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December 19 2012

Three lessons for the industrial Internet

The map of the industrial Internet is still being drawn, which means the decisions we’re making about it now will determine the extent to which it shapes our world.

With that as a backdrop, Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) used his presentation at the recent Minds + Machines event to urge the industrial Internet’s architects to apply three key lessons from the Internet’s evolution. These three characteristics gave the Internet its ability to be open, to scale and to adapt — and if these same attributes are applied to the industrial Internet, O’Reilly believes this growing domain has the ability to “change who we are.”

Full video and slides from O’Reilly’s talk are embedded at the end of this piece. You’ll find a handful of insights from the presentation outlined below.

Lesson 1: Simplicity

“Standardize as little as possible, but as much as is needed so the system is able to evolve,” O’Reilly said.

To illustrate this point, O’Reilly drew a line between the simplicity and openness of TCP/IP, the creation and growth of the World Wide Web, and the emergence of Google.

“The Internet is fundamentally permission-less,” O’Reilly said. “Those of us who were early pioneers on the web, all we had to do was download the software and start playing. That’s how the web grew organically. So much more came from that.”

A nice side-effect of this model is that you can easily determine its success. “A new platform can be said to succeed when your customers and partners build new features before you do,” O’Reilly noted.

The Hourglass Architecture of the InternetThe Hourglass Architecture of the Internet

“The IP protocol did the smallest, necessary thing: it specified the format of the data that would be exchanged between machines. Everything else could vary, from the transport protocols and transport medium all the way to the kinds of applications and services that were exchanging that data. Jonathan Zittrain refers to this as the ‘hourglass architecture’ of the Internet.”
— Tim O’Reilly, “Lessons for the Industrial Internet,” slide 6

(The “simplicity” segment begins at the 1:43 mark in the accompanying video.)

Lesson 2: Generativity

“Create an architecture of participation that leads to unexpected innovations and discoveries, and builds a new ecosystem of companies that add value to the network,” O’Reilly explained.

O’Reilly pointed to two examples relevant to this lesson:

  1. Google Maps — Online mapping services were already common when Google launched its Maps service in 2005. So how did Google push to the front of the line? When hackers started mashing up Maps data with external sources, Google embraced those efforts and launched APIs. The result is a mapping platform that’s achieved ubiquity through accessibility. It’s unlikely anyone within Google could have anticipated the innovations that would come once the doors were thrown open.
  2. Apple’s App Store / the rise of Android — The first iPhone didn’t launch with an App Store. Third-party development at that point was limited to web apps. But Apple plotted a new course when it saw jailbreaking grow, and the company now oversees a marketplace with more than 700,000 applications. However, O’Reilly pointed to the rise of Android as evidence that Apple didn’t completely embrace a participatory architecture. “Apple didn’t learn the lesson well enough,” he said.

O’Reilly also noted that the industrial Internet’s considerable upside makes the need for participatory architecture vital. “I think this industrial Internet idea is so powerful and so right, that everybody is going to want to get on board. It’s going to be really important to figure out how you create an open systems approach to this. That doesn’t mean you can’t create enormous value for yourselves, but it’s super important to think about that aspect of it.”

HousingMaps Google Maps mashupHousingMaps Google Maps mashup

“When Paul Rademacher reverse-engineered the format of Google’s new mapping app to create the first map mashup, HousingMaps.com, Google could have branded him a ‘hacker’ and tried to shut him down. Instead, they responded by opening up free APIs for developers. Other, more closed platforms were left in the dust, and Google Maps became the preferred mapping platform for the web.”
— Tim O’Reilly, “Lessons for the Industrial Internet,” slide 11

(This “generativity” segment begins at the 3:01 mark in the accompanying video.)

Lesson 3: Robustness

Build “the ability to tolerate failure and degrade gracefully rather than catastrophically,” O’Reilly said.

“Graceful failure” may sound like an excuse a parent uses to soothe a child’s bruised ego, but it’s actually a fundamental building block of the Internet.

