[I’m participating in an online symposium on Jonathan Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet and how to stop it at Concurring Opinions. This is the first of two posts on his book. The second (on the need for a new generativity principle) is here.]
Which factors have allowed the Internet to foster application innovation in the past, and how can we maintain the Internet’s ability to serve as an engine of innovation in the future? These questions are central to current engineering and policy debates over the future of the Internet. They are the subject of Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and how to stop it and of my book Internet Architecture and Innovation which was published by MIT Press last month.
As I show in Internet Architecture and Innovation, the Internet’s original architecture had two components that jointly created an economic environment that fostered application innovation:
1. A network that was able to support a wide variety of current and future applications (in particular, a network that did not need to be changed to allow a new application to run) and that did not allow network providers to discriminate among applications or classes of applications. As I show in the book, using the broad version of the end-to-end arguments (i.e., the design principle that was used to create the Internet’s original architecture)  to design the architecture of a network creates a network with these characteristics.
2. A sufficient number of general-purpose end hosts  that allowed their users to install and run any application they like.
Both are essential components of the architecture that has allowed the Internet to be what Zittrain calls “generative” – “to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.”
In The Future of the Internet and how to stop it, Zittrain puts the spotlight on the second component: general-purpose end hosts that allow users to install and run any application they like and their importance for the generativity of the overall system.