Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The rise of the WITI problem

Looking at Internet History accounts from key people , also at various books about the Internet and its origins, at various articles in eZines and finally at the wikipedia entry about the Internet, surely one gets a good picture about it. For example what Internet is not.

In addition, by participating in a number of projects or activities relating to the growth, usage or development of the Net one gets an experience of the WITI - What Is The Internet - problem. We carried out such activiies in early 90s ( greek text at the moment). Just to give a quick account, it was really interesting times where important components or sub-systems of the Net were emerging such as:
  • Internet in Greece
  • The MIME multimedia Net transformation (got Borenstein's draft from Maria Demou at CERN and built an email system (greek text) with elm and metamail), then found the idea of Computational Email by NSB, a MIME based innovation (early "web computing" idea)
  • The Archie indexing of the FTP-sphere (we were doing it manually as a student project)
  • RIPE control point for the Net (as national representative)
  • BGP II to VI routing transformation (got the experience through EBONE consortium membership)
  • Networked Information component (member of the working group)
The above observations were giving substance to the WITI problem and were shaping the logic of the list of answers to expect.

Is there something else to shed light on the issue ?, a method to construct a picture of the Net ?

I believe that there is and it is Internet Systematics that takes a good shot at the job of constructing this picture.

The meaning of the term "systematics" as in "system" is thus revealed here. Our working hypothesis is that a global computer like system is being advanced continuously (already said by the infamous trademark of Sun Microsystems, of course).

By deploying a method, similar to the idea of F.Baker (ex IETF chair) called "pseudo-area" we observe (in some cases we participate directly) the evolution of Net's components. This allows us a kind of abstraction from the vast amount of information that exists inside the IETF's areas. Of course staying at this informational distance we loose facts and data but hopefully we do not loose the whole picture.

I think, Internet Systematics does something similar to what J.Postel had in mind when he proposed to Rohit Khare to work on the collected technical data about Internet protocols at ISI.EDU (drafts, rfcs, documents) in order to "see" what picture comes out of it. This did not take place according to the latter's statement on the occasion of Postel's orbituary.
I found in Rohit Khare's analysis of Internet problems a similar modality to Internet systematics.

The motivation for setting ourselves such a problem (the WITI problem) was perhaps accidental. On the one hand was the practical aspect of the task what kind of Net to build and the other was the influnce of previous research related to looking for a new computing paradigm (the so-called functional programming paradigm).

Internet Systematics is a language inside which we want to reflect and analyse the properties of the basic elements of the Internet phenomenon. You may also think of it as a kind of theory much like the historical perspectives above but aiming to codify, to create terms and concepts much like a formalism does.

In short, Internet Systematics will generate an evolutionary picture of the Net.

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