By Joe Procopio
If you’re familiar with my geek cred, it shouldn’t surprise you that I’ve known about Vint Cerf and his contribution to the Internet for ages, almost all the way back to my days on CompuServe chatting about the Fixx and winning valuable prizes playing You Guessed It!
When I heard Dr. Cerf speak at Southeast Venture Conference in DC back in February, he started with a map of the Internet circa 1999, spent a good deal of time on today (security, privacy, policy) and finished with a brief overview of the Interplanetary Internet. Yeah. That’s real and that’s next.
Dr. Vint Cerf: Chief Internet Evangelist and Plumbing Specialist
Vint currently serves as the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, the coolest job on Geek Planet. But he knows his specialty, and like any good entrepreneur, he attacks it with vigor and without distraction.
He says he’s the guy who builds the freeway, and at WWW2010 he felt like he was asked to tell Enzo Ferrari how to build race cars. That’s you, early stage tech entrepreneur. You’re Enzo in that analogy.
He’s created the plumbing, the underbelly, the series of tubes that makes up what we call the World Wide Web. And he has a very good idea of what should be built and what’s going to be built up on the street level. This is why we love Vint, because he takes us down this rabbit hole he created and gives us a guided tour.
So How About That Internet, Huh?
I got an invitation for a one-on-one with Vint Cerf. I’m not going to go into how that happened, and instead leave it to your imagination. First and obvious thought: What the hell am I going to talk to him about? He’s pretty much heard it all before, he’s open and transparent about what he’s thinking. Am I going to unlock some bold and crazy secret that’s going to allow you to create Internet Disruption and Upheaval in 2010?
I’m going to try.
So let’s go back to all you Enzo Ferraris out there. The great thing about the Internet is its equalizing power, giving those of us with limited resources and little hope of major outside funding a shot at creating real impact and change. The downside, of course, is that we have limited resources and little hope of major outside funding.
What Does Vint Think?
During his keynote, Vint spoke to the number of ways to improve the Internet as it is today and I asked him, noting that we don’t have money or influence, how we can make an impact.
He told me that was a tough question (which made my brain explode). The great thing about the Internet today, he said, is that there are so many things you can do without having to rely on everyone else to do the inventing.
But the conundrum, as with all innovation, is that innovation is easy compared to the effort and resources it takes in getting people to adopt the innovation. This is sales, marketing, and strategy.
A lot of entrepreneurs are long on invention and short on strategy and, unfortunately, a lot of potential businesses don’t survive as those skills aren’t brought into the picture soon enough.
However, there are new protocols from an engineering point of view to get those innovations out there.
Apps and Viral Growth
Another way is to persuade the people with the wherewithal to cause software to be distributed to engage.
In the case of the basic Internet protocols, Vint recalled spending about 5 years convincing the major computer OS makers, the IBMs, HPs, Digitals, to build internet capability into their operating systems, and got free software built into the Berkeley Unix Release — BSD 4.2, the first integrated Internet protocols in the Unix OS. That put TCP/IP on the map in a free package and companies like Sun instantly adopted it. Thus, they found a way to ride the Unix Ethernet Workstation wave.
So you Ferraris: Find your wave.
It’s Still All About The Pentiums
So how do you play? Vint also believes that the strongest path for entrepreneurial advancement in this decade is still software. Mobile is a huge piece of that, what with 4.5 billion of them out there. Beyond that, we’ve only scratched the surface for a growing number of Internet enabled devices. i.e. the iPad. Further, the smart grid will create even more things that create and send data and they will drive the need for other devices.
Managing your internet enabled stuff will be a theme for this entire decade, and that includes 3rd party services and products and applications. So think entertainment systems managed by these systems, refrigerators talking to dishwashers to conserve energy, and in Vint’s particular case, a wine cellar letting him know his collection was about to go bad.
You Want A Big Playground? Build for the Interplanetary Internet
I mentioned to him that he didn’t get to the Interplanetary Internet this time, and he said he had meant to, but simply ran out of time.
It sounds like science fiction but it’s actual technology, which is how some of the most innovative science gets created. Back in 1998, Vint figured it had taken 25 years to get to where the Internet was then, and started thinking about what we might need in 2025.
That’s where the Interplanetary Internet comes from. He thought: “What do we have to do to network the solar system?” Part of it sounded dramatic, but part of it had real roots in manned and robotic space exploration. So he and JPL spent 5 years inventing the new protocols that were needed to provide a framework to launch more complex space missions.
Not long into it, they found that these same protocols applied to the tactical and commercial mobile sector, and have seen serious investment by the Defense Department and are exploring the implementation in the commercial sector, including Android.
Android? Yes. Android. Although there’s still a lot of work to be done. One big hurdle is the extremely high attention to security and access control. The last thing Vint wants to see is the headline: “15-Year-Old Takes Over MarsNet.” And it’s up to you Enzo Ferraris to make sure that doesn’t happen
Joe Procopio is the founder of Intrepid Company, a technical and management consulting firm (intrepidcompany.com) that has spun out publishing company/creative network Intrepid Media (intrepidmedia.com) and digital incubator ExitEvent (exitevent.com). He would like to someday be known as the Creepy Third Cousin of the Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @jproco.