As an example, O’Reilly said that one of the key innovations Tim Berners-Lee constructed when he developed the World Wide Web was the ability for anyone to create a hypertext link that didn’t resolve. A user would bump up against a 404 message if a link hit a dead end, yet everything would still function and the user could flow around the obstacle without the entire system crumbling.

Now, you may think an innocuous 404 failure is a far cry from the failure of a massive chunk of industrial machinery. That’s not necessarily the case. O’Reilly told the story of a Boeing engineer who addressed catastrophic metal fatigue in airplanes through a form of graceful failure. “The right answer wasn’t to eliminate all the cracks,” O’Reilly said. “You had to figure out how to live with them.”

Bottom line: Whether we’re talking about hypertext or airliner materials, an embrace of robustness and graceful failure expands a domain’s possibilities. “One of the big lessons from the Internet is if you don’t know how to fail, you’ll never be able to scale,” O’Reilly said.

De Havilland's Comet and Boeing's graceful failureDe Havilland's Comet and Boeing's graceful failure

“While it may seem that this philosophy of the Internet is inappropriate for the highly engineered systems of the industrial Internet, I’ll remind you of the failure of de Havilland’s Comet in 1954 and the rise of Boeing as the dominant provider of commercial aircraft. Over the course of three years, three Comets fell out of the sky for initially unexplained reasons. It eventually became clear that the problem was metal fatigue. De Havilland tried to eliminate all cracks; Boeing learned to live with them.”
— Tim O’Reilly, “Lessons for the Industrial Internet,” slide 18

(This “robustness” segment begins at the 6:40 mark in the accompanying video.)

Full video: “Minds + Machines 2012: ‘Closing the Loop’ – Lessons of Data for the Industrial Internet”

Additional insights and discussion are contained in this video. The first 13 minutes features O’Reilly’s presentation, which is then followed by a panel discussion between O’Reilly, Paul Maritz of EMC, DJ Patil of Greylock Partners, Hilary Mason of bitly, and Matt Reilly of Accenture Management Consulting.

Slides: “Lessons for the Industrial Internet”


This is a post in our industrial Internet series, an ongoing exploration of big machines and big data. The series is produced as part of a collaboration between O’Reilly and GE.

Related industrial Internet coverage

Reposted byRK RK

May 31 2011

Why the eG8 mattered to the future of the Internet and society

eG8 logoThe Internet has become more than a platform for collective response. This past week, the official communiqué released by the summit of the Gang of Eight industrial nations, or G8, hailed the importance of the Internet to the world's citizens in the 21st century ahead:

The Internet has become the public arena for our time, a lever of economic development and an instrument for political liberty and emancipation. Freedom of opinion, expression, information, assembly and association must be safeguarded on the Internet as elsewhere. Arbitrary or indiscriminate censorship or restrictions on access to the Internet are inconsistent with States' international obligations and are clearly unacceptable. Furthermore, they impede economic and social growth.

The communiqué also recognized the role of the inaugural eG8 Forum held in Paris, prior to the summit, in exploring these issues. The eG8 showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. Coming on a week when Iran vowed to unplug the Internet,, thereby disconnecting Iranian citizens from this platform, the G8 leaders holding up those principles was both timely and notable.

As Syria cracks down on social media, whether we can hear the global voices of one another is a serious question, as is whether people living under autocratic governments can access the Internet safely or at all.

The global network, as many of the world's citizens know it today, however, was never a sure outcome, nor a permanent one. Some two decades ago, people were logging onto services like Prodigy or Compuserve, not the World Wide Web that Tim Berners-Lee enabled from his computer in Switzerland.

The communiqué identified the principles that have led to the continued growth of the Internet as we know it:

The openness, transparency and freedom of the Internet have been key to its development and success. These principles, together with those of non-discrimination and fair competition, must continue to be an essential force behind its development.

Author Don Tapscott, who has written and spoken extensively about the Internet's impact on business and society, had this to say about the G8 and the Internet: "Don't mess with a good thing."

The appropriate debate is not between [Nicolas] Sarkozy's oppressive approach as opposed to no regulation whatsoever. Obviously the rule of rule should prevail in cyberspace just as it does in the bricks-and-mortar world.

