The Internet Foundation

The Relation between the Internet and Society


The Internet should help assure the survival of the human species. When we invented language, symbol manipulation, external human memory, tools, we were partially assuring an environment to safeguard our genetic future. But things are changing rapidly now, and humans could become unnecessary. I think that is not a good thing, so I am trying to find a balance. But it means a different way of thinking about our relation to the world around us, and to each other. Our species is capable of much more. Certainly we have a million times more technologies than we need. So what happens if it is all simplified? Do people become superflous? What do all those people do? The purpose of the Internet should be to help and serve, not exploit or impoverish.

The original Internet Foundation, supported by half the fee for domain names, was cancelled about the time I wanted to start an "Internet Foundation" 20 years ago this July. So I inherited the domain name because it wasn't any use any more. A Foundation to resolve conflicts and set goals. I had spent my career on global problems, and was looking for something to occupy the rest of my life, so I took it as a personal responsiblity to at least monitor and take note. 20 years has been time enough for a quick overview.

The Internet can be used for communication, commerce, memory, sharing, and education. I reviewed many sites, organizations, technologies, and schemes. I spidered, mined, counted, analyzed, hypothesized, experimented and tested. I tried to examine motives and purposes. I researched thousands of topics in depth to find specific answers and solutions, tracking the processes and tools required. Over time many things fell aside as nonessential - 'make money', 'gain fame', 'chat', 'play', 'do lessons', 'sell things', 'research', 'broadcast'. Actually many wonderful and endearingly human things. But,the survival of the human species trumps them all. There is a billion times more than any one person can use in a lifetime. But there is much duplication, enormous waste, pitiful and unnecessary delays and confusion. Tower of Babel. A burden, not a helpmate, to many. Inaccessible to many more. Exploited too often. Too complex and costly to maintain. Many descriptions come to mind.

I still get excited about new technologies and proposals. But most are 'nice to have', not essential. The structure and functioning of the Internet can be simplified to make it an extension of humanity. Making money is easy. Building new things and technologies is easy. Finding things is easy. Getting millions or billions of people excited for one reason or another is easy. Assuring the future and prosperity of the species is not.

The Internet is disorganized. Some of that is a byproduct of growth, much of it is simple greed and laziness. If you become an expert in finding things it can be a wonderful tool, an extension of your mind and life. But navigation through randomly assigned links, through biased search results, through biased tools, distorts and delays every experience.

The search engines are coopted by what I call "the one second syndrome". They feel they must give you the largest number of "answers" in the shortest possible time. This is fine if you are asking for "What time is it in Paris?" "1347.63 feet in meters". But try to ask a question that takes hours or days or months or decades to answer, and it simply forgets who you are, what you are trying to accomplish, what you have already learned. Search engines have no memory. In fact, most websites or browsers or apps have no memory, except where it benefits or profits them.

Try to solve a problem that involves buying anything, and you are guaranteed to face scams, false leads, distorted and false claims. Even from seemingly neutral parties. Try to solve a problem that cuts across the artificial domains that have encrusted the Internet landscape, and you face duplication, errors, lies, vast arrays of incomplete and incompatible fragmentary "answers".

Is the Internet all bad? I think it is mostly driven by poor tools and motives. Organizations feel they must publicize and promote themselves on this "new" medium. People reach out. Many wonderful things happen. Much good happens, but at a tremendous waste of human time. It seems that every organization is counting 'one second" clicks and not looking for ways to help the people and groups who use their sites. The Internet has no purpose and no sense of responsibility to society. So by default, it takes the basest motives in it methods and tools. Each node serves only itself. Or each set of nodes owned by an entity only serves that entity.

Many try to build a 'collaborative' platforms. Most are captured by investors, clicks and conversions. Human editors cannot optimize the efficiency of a collection that is built by accretion. Social networking devolves into selling click statistics and personal information. The organizations that build the site do not monitor how much time they waste for users. They mostly do not seem to care if the users/members are productive, as long as they click and pay. Nodes collect information for their own purposes, not to help the users with their own lives.

This is a draft. Later I will come back and say, "That is too harsh.", "I don't want to hurt their feelings.", "I said that because of my personal experience. There are exceptions". This is really hard. I want to summarize two decades of what I hoped would be a neutral look at the Internet's purpose and processes. To offer some advice and guidance to groups who want to try to make it more responsive to human needs. In my first years I often repeated the phrase, "We can sell things, we can publicize ourselves, we can talk to each other, what is the deeper purpose of the Internet?"

Even the largest and most sophisticated sites today still use "click, show a new page, remember the least you can to do the job, if that is wrong let the user click something else, maybe they will figure it out or call the help line." It is a crude and wasteful paradigm. It assumes people have an infinite amount of time and memory to learn every unique twist and turn and non obvious navigation convention of every site on the web. And this alone is wasting [billions of hours of human time every day (a billion people each wasting an hour a day?) -> billions of hours every week more likely. 10^9 hours at $10 per hour opportunity cost * 52 weeks a year is $520 billion a year. What about the call center time, phone support and user calls? Missed deadlines, missed opportunities? ] $ ___ billion a year from poor software and methods.