My thoughts are scattered and they’re
They have no borders, no boundaries
They echo and they swell
From Tolstoy to Tinker Bell
Hugh has a great post on “the cloud” today. One that should make all of us think. As Tim O’Reilly tweeted, this is an important post. Monkchips‘ observations here, as referenced by both Hugh and Tim, are worth reading.
I have always had this sense that there is no longer any room for artificial monopolies, that the market will provide a self-correcting mechanism. But I have always been wrong on this. We can argue about why this is so, but not about the fact. Microsoft, Google and Apple are facts.
Open standards, open platforms and open source are ways to prevent this happening. Ways to guarantee that history won’t repeat itself. But this needs coherent communal action, something that is hard to achieve in emergent environments.
Maybe the VRM community should take this on.
I started this post with a quote from a Simon and Garfunkel song. We need to make sure that what we do in cloud computing doesn’t sound like the end of that song:
They don’t know where they’re going/And, my friend/Neither do I.
So read Hugh’s post. Read what James Governor has to say. And help us all figure out how to prevent what would otherwise be the expected outcome.
[After publishing this post, I walked into the kitchen, to be greeted by Joni Mitchell singing Big Yellow Taxi. And it reminded me: I really don’t know clouds…..at all…..]
8 thoughts on “From Tolstoy to Tinker Bell”
The reason why Microsoft, Google and Apple can exist is simple. Copyright provides a method for creating artificial monopolies.
It is not that the market is not self correcting, it is simply that the market is not free.
There’s a better explanation from Leonard Richardson. “I believe that programmable distributed services are also due to be swallowed by the web, that one day they will be regarded as just another kind of web site. ”
If you want to be optimistic about it, “the cloud” is just “the web” with potentially more complicated resources behind the URLs. All this trillion-dollar cloud of the future malarkey is missing the point: it’s already happening. What can you stick a REST interface on today and become part of “the cloud”? Or what interface of someone else’s can you use?
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
(baron Acton, 1887)
And the Web is the battlefield for 21st century power.
Isn’t a self-correcting market predicated upon false premises like rational behaviour and perfect information? The majority of people don’t think of Microsoft and Google as monopolies – just things they use which serve them adequately (in their mind) and give them more time to do other stuff that’s more important to them.
I think it has something to do with barriers to entry, so I have some sympathy with Gustav’s comment. When barriers to entry get lowered, then irrational people with imperfect information can collude to do market-correcting things. Such as opensource.
It is about the economics of centrally capitalised ‘single source’ services versus peer to peer and ‘multi source’ federations of cooperating providers.
Free software and free services (qua Franklin Street Statement) undermine monopolies on distribution of software. But even if all software and services are 100% FSF+FSS compliant there is still room for Cloud Gorillas i.e. Amazons and Googles that can finance CPU and bandwidth at a better price than its competitors, thereby making the best profit when it rents out those assets.
Real alternatives to gorilla (or maybe even monopolist) cloud providers will require some sort of economic openness as well as free or open licensing. Federations of peers that can form ‘clouds’ in the same way that SETI-at-home does, but from any computing device. So that this does not depend on “coherent communal action”, federations will most likely be managed by a group of ‘super node’ providers. But unlike Google and Amazon, these super-nodes will operate as financial-exchange type utilities – their economics will be based on exchange of excess capacity between peers, and the creation of liquidity based on low barriers to participation.
Just to be clear – this is all science fiction as far as I am concerned ;-)
If there is an arrow stuck in your body, then what is most important? What material it is made of, or how do I get it out and cure my wounds?
Power relationships are part of the human condition. You can not change that. What matters is how you treat it.