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on August 13, 2010
This is an important and brilliant book, which I consider required reading for anyone interested in or serious about the Internet or innovation.

I have written a review of this book on my blog ([...]) and on the Huffington Post.

As I say there, this book is one of the very few books in the field of Internet policy that is in the same league as Larry Lessig's Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0, in 2000, and Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, in 2006, in terms of its originality, depth, and importance to Internet policy and other disciplines. I expect the book to affect how people think about the Internet; about the interactions between law and technical architectures in all areas of law; about entrepreneurship in general. I also think her insights on innovation economics, which strike me as far more persuasive than lawyers' usual assumptions, should influence "law and economics" thinking for the better.

Books this good don't come along every day--or even every year-and I'm already late to the praise-party. Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig (the trail-blazing cyberlaw champion) recommended it in the New York Times this week; Susan Crawford (a law professor who served as a top White House advisor) recommended it in an op-ed in Salon/GigaOm yesterday; Brad Burnham, the venture capitalist who was featured earlier this week in the NYT's Room for Debate, also posted an endorsing review on his blog. MIT engineering professor David Reed (one of the key architects of the IP protocol, inventor of the UDP protocol) praises it on the book jacket.

It is not easy material--the Internet's technologies and how innovation actually evolves--but she writes for a general audience, not a technologist or lawyer, and you will learn a lot from, and be challenged by, the ideas in this book.
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on September 9, 2013
I got this book on Fred Wilson's recommendation. I found it academic and confusing. Which doesn't mean that it isn't a good or important book. But it was inaccessible to me. I work in the internet space as a digital marketer and I was hoping to learn more about the technical underpinnings of the net and how that relates to innovation (the title of the book after all).
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on April 14, 2011
I want to very highly recommend this book. Various authors, advocates, scholars, and businesses have spoken about the economic impacts of the Internet, but to date there hasn't been a detailed economic accounting of what may happen if/when ISPs monitor and control the flow of data across their networks. van Schewick has filled this gap.

Her book traces economic impacts associated with changing the Internet's structure from one enabling any innovator to design an application or share content online to a structure where ISPs must first authorize access to content and design key applications (e.g. P2P, email, etc) in house. Barbara draws heavily from Internet history literatures and economic theory to buttress her position that a closed or highly controlled Internet not only constitutes a massive change in the architecture of the 'net, but that this change would be damaging to society's economic, cultural, and political interests. She argues that an increasingly controlled Internet is the future that many ISPs prefer, and supports this conclusion with economic theory and the historical actions of American telecommunications corporations.

van Schewick begins by outlining two notions of the end-to-end principle undergirding the 'net, a narrow and broad conception, and argues (successfully, in my mind) that ISPs and their interrogators often rely on different end-to-end understandings in making their respective arguments to the public, regulators, and each other. This reliance on differing notions of end-to-end have led the defenders of these differing shades of the end-to-end principle to speak past one another. Further, divergent understandings of the end-to-end architectural discussion has created, and continues to create, rifts between engineers, between those who were (and remain) central to the development of the 'net more generally, and between those publishing technically informed economic writings about the Internet.

After differentiating between the narrow and broad approaches to end-to-end, van Schewick identifies the impacts of different Internet architectures on the costs of innovation, the resulting organizational makeup of innovating parties, and the effects architecture has on the competition of complementary goods (e.g. VoIP, filesharing, email, etc as opposed to the actual hardware composing the Internet). After laying this groundwork, van Schewick works through how deviations from the 'broad' end-to-end argument affect innovation and the consequences of centralized versus decentralized application development and content distribution. The book concludes with an analysis of the public versus private interests in network architectures, with the author asserting that citizens and their public representatives must understand the impacts of architecture on the Internet's future. ISPs are attempting to better control and monetize their networks, and these attempts may undermine the possibilities of innovation while sacrificing the long-term evolution of the 'net so that companies can realize short-term profits. Such sacrifices must be critically interrogated by a public that is increasingly relying on digital communications in all facets of life and business.

