Saturday, January 15, 2005

Viral communications, viral radio and organic networks 

The Internet was basically designed according to the end-to-end principle. After 50+ years of packet-networks, 20+ years of mobile radio communications, 15+ years of the WWW and 5+ years of IP real-time communications and WiFi the time seems to be ripe to put all the pieces together, using peer-to-peer (P2P) and wireless meshed networks.

P2P communications started with file sharing for audio and video (e.g. napster, kazaa,
bittorrent, ...). Skype introduced the principle to IP real-time communications and the success of Skype caused some of the SIP-Gurus (e.g. Henning Schulzrinne and Henry Sinnreich) also to think about P2P SIP.

Viral communications derives directly from the end-to-end
principle on which the Internet is based — the intelligence is in
the end nodes, the network itself maintaining as little state as
possible. As defined, the Internet is not optimised for any
particular use or communications requirement, it merely
forwards packets on a ‘best-effort’ basis. This principle kept
the Internet open to innovation by reducing the architectural
impact and cost or risk imposed on the development of any
new application; applications could start small and propagate
by pure popularity, no core change was needed, and no
innovation had to be debugged well enough to ensure that it
had no adverse impact network integrity.

Gordon Cook from Cook Report pointed me recently to a paper on Viral Communications from David P. Reed and Andrew Lippman (MIT Media Laboratory Reseach), which was written already more then one year ago. David is also blogging together with Bob Frankston and Dan Brincklin at

From the abstract:
Communications are poised to become personal, embedded features of the world around us. New technologies allow us to make wired and wireless devices that are ad hoc, incrementally installed and populous almost without limit. They need no backbone or infrastructure in order to work — instead, they use neighbors to bootstrap both bit delivery and geolocation. This re-distributes ownership of communications from a vertically integrated provider to the end-user or end-device and segregates bit delivery from services. Communications can become something you do rather than something you buy. This new research program explores the enabling principles for these viral communicators and will demonstrate their fundamental ability to scale and automatically configure themselves through a diverse set of applications including live voice, secure transmission, lowpower/high-availability signaling, and sensors with a sense of place. We will address this in economic and social cases that include telephony, media distribution, safety and emerging markets.

I contacted David for more information and he pointed me to another document on from A. Lippman and A. Pentland, which deals with the broader embedding of the viral work in human networks (the bigger vision) and is called "Organic Networks":

The topic of organic networks derives from the confluence of two distinct bodies of research that have been proceeding independently in the MIT Media Lab for the past several years — ‘Viral Networks’, which focuses on the enabling technology underpinning end-to-end, grassroots communications systems, and ‘Influence Networks’, which encompasses ways that both first-world and third-world societies bend the technology of easy connectivity to suit their own economic, cultural and social interests. While the general method of research in the Media Laboratory (semi-autonomous groups following largely independent research tracks) implies that these two themes are somewhat segregated, their intersection carries implications and lessons in and of itself that are too strong to be ignored — hence this co-ordinated set of papers.

This paper and the set of papers mentioned above from this cross MIT sponsored programm have been published in the October 2004 issue of BT Technicology Journal

All the documents (about 27 papers) may be downloaded.

David also pointed me to the group website and the cross-MIT sponsored program
Andy and David have launched with Dave Clark and Charlie Fine called the
Communications Futures Program, which focuses on the evolution of
the architecture of the communications industry (website under

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