Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Fractional Horsepower HTTP Servers

Author:Chuck Shotton
Posted:2/22/1999; 10:41:03 AM
Topic:Fractional Horsepower HTTP Servers
Msg #:3105 (In response to 3097)
Prev/Next:3104 / 3106

At the first WebEdge conference in Austin, TX in April of '95, I gave a 30 minute chalkboard talk about personal Web servers, agents, and why the current model of the Web was wrong. The Web is still "wrong" because it is essentially a read-only medium for most of the people surfing it.

Very few people actually provide content and most just click through Web sites reading whatever pre-chewed content has been placed on-line for their amusement. There is nothing liberating or enlightening about the current Internet or World Wide Web. It's just the whole TV metaphor moved to a new venue. Sure, millions more have been empowered to make their voices heard, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of passive users on the Web.

Granted, most people just want to be entertained. But there is a significant number of people on the Internet that would love to participate in a bi-directional exchange of content, idea sharing, and commerce. This is just the way humans normally interact. Unfortunately, the current crop of tools available to the average Web user limits them to the antiquated client-server model that has been haunting us since the days of card readers and mainframes. The result is an artificial, one-way interaction that definitely has no analog in normal human discourse.

If everyone on the net had their *own* server, the net would become a peer-to-peer community instead of this broadcast-only, read-only, unidirectional beast that it has devolved into. The full promise of the net cannot be realized until individuals are just as empowered as the largest portal site to create and serve content targeted specifically to them.

It's far beyond the ability of any portal to meet the complete information needs of every single user on the net. Only an individual can determine the precise information that is relevant and useful to them. No room full of editors will ever accomplish that. And no portal site can afford the cost in resources and labor to enable a centralized implementation of personal servers (portals).

So the trend has to be towards "fractional horsepower" servers, running all the time on individuals' machines, serving content to individuals, created by individuals, for individuals. Building a network of these small, cooperating systems holds far greater promise than trying to continually shove more software and computing power under the hood of a centralized portal. That's what we've been trying to do at BIAP for the past 12 months with our Gossip project. It's what Dave and others enable by supporting XML RPCs. And it's what all of us do each time we create a personal site, share URLs, e-mail some content around, or post a message on a discussion list.

I think this shift in the balance of power on the Web is just starting. The companies and individuals that have the foresight to provide these new tools to the Internet at large will be the ones that drive the next wave of innovation on the Internet. Yes, it requires a lot of cooperation. But lots of us have spent the past 5 or 6 years doing exactly that and the fruits of those labors should start appearing in the next few months. Dave's "Control Panel" is one such leap. Gossip will be another. And the fact that all these systems are going to interoperate behind the scenes is a truly awesome prospect!

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