Albion Mini-Navigator

CHOP Bottom Flamemail
Today's Flame

October 30, 1998 |, San Francisco | Issue #010

God is Dead

Photo of Jon PostelThe Daily Flame joins many other sites in sadly noting the passing of Jon Postel on October 16. Dr. Jonathan B. Postel's official titles — director of the Computer Networks division at the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) of the University of Southern California, and director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority — don't really capture the essence of what them man did. Postel was a net god, one of a small number of exceptional people who founded and built the Internet around the best principles of the 1960's countercultural revolution ... cooperation, freedom, openness, distributed authority, non-hierarchical organization.

The Internet is a truly remarkable system. Unlike television, cable systems, telephone systems, newspapers, book publishing, no one owns the Internet. In an age when communications are increasingly mediated by increasingly large corporations, when every week seems to bring some Godzilla-sized media merger, the net stands out as a medium with no toll collectors, where empowered individuals can interact with each other as peers.

Postel was an eminent and early contributor to this revolution. Flash back to 1968. Los Angeles. There was Postel in the heat of the late 1960s, at the birth of the survivalist ARPANET. He was the indefatigable editor of the critical RFCs, the Request for Comments documents that underpin and define the inner workings of the net. Later, he was the head of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), where he oversaw the assignment of IP addresses with fairness and unerring competence. His role in the recent domain name wars is telling. While a variety of commercial interests have vied to influence or control the assignment of domain names, Postel looked after the needs of the whole, ensuring the viability and stability of the systems that work seamlessly to associate arcane numbers with plain text domain names.

Unlike the Bill Gates of the world, Postel had power and wielded it wisely and with respect. One weekend last year, after the vendor that assigns domain names tried a variety of power moves, Postel by-passed the vendor's authority and re-directed the net's root servers to his home network. He could do this because of the cooperation and respect he'd won from dozens if not hundreds of other key Internet administrators. In an age when power all too often comes from coercive systems of law and greed, Postel made his name with the thoroughness and elegance of his solutions.

Postel has written his name into the history of the net. In his wake, a new private corporation is being formed to oversee Internet domain names and numbers: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Will his successors maintain the revolutionary and open spirit of the net that Jon jealously guarded? Unlikely. IANA's slogan — "Dedicated to preserving the central coordinating functions of the global Internet for the public good" — is high-minded, but the force of private power has a way of overcoming commitments to the public good. The revolution burns on, without one of its brightest lights.

-- Seth Ross

CHOP Top Flamemail

Previous | Top | Next
Copyright © 1994-98
Overview of Albion Sites About Albion Ad Rate Card Web Development Services Go to Albion Home Page