Tuesday, May 21, 2002

The "I Don't Know" Network

Here's part of what David Reed was talking about today at Connectivity 2002. What if you made something really robust, that people could use to build a lot of things and you actually left them alone to build those things, making no assumptions about what those things would look like.

In fact, what if you made a network that was based on the idea that instead of arrogantly assuming you knew exactly what customers would do with it, how they would use it, what they would use it for and THEREFORE designing in "features" based on these assumptions — you designed it to play second-fiddle, to just be there behind-the-scenes and let others design applications at each end that served their needs. It made me think of a quotation I've always liked from Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

"The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails." -- James Joyce

Really, think about it, designing an infrastructure that was agressively application neutral, as David Reed put it, and left that app part to others as a starting point for serious innovation — what kind of a network would it be? Perhaps inspired, and surely elegant, simple, and respectful of the contribution others would bring to the table.

And is there anything terrible, or perhaps something great about an engineer designing something and when asked what it will do and what it will cost and what it means, simply answering, "I don't know." Especially when he DOES know that he's creating something that will let others innovate and answer the "I don't know" question for him in a myriad of amazing ways.
This is part of what David Reed was discussing this morning, more soon.