This is a heavy read, a read made heavier if you haven't spent some time reading economic theory, elements of the network neutrality debates of the past decade, and a little on the evolution of American telecommunications in the past two decades. This said, the author generally does a terrific job in walking the reader through every facet of her argument, using examples and sidenotes to expand and clarify more troublesome sections of the book (especially as it relates to economic theory and approaches to innovation). I highly recommend this book - it's worth every penny that it will cost you. It also includes an extensive set of citations and reference list (about 160 pages worth) that will be helpful for any subsequent research or reading beyond the text itself.

If I have a criticism of the book it's that it tends to be very American-centric. While the principles contained in the book remain general enough that readers can lay the theoretical model she traces upon the telecommunications landscape of non-US states, this is a bit of work that non-American readers will have to do when examining their own telecommunications landscape through her lens. This may somewhat limit the book's immediate guidance to policy makers, policy analysts, economists, Internet governance scholars, and concerned/interested citizens more generally, but not so much that any of these readers should stay away.

I have a suspicion that this book will become one of the centrepieces for Internet governance literatures in coming years, and likely to be as influential Benkler's The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom with regards to the economics of the Internet. If issues around Internet governance, innovation, and control are your cup of tea then consider this book an absolute must buy.
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on May 11, 2011
This book is the most comprehensive study of the issues surrounding Internet Innovation, Net Neutrality, and related issues. It lays the intellectual foundation for Internet policy over the next decade. In particular, this book offers powerful non-market power based reasons to favor non-discrimination policies for internet traffic. Highly recommended.
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on September 10, 2010
A good part of the book is devoted to the history and technical architecture of the internet. Light reference to the burning issue of net neutrality and extensive discussion of its surrogate "end-to-end arguments" of the narrow and broad types is puzzling. The internet is not end-to-end but based on hops, box 3.4, as stated on p. 384, so what is the big deal with end-to-end hop-less connectivity, except for real-time communication which was not part of the original design of the internet? This is the first time I learned that Salzer, Reed and Clark (1981) take credit for original "end-to-end" arguments (p. 58), overshadowing Vinton Cerf, Bob Kahn and Jon Postel who "invented" the Internet well before 1981. van Schewich ought to explain why she considers Salzer et al phrase "end-to-end" to be the catchphrase and linguistic keyword for the entire book, instead of relegating it to a mere historical artifact.

Ignoring the unnecessary exposition on the Application/ Transport/ Internet and Link layers, known to every Cisco technician, van Schewich deserves credit for building the next two sections of the book: Net Neutrality and competition, and Net Neutrality and innovation. van Schewich comprehensively surveys the literature of the internet + competition (Varian genre) and internet+innovation (von Hippel genre). The conclusions are predictably unpalatable to the financial health of Comcast and Verizon, that erosion of transparent "end-to-end" connectivity (net neutrality) would be anti-competitive and would stifle innovation.
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on August 16, 2010
The principal problem with the book is the author's lack of understanding of the engineering process. Engineers, unlike law professors writing books about engineering, don't work from first principles like the Internet's retrospective end-to-end arguments principle; they make tradeoffs and design toward a goal or set of goals. Thus, when the Internet was built the project manager, Bob Kahn, adapted a design that had already been proved in the French research network CYCLADES rather than starting with a blank slate. CYCLADES designer Louis Pouzin went with an "architecture" that was appropriate for a research network, and not very suitable for an everyday network for unskilled people. The Internet has proved difficult to manage and expensive to operate because this research-centric design is still there. Security, privacy, viruses, spam, and denial of service attacks raise the price and lower the utility of the Internet, all a direct consequence of its organization.

The author is right that the Internet's organization makes it easy for some application programmers to bring new information services on-line, but wrong about the scope of the innovations it permits. Regardless of the system architecture, the services offered by a network constrain application developers. The telephone network is innovation-limiting because it's a slow, narrow-band system, not because it lacks end-to-end architecture. The end-to-end architecture is misleading in any case, as any network has an end-to-end element.

Because the Internet offers poor support for performance-intensive real-time applications (gaming, video conferencing, other forms of communication-oriented rather than content-oriented apps) the designers of these applications pay an innovation tax in the