Innovation, The Internet, Standards And the Arrow of Time – Part I



Like the ‘causal arrow of time‘, innovation moves forward in time with what has come before, always enhancing existing technology and the infrastructure that has come to depend on it, in the least disruptive way. However in each case there is always the same outcome, a lowering of costs, new customers and services, and increase in revenues. Two simple analogies come to mind:

  1. The gas pump
  2. Shipping containers (The Box) and the story of Malcolm McLean

The gas pump of today has changed little from the day it was invented by Sylvanus F. Bowser in Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 5, 1885. There’s a standard nozzle to dispense the fuel and there’s a metering mechanism to record the amount of fuel dispensed. All of this is ‘packaged’ in an attractive ‘pump’. By following a standard there is now a global distribution mechanism for gasoline that powers commerce.

Building on this (the causal arrow of time) pumps have become driver services delivery kiosks. They offer patrons multiple fuel and payment options, along with wait time video and car wash service options. They enable a new generation of revenue generating services for station owners, energy companies, content creators, and carwash mechanism producers. However the underlying theme always remains the same – improvements to existing infrastructure drive new revenue opportunities

In the case of the shipping containers it was the genius of one man, Malcolm McLean who relentlessly pursued an agenda that made ships, railroads and trucks bow to the intermodal container, and in the process made globalization and a new standard possible. In doing so he created a new economic order by leveraging existing delivery methods. There were five critical elements to McLeans vision which are mirrored in all global innovations. They are:

  • Financial: In the beginning, total port costs consumed 48% (or $1163 of $2386) of shipment of one truckload of medicine from Chicago to Nancy, France, in 1960. Fast forward to today: the book quotes economists Edward Glaeser and Janet Kohlhase: “It is better to assume that moving goods is essentially costless than to assume that moving goods is an important component of the production process.”
  • Technology: The key was to figure out optimal container sizes and other system parameters, based on a careful analysis of goods mixes on their routes. Today, container shipping systems are so optimized that an added second of delay in handling a container can translate to tens of thousands of dollars lost per ship per year.
  • Labor: The streamlining of labor unions resulting in a more consistent and economical approach to handling containers
  • Globalization: Containerization represented a technological force that old-style manual-labor-intensive ports and their cities simply were not capable of handling. This required a clean sheet approach to handling containers which is now repeated around the globe, offering economies of scale never seen before.
  • Simplicity: By adopting a standard companies and countries could now easily move their products around the globe. Hard to believe it all came down to a single box.

Now lets fast forward in time the invention that helped usher in the Internet. At it’s core the Internet depends on the telecommunications industry and the enhancements made over time to the design that started it all – two cans and a piece of string which later became the telephone. In the beginning inventors found a simple way to replace ‘vibrations on the wire’ (the two cans and a piece of string we all played with as kids) with electrical signals. From there the race was on to continue enhancing the existing infrastructure with what’s now known as ‘control signals’, all without disturbing or having to change the in-place technology and standards. Todays telecommunications systems has evolved to support a myriad of new signals the latest of which we currently know as the Internet.

The history of the Internet began with the development of electronic computers in the 1950s. The public was first introduced to the Internet when a message was sent from computer science Professor Leonard KleinRock’s laboratory at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), after the second piece of network equipment was installed at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). This connection not only enabled the first transmission to be made, but is also considered to be the first Internet backbone. In 1982 the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) was standardized and the concept of a world-wide network of fully interconnected TCP/IP networks called the Internet was introduced. At it’s core the Internet is based in the advances made by the telecommunications industry followed by the computer industry.

Next in the causal arrow of time came ‘Standard HTTP’ which was layered in as a standard on top of another TCP/IP. HTTP was designed as a very simple stateless protocol. (A communications protocol (layer) that treats each request as an independent transaction that is unrelated to any previous request, so that the communication consists of independent pairs of requests and responses. It can easily be compared to the early days of telephony. The early HTTP technology standards only contained what was necessary to make connections and transfer generic content. There was no concept of ‘Private Data’ in the early HTTP design(s). It was simply a fundamental hybrid of both a transport and presentation layer protocol for data transfer.

In the next and final installment of this blog i’ll talk about ‘Enhancing HTTP’ following in the same ‘causal arrow of time’ footsteps as all of the other innovations mentioned above.

Posted in: #Choice, #mobile, #privacy

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