a camel is a horse designed by a committee

In the early days of the Internet people connected to it over their ordinary telephone lines. They were called POTS lines, standing for “Plain Old Telephone Service”.  It required use a modem, a device like a fax machine that turned digital data into modulations of sound that traveled over voice lines.

Everyone wanted speed, because the connection to the Internet with a modem was painfully slow.

Engineers and others would find ways to make the modem more efficient but for many people to use a device required standards. You would not want you modem to work if you called “X” but fail to work if you called “Y”.  So there was some international agency charged with approving standards for modem protocols. I think it was called something like “IEEE”.

There was v.32 then v.32bis, then something better. One problem was the IEEE always took years to agree on an international standard. People wanted the speed as soon as it was obtainable but the IEEE took years. So the modem manufacturers started selling modems with the latest technical speed booster before standards were agreed upon and put their firmware in flash memory which could be upgraded to the standard if the IEEE got around to it before the next better flavor was invented.

My business got a truly high speed connection to the Internet. A brand new Cisco 2500 router (called 2500 because they basically sold at $2,500) and a CSU/DSU (a sort of digital modem). I leased a dedicated line from the local Bell, no POTS service nothing. Basically dry copper over the phone network so the CSU/DSU did not have to convert digital to analog sounds.

I could not speak cisco, so my connection supplier provided an internet connection up to the Ethernet port of the Cisco. In other words, he programmed the router.

He told me an entertaining story. I can’t remember everything but I got the gist.

Internet Protocol (“IP”) was developed by a US Government agency to connect supercomputers (very expensive and very few) to university, military and government users in geographically distant locations. The point being, it was never developed by an international committee to serve countless masters.  It networked different types of networks together.

It was open source so anyone could use it.

Unix operating system designers started including it because, heck, lots of Unix workstations were in universities and research facilities and it was useful to be able to join the IP networks.

It started growing like crazy and eating every other network protocol. Do you remember Novell? It was not the best networking protocol lacking in security and other enhancements but it was free, had major market share and open development.

My Cisco guru once told me, and this is the point of the story, that people started using Cisco routers to connect using IP to other networks. It was becoming the universal language. European authorities finally said “you may not sell Cisco routers in our countries unless you include the INTERNATIONAL NETWORKING STANDARDS in you operating system.” Our protocols were designed by consensus and are much better than IP but are frozen out by established base. So Cisco included all the IEEE whatever protocols carefully designed by committee and no one used them.

Which means, don’t try to design from authority a perfect or even better standard. In the rough and tumble world a leader will emerge, it may not be perfect or even the best, but it is almost impossible to impose a technologically best solution. The failings of the leading technology will be reduced over time as they are discovered and hurt users.