Re: Thoughts on NodeNet

Michael Nielsen (
Fri, 5 Jun 1998 21:55:23 -0600 (MDT)

On Fri, 5 Jun 1998, Sarah Marr wrote:

> At 17:49 04/06/98 -0600, Michael Nielsen wrote:

Hi Sarah.

I'm responding here in the role of Devil's Advocate, trying to challenge
your response, in order to tease out more details. I'll also try to
respond to my own Devil's Advocacy at points. I do think NodeNet is a very
good idea.

> One has therefore to ask oneself, 'Whither ExI'? In an ideal world, ExI
> would sponsor research of its own, working with the greatest innovators of
> this and the next century. But those innovators ask themselves precisely
> the question you raise, Michael: what's in it for me? I put forward the
> idea of NodeNet to try and answer that question.
> At this point in time, when ExI's revenues cannot support self-funded
> research, I would say that it is the multi-disciplinary nature of ExI which
> could most enhance people's communication processes through NodeNet. I
> remember commenting that any posting member of a node should also,
> automatically, be able to browse the other lists, applying for posting
> access if and when s/he feels s/he has something to contribute. Put simply,
> the key to success here is not the individual 'nodes', but the wider 'net'.

How will this system differ from Usenet?

Consider especially that there already exist structures for moderation, a
world-wide system for distribution, a large user-base, and tested
protocols. Propogation is reasonably fast and reliable.

On the other hand, NodeNet might be able to learn from the mistakes made
by Usenet. I would hope that such a system would enable a much richer
variety of communication to take place.

Something I would jump at the chance to use is a system which facilitates
collaboration across the net. Ideally, this would combine
video-conferencing with a networked scanner / blackboard system for diagrams
and equations. Such a system would also provided archival possibilities
(useful when you can't quite recall a discussion you had three years ago
with a colleague), and the possibility for distribution to a wider
audience -- often a discussion concludes with "I wish such and such were
here". Conversations could also be "eavesdropped on" or viewed at a
later date by a much wider audience.

If NodeNet could make these kinds of things possible, I believe it would
be tremendously useful. With existing bandwidth and off-the-shelf
hardware it should be possible to set a primitive version of this system up.
The video link would be very slow at first, but would gradually improve
over the next few years as the available bandwidth goes up.

> Is this a big draw to scientists, economists, etc.? Right now, probably
> not, and I should imagine that initial progress will be slow. But with
> appropriately targetted marketing, and free memebership for key
> individuals, at least initially, the rate of take-up should increase.

I am consistently amazed at the extent to which technical innovation is
centralized in the US. This has great cost benefits for people wishing
to reach innovators. If I wished to reach the technical innovators of
tomorrow, I'd target Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley, MIT, and a few other
places, inviting bright undergraduates and graduate students to take

> I suppose my vision of ExI is one of a real-time 'Nature': prestigious,
> multi-disciplinary and highly valued by its target community. In order to
> facilitate this, it may be necessary to restructure ExI itself, to provide
> a forum for 'lay members' and a forum for 'specialists'.

I agree that such a stratification is necessary, and perhaps even more

> The former are
> kept abreast of developments, and on-going work, whilst the latter,
> initially joining for communication purposes, are naturally guided in
> directions desirable to Extropian Principles by their contact with ExI.

I do wonder how likely that is. My own guess, no doubt influenced by my
own political biases (more socialist than libertarian :-), is that the
less philosophical baggage, the more likely the scheme is to succeed. At
times, if ExI wants input from the best innovators around, it is going to
have to bite its philosophical tongue.

> And for those of you who see money as the solution, then rest assured some
> revenue generation planning would form part of the grand scheme.

To get something going I imagine that revenue would be needed less than
time and creativity. Later on, such a system may pay for itself.

Michael Nielsen

"I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind!
The answer is twelve? I think I'm in the wrong building."
- Charles Schulz