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From the Editor in Chief — Looking Forward, Looking Back

Fred , IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

Pages: pp. 4-5

I take the reins of IEEE Internet Computing after 10 years of the magazine's existence, and a crazy 10 years it has been — if not for the magazine itself, then for the Internet. With my first column as editor in chief, I'd like to look back at the past decade and how the magazine has evolved along with the Internet.

I picked the column heading, All Systems Go, to highlight one of these evolutionary steps. My three predecessors in this position, to which the magazine is eternally grateful, share a technical background in one important aspect of Internet technology: namely, artificial intelligence and, specifically, agents. It's this sort of technology that has given the Web many of its significant innovations in functionality and user interfaces. For instance, some sites scour the Web for news articles, identify key themes among them, and summarize the important topics with sets of links to follow for different perspectives on the same topic. However, the Internet has many other aspects, which we can think of as being at the "lower" layers — infrastructure rather than applications. Although I have had a foot in both camps, I come more from the infrastructure perspective than the applications area, and my columns will reflect that. At the same time, the editorial calendar and editorial board will continue to reflect the diversity necessary to describe Internet computing in all its forms. This year, for example, will see theme issues in such areas as roaming, distance learning, the dissemination of rapidly changing information, knowledge management, and media search, as well as new tracks on engineering the Web and Internet economics.

Crazy Times

So back to the past decade of the Internet. IC's founding editor in chief, Charles Petrie, began his inaugural column with the following remarks:

Many ask if the Internet is the CB radio or the 8-track cassette player of the '90s. The better question is whether the Internet is the Los Angeles of the '40s: an urban frontier of the Far West, where every person has a chance to create something new and fine, where success takes only intelligence, creativity, and courage.If this analogy holds true, we have less than a decade in Internet years before it becomes a sprawling wasteland of commercial interests and cyber-carhops hoping for a big break because they have a Web page best viewed with Netscape 3XX.0 or better.Then there is the "Dilbert" view of the world in which the engineer hopes eternally that reason will prevail and those who understand our technology will get to make decisions about its future … and is frustrated eternally by organizational inanity.

Anyone who receives a daily barrage of spam and phishing attacks would agree that the Internet has indeed become "a sprawling wasteland of commercial interests," yet the engineers have had their day as well. Despite the bursting of the "Internet bubble," there are still examples of people coming up with great ideas in their garages and having an enormous impact. YouTube came out of nowhere, and it both influenced the 2006 US election (see mld/ohio/living/15918604.htm) and reminded people of the boom rather than the bust when Google acquired it. I'm not sure where the next YouTube is, but I'm guessing the technologies behind it will derive, one way or another, from the types of innovation described year in and year out in publications like IC.

Let's return to spam, phishing, and the rest of the attempted Internet plundering. As a computer scientist, I have just one thing to say: What were they thinking? No, not the scammers — that part is easy. I mean the folks who made it so easy for the scammers by creating such open protocols that we can't trust email unless it contains a "secret" that convinces us that only a real organization, such as our bank, sent it. (And because that email is itself sent in the open, it's only a matter of time before scammers figure out how to steal that information, too.)

A recent issue of ACM Queue focused on online crime and included an article by Eric Allman (the inventor of the UNIX mail program sendmail) about open email's failings. 1 Allman called the lack of authentication a "fundamental flaw from the beginning," which resulted from the mail SMTP protocol being developed so early in the Internet's history that no one could really foresee its use beyond a small community of researchers. Authentication is finally coming, he said, with the primary issues being interoperability and backward compatibility — the same problems that kept it from becoming ubiquitous long ago. (I sure hope the editor in chief in 2017 isn't bemoaning the same problem.)

One last example of how much the changes to the Internet in the past decade have dominated our lives: more and more often, the only way to get certain resources that used to be available "offline" is to access them over the Internet. The New York Times, for example, stopped publishing a weekly television guide in its Sunday paper or stock quotes in its daily editions.

Time to get Crazy

So much for the past 10 years. What about the next 10? Unfortunately, my crystal ball is in for repairs, and I'm not going to try and issue predictions — other than that I hope to see a new set of visionary articles in an upcoming theme issue, similar to the "Millennial Forecasts" in January/February 2000 — after all, we can't wait another millennium.

What I'd like is for you, the readers, to get crazy. IC publishes many types of articles, and there is room not only for the polished reports but for the "wild and crazy" ideas. One example is the Peer-to-Peer (now Peering) column edited by Charles Petrie, in which authors can posit interesting positions for their colleagues in the Internet community to ponder.

What else would you like to see? Drop me a note, and let me know.

Time to Give Thanks

I write this column just days before Thanksgiving here in the US. I'd like to give some thanks of my own:

  • To Bob Filman, for his excellent support of the magazine for the past four years, and for making my participation possible.
  • To Doug Lea, who now serves as associate editor in chief and oversees each of the theme issues.
  • To Siobhán Clarke, our newest associate editor in chief, who is overseeing columns and tracks.
  • To the rest of the editorial board, for all their hard work writing content for the magazine, assembling special issues, supervising reviews, and everything else.
  • To the staff at the IEEE Computer Society: Rebecca Deuel, the lead editor; Hazel Kosky, the manuscript assistant; and Steve Woods, the group managing editor. They have all worked tirelessly on behalf of the magazine and kept us on track, on time, and on topic. (Well, maybe not the last.)
  • Lastly, to the authors who provide content to the magazine. We couldn't do it without you! Keep in mind that the magazine publishes not only theme issues (the upcoming calls for papers appear in every issue and online) and tracks (spanning several issues) but also general content unrelated to any specific call. If you have something interesting to write, please submit it.

And thank you for reading.


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