks, Digital Product Manager BDFM, owners of Summit TV. With a network of routers and a significant amount of buffering we had an audience of about 10 people who suffered the event streamed across a 64bit line.

“Due to the bandwidth constraints of the connectivity, combined with the poor video compression available at the time, the user experience was very poor. The size of the data made the infrastructure required to have the capacity to make it a viable commercial product impractically expensive to implement." – Jonathan Banks.

We completely ignored the user experience and forged on with our streaming innovations. The business at the time was under pressure as the regulatory financial reporting required by companies listed on the stock exchange was going digital and the newspaper business was at risk of losing significant print revenues. We eventually developed a patchwork solution packaged into a product for Summit TV. We were streaming analyst presentations of company financial results live online. These services were eventually restricted to a talking head with a slide presentation. Very similar in fact to the lectures we have experienced during this Internet History, Technology and Security course with Dr Chuck.

All broadcasts were packaged with PowerPoint displayed alongside the webcasting player. These were offered to dial-up and broadband users. There was an opportunity for the analysts to ask questions using an instant messaging technology. And in time the option of audio or video broadcasts were offered. Audio broadcasts incorporated a photo of the speaker and an audio stream alongside the PowerPoint slides. There was also the option of real-time or delayed broadcasts. Delayed broadcasts would have less viewer demand and users would arguably have a better experience. There were also several storage hosting options.

"While technically feasible it was practically implausible to scale to commercial volumes required for both a great customer experience and an opportunity to monetise meaningfully." - Geoff Cohen. The service never gained popularity.

The experience in South Africa has not changed much since our heady days of innovation. Private ADSL lines are still limited to 384kbps but we are hopeful that these will all be upgraded later this year to 1mbps as our local telco Telkom improves its infrastructure.

Just a little bit of Internet History and in South Africa we are still living it.


We share - How money influenced the path of innovation on the Internet - Extra Credit Assignment 1

We share.

Sharing is how the Internet started and no millennial user could imagine it otherwise. We have also come to expect to share it for free. The Internet has challenged our economic model from inception and we have to thank the 1000s of academic inventors who through their collaborative creativity contributed to making this free Internet service available to over 2.2 billion people worldwide in 2011 (Internet World Stats 2011). These scientists and engineers cleverly manipulated getting $15m from the US government to develop the NSFNet in 1986. Ironically while the Internet was funded by the US government, this is one institution that would like, above all, to remove net neutrality (Cleland 2011).

The NSFNet early version of the Internet connected six NSF funded academic supercomputer sites and enabling academics to share documents over a 56kbps dial-up line. Later the TCP/IP layered network model was invented and data was transported between servers in packet filled windows across a network of routers. Again through collaboration the standards adopted by the Internet regulatory body Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) ensure that no single vendor is able to gain advantage by commercialisation of the Internet infrastructure.
Combine this foundation of a free infrastructure with the effect of Moore's Law on the cost of storage and the hardware devices that make the Internet possible and you have a network that runs very cheaply. The resultant dramatic reductions in the costs of distribution and production have had a massive effect on barriers to entry for many business models. As a result of this almost every sector of industry has been challenged by disruptive start-ups offering competitive services and products for free. Content and advertising have become commoditised by free news websites, including user generated content sites and free classified advertising sites. Even high-end software technology has been affected as these services move into the cloud. Books can also be included. The book "Free - The Future of a Radical Price" that discusses this free economy, was available at launch for free as an e-book or can be downloaded from the Internet as a free audiobook (Anderson 2009).

I wonder if those academics realised that the impact of their collaborative invention would ultimately lead to the revolutionary change we have seen the Internet bring about on the world. The collaborative nature of their invention has sparked a culture of collaborative creativity that spans across continents making our world more democratic, productive and creative (Leadbeater 2008). We now live in a world where we have people using the immediacy of social networks to communicate with each other in time of social change or protest. And while the use of social media was used as a rallying tool in the Arab Spring we must also look at the effect this same collaborative connectivity has had on consumerism. If we use the example of Netflix who lost over 800 000 customers and two thirds of its market value when a social media backlash to their price increase resulted in thousands and thousands of blog posts and tweets from customers (Bienhoff 2012). Companies are now required to engage in conversations with their customers and that voice has to be sensitive to their customer's emotion and their influence in the collaborative framework of the modern Internet.

The Internet is free. Free as in beer and free as in freedom. It started that way and so, we hope, it will stay and continue to facilitate our global sharing of freedom and democracy.


Internet World Stats. (2011, December 31). Internet Usage Statistics -The Internet Big Picture - World Internet Users and Population Stats. [Data file] Retrieved from Cleland, S (2011, July 11). The Politics of Regulating the Internet. Forbes. Retrieved from Anderson, C (2009). Free: The Future of a Radical Price. London: Random House Business Books Leadbeater, C (2008). We-Think: Mass innovation, not mass production. London: Profile Books Bienoff, M (2012, May 10). Welcome to the social media revolution. BBC. Retrieved from