2.6.3 The end-to-end principle

What has all this to do with the internet? Well, simply that the network was designed in such a way as to maximise the possibility of disruptive change – at least in the area of ‘information goods’ and services. The architects of the network were conscious that they could not predict the future; they could not foresee what kinds of applications people would one day conceive for the system they were designing. So they designed the network to be as simple as possible, allowing all the ingenuity to be concentrated at the ‘ends’: in the applications that programmers and entrepreneurs would one day invent.

This design principle later became known as the ‘end-to-end’ principle, and what it boiled down to was that the network should be as generic and simple as possible: all it did was to take data packets in at one end and do its best to deliver those packets to their destination at another end. This principle, plus the fact that the network was not ‘owned’ by anyone who could deny access to it for some applications while welcoming others, provided an unprecedented foundation for disruptive innovation. It meant, basically, that if your application could do something with data packets, then you could use the internet for it. The network didn't care whether those packets contained fragments of messages or images or music or video or digitised voice signals. As long as they came in packets, the internet would deliver them. It had become what Lessig called an ‘innovation commons’.

One consequence of this architecture was a wave of ‘explosive innovation’ in information goods and services, driven by people who had thought of novel ways of using the Net. Much of this innovation was of the disruptive variety. For example, internet telephony (using the Net for digitised conversation) poses a challenge to established telephone networks. The Napster file-sharing system posed a challenge to record companies accustomed to making music available only via plastic discs. Online banking posed a challenge to traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ banks. And so on. We are still working our way through these challenges to the established order – and the old order's response to them.

But more of that later.

"There's a way to do it better … find it."

(Thomas A. Edison)

2.6.2 Disruptive innovation

2.7 Activity 1