But the Internet is changing every institution in society. It enables new approaches to innovation, requiring new thinking about patents and copyright. It renders old institutions naked, requiring more transparency on the part of governments and corporations. It disrupts old models of learning and pedagogy demanding a change in relationship between students and teachers in the learning process. It offers new models of democracy based on a culture of public discourse, in turn compelling old style politicians to engage their citizens. It turns intellectual property into bits, that don't know the old rules that governed atoms of how to behave. It drops the transaction costs of dissent, subjecting dictators and tyrants to the power of mass participation. It breaks down national boundaries and requiring a rethinking of how peoples everywhere can cooperate to solve global problems. And for the first time in history children are an authority on the most important innovation changing every institution in society.

Predictably, old style political leaders comfortable with the industrial age are dazed and confused, and many feel threatened. A new communications medium is causing disruption, dislocation and uncertainty. And leaders of old paradigms with vested interests fear what they do not understand, and react with coolness or even hostility. Rather than innovating and opening up they often hunker down, trying to strengthen old outdated rules and approaches.

Along similar lines, following are four video interviews that go deeper into what's at stake and why the eG8 mattered.

Zimmerman on French Internet freedom

Defending innovation and net neutrality at the eG8 meant speaking openly about the risks to the Internet as we know them. When it comes to the Internet, France has followed its own path in making policies, particularly with respect to intellectual property.

As Nancy Scola reported at techPresident, at the eG8, civil society groups restaked their claim to the Net. Looking for more answers, I spoke with Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for citizen advocacy group LaQuadrature du Net. For many Internet users, this interview should be by turns illuminating and provocative. "Everywhere you look, you see governments attacking the Internet," said Zimmerman.

Benkler on what's at stake

"The primary reason we need to support the Net is because it is a foundational part of how we have our democracy," said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Benkler was one of several prominent American academics who spoke up during the eG8 Summit and in an impromptu press conference held at the event. We spoke further in this interview:

Benkler noted during our discussion:

... people can actually, with the things they own, capture the world and do something that is at the very core of the most advanced economies. Preserving that framework, preserving a framework that is open, free-flowing, flexible, adaptive to change and inviting so that one person's sacrifice in Sidi Bouzid can then be translated throughout the Arab world into a moment of mobilization. That's new. That's what is critical."

What's at stake today has been what's at stake for more than 15 years, said Benkler: The possibility that a coalition of forces who are afraid of the internet will shut it down."There is still a very powerful counter argument, one that says both for innovation and for freedom, we need an open Net," he said.

Dyson on technology enabling transparency

"You don't need to be 'from the Internet' to believe in liberty or free speech," said Esther Dyson, speaking in an interview at the eG8. You also don't need to be a policy wonk or a geek to see how building tools that tap into the power of the Internet's distributed platform are integral to helping a global transparency movement.

"Even when you have a revolution, what makes the revolution work is what changes in people's minds, and that's what's going on here," said Dyson. "The world is changing. People in government are not special. They should be as transparent as everybody else. People deserve privacy. Officials, governments, institutions, they all should be transparent. That's new thinking, and it was being heard."

Startups and technology companies are "providing tools to make the data meaningful," said Dyson. "They're providing tools for people to share the information. They're providing the communication tools, again, that allow from everything from Wikileaks to people communicating with reporters. Tools like your phone, connected to the Internet, so that you can record interviews not just with me but with all of the other people you talk to, upload them, people can share them, people can comment on them. That's all technology."

Crawford speaks to an open Internet

"Access to the Internet is fundamental," said Susan Crawford, an American law professor and former White House official. "These are the most important policies that government should be embracing. We want to make sure that other voices are heard."

One existential challenge for the Internet of 2011 is that the technology platforms that helped to catalyze the Arab Spring are owned by private companies. As governments everywhere struggle to understand and respond to the rapidly emerging role of new media, the young leaders of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms will have their courage, convictions and ethics tested again and again to change the terms of service.

If an open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world, billions of people will be counting upon them to be up to the challenge.

Editor's Note: This article was adapted from a column on the G8's Internet statement that ran at CBS News' "What's Trending?" earlier this week.



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