Is the internet running out of space?
In a word: yes.
It’s rather humorous why, actually, and is a classic story of collective human behaviour.
In layman’s terms, the original architects of the internet (some crazy dudes in the 60s) created a simple way to identify connected computers and move data between them: assign each a unique number: an Internet Protocol (IP) address. No IP address, no delivery of data.
Most of the world is on version 4, or IPv4. But it has a capped limit to the number of IP addresses available, and this number is running out. Fast.
You’d think someone would have thought of a way to move beyond this limitation, wouldn’t you?
They did. 10 years ago.
It’s called IPv6 (v5 did a runner), and solves the problem beautifully with trillions of new IP addresses.
It’s been adopted by China and India and many emerging markets. Often led by government dictates (which don’t go down too well here).
It makes sense for us in the West to all adopt IPv6 if we are to compete in the emerging digital landscape.
But, because of the vagaries of our capitalist mindsets, we have yet to adopt it wholesale.
Because it costs money to adopt it and, in the meantime, there’s a double-sided-sticky-back-plastic-short-term-solution that everyone’s been using for a decade. Problem is, this is clogging up the arteries in itself and means the internet in it’s current form is literally running out of room.
Even funnier is the fact that loads of old IP addresses are being snapped up by telecoms companies without any thought as to their previous form. Like old phone numbers, these IP addresses could have been used for porn, gambling or other unsavoury pursuits, or subject to cyber-hacks or all sorts of things that could see them blocked by ISPs (and as they’ve been sold off the back of a lorry, the new owners won’t know this till they try to use them).
For the fully academic version of this fascinating story, take a look at Prof Zittrain’s essay here – he’s a fascinating man, and former head of the Oxford Internet Institute. If it really interests you, get this book:
It’s fascinating for anyone working on the internet. Here’s a bit more of the venerable Prof. talking about the future of the internet…
January 12, 2011
Zittrain is the best! I’ve been following him for a while and he talks about the philosophy and psychology of the internet in a way that makes these esoteric subjects fascinating and, what is more, absolutely hilarious. I have read his book and thoroughly recommend it.
January 12, 2011
Couldn’t agree more, Jennifer. I love his work. It should be compulsory reading for anyone working online 🙂
February 11, 2011
I’ll take up your recommendation Jennifer. I haven’t read much of his work; so will be doing so soon. Sounds great!