Eating My Collapse Column


You've perhaps already heard that I made good on a promise to eat the
12/4/95 InfoWorld column in which I predicted Internet collapses during
1996. If not yet, then please. Yes, eating the column was a publicity
thing, of course, and look at all the publicity it got.

As widely reported, I ate the entire column out of a bowl with a spoon
before an appreciative live audience of about 1,000 people attending my
terminal keynote at the Sixth International World Wide Web Conference in
Santa Clara, California. Some reports skipped that I ate (and am still
digesting) the entire column. I did. Rest assured.

So, sorry to those of you who could not be there to witness my
comeuppance. And sorry to those of you whom I over excited during 1996
by warning of Internet outages and arguing for more organized
cooperation (than NANOG) among ISPs in managing Internet operations.

Of course you should understand that I ate the column only because the
Internet, as far as I can tell, did not suffer a gigalapse during 1996
-- a billion lost user*hours in a single outage. The Internet has
indeed bogged down (hit STOP much?) and has indeed suffered large
outages (the biggest being a 118 megalapse at AOL in August). The
Internet still needs much more cooperation among ISPs on managing its
operations, and perhaps we'll see some soon. Which is to say that,
despite eating my column, I stand by my story.

But, again, I was wrong -- we were lucky -- about the 1996 gigalapse.
Again, I was wrong. I ate the column. I am sorry. I am not worthy.

Now, be thinking about what you're going to eat (;->) if we don't get
our Internet operations acts together in time to avert gigalapses.

Lovingly on your case,

/Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld columnist

Bob Metcalfe wrote:

Now, be thinking about what you're going to eat (;->) if we don't get
our Internet operations acts together in time to avert gigalapses.

All depends on who's buying.


[If you hate long asides on NANOG then please delete now with my apologies.]


You're a class act, if a bit on the PT Barnum side. You didn't have to post
this note to NANOG. But I understand you have a publication that needs to
get noticed. I appreciate your acceptance of our position that your
prediction did not come true within the time frame you specified.

I thought it might be fun to look back at your column of 4 Dec 95 and see
how the whole thing stacks up today. You made ten predictions in that
column, but we seem to remember only the gigalapse piece and, ironically,
in looking back I find no reference in the original column to a precise
definition of the disaster, only that the Internet will "catastrophically
collapse". But let's look at the other predictions:

1) Money. You said that investors would be disappointed and that has turned
out to be true, not only of the Internet but of all computer networking.
But is that really anything more than the usual ups and downs of the stock
market? I think not, since most Internet stocks slid down to something more
reasonable in terms of P/E or at least no greater than
cisco/Ascend/Cascade. I give you credit for this one.

2) Digital money. You said that digital money would remain too complicated
and that Internet ecommerce wouldn't take off. That seems to be largely true,
but do you think that will continue? Does prove anything? I give
you credit for this one too.

3) Measurement. Advertisers will be disappointed and Internet users will
drift back toward television. That doesn't seem to be true. More like TV
is drifting as fast as it can toward the Internet. Does WebTV prove
anything? I give you credit for this one.

4) Monopolies. You said that the phone companies would focus on long distance
and not invest in the Internet. Do xDSL trials and Internet subsidiaries
prove anything about the RBOCs interest in Internet? I give you credit for
this one, since neither the phone companies nor the cable companies have
demonstrated yet that they are up to the Internet growth challenge,
although I think that they will rise to the opportunity as quickly as they
are able.

5) Security. You predicted some major security breaches that would drive
the rest of the productive Internet to safety. Didn't happen. I don't think
it will happen, so you lose on this one.

6) Compatibility. You predicted IPv6 would tear the Web. Didn't happen.
Won't happen. No credit.

7) Capacity. Collapse. Didn't happen. You did say the naive flat-rate
business model is slowly changing. Give you partial credit for that.

8) Privacy. You said there would be some well-publicized privacy
violations, but that didn't happen. I don't think it will happen. No credit.

9) Video. If the Internet succeeds in carrying video, then it will collapse.
It didn't happen and I don't think it will. The ISPs that I know that are
doing video are doing it conservatively and the hobbyist video conferencing
suffers from incompatible standards and poor directories, stunting its
growth and resultant traffic loads. I don't think you got this one.

10) Pornography. This prediction wasn't exactly clear to me, but neither
the availability of pornography on the Net nor troubles downloading it
caused the Internet to collapse and it never will. You missed this one.

Four out of ten, the scorecard looks pretty good, because pundits, like
baseball hitters, never get many home runs. Even when you are on the mark,
it's hard to get the timing right.

I think on the whole, you were and are correct about the money, the
business models, and the difficulty of advertising revenue. While those
issues haven't caused collapse, they are certainly still threats. You are
essentially correct on these issues, in my view.

With respect to the catastrophies, you outlined some plausible ones, but
you were and are fundamentally wrong on this. Security, privacy and
pornography catastrophies haven't killed the Net. Capacity issues haven't
killed the Net. While I can't say that nothing will ever kill the Net, I
believe that to be true. I think where your column falls short is that back
then and more so today, the Internet is an unstoppable phenomenon and
nothing will ever kill it dead. We are too far past Ethernet, DECNET, XNS,
and all the rest to ever turn back. So I think you were and are
fundamentally wrong on this point. There may well be a gigalapse in future,
but by that time we will have tera- numbers of users. So when the time
comes and a gigalapse happens this year or next, don't pretend you were
right after all, because it is only the unending scaling of the Net that
will ever make a gigalapse prediction come true.

You've learned a lot in the last year. I'm sure you're not ready to hide in
a cave and leave us alone. I suppose on the whole that is to the good,
because while you may not be right about the collapse or understand why it
won't happen as you think, you certainly know a thing or two about
technology, you are a good writer, and I think you know 300% more about the
Internet than you did when you wrote that column. Just stop calling us the
Internetgensia. It's too hard to say. :slight_smile:

In future, I'd advise that your Chicken Little columns be printed in
InfoWorld in special inserts on rice paper. It would seem that your blender
pulp was quite a stomachful and I wouldn't feel right if you collapsed with
an intestinal blockage at some future NANOG, should you have to eat another
column. On the other hand, keep hitting on the economic models and keep
publishing your previews of new and interesting technologies and startups
that might just show us new models that might work.

Luck to us all.


~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ Note new area code ~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~
Kent W. England Six Sigma Networks
1655 Landquist Drive, Suite 100 Voice/Fax: 760.632.8400
Encinitas, CA 92024
Experienced Internet Consulting ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~
(If you can't reach me using 760 area code, use the old 619 instead.)

<sigh> Great, now we can all stop working the 20 hour days using spit and
duct tape to keep the net running. Hard bet to loose, hat's off to the
guys at the core for keeping it up and together.

Tim Gibson
NOC Manager
Skyscape Communciations