Internet, the slime magnet

by Philip Greenspun for the Web Tools Review

Note that this document has to some extent been superseded by the servers chapter from my Web book.

"Did you hear about the IBM salesman's wife who was still a virgin after 20 years? That's right. Every night, he sat on the edge of the bed and told her how great it was going to be."
-- Bud Keyes, Babcock & Wilcox executive, upon hearing my promise to add the features he requested to my computer-aided mechanical engineering system.


Hot markets pull rats out of the woodwork. Internet is the hottest thing going right now. Most of the would-be users are naive and aren't aware that there are companies, e.g., BBN, with over 20 years of experience in doing things right. That means that the playing field is more or less level for all suppliers, regardless of competence or experience.

You should assume that your Internet service provider (ISP) will do the following:


The primary skill of the second-tier ISP is snowing management in Corporate America. The big lies that they preach are Vendors such as ANS won't come to your company and kiss your boss's ass. They won't tell you how the future is so bright you'll need to wear sunglasses. They give you a wire and promise that if you can talk to it, you can talk to the Internet, 99+% of the time. They don't promise to solve all of your problems.

It might be nice if someone could in fact do more than the reputable guys promise to do, but in fact almost nobody can.

Vendors who won't fuck you

(or at least not very hard) If you are considering using any other ISP, insist on talking to at least five customers in your area. If any of them have had more than 10 minutes of unscheduled downtime in the preceding three months, forget the ISP. Do a traceroute from a remote location on the Internet. With a sleazy provider, you'll note that it takes just a few milliseconds to get from, say, Stanford to the New York point-of-presence for the primary carrier, e.g., MCI. Packets that have to go through that final T1 to the ISP will take another 50, 100, or even 400 milliseconds. If you can't understand this paragraph or don't know how to run traceroute, then you are in no position to evaluate an ISP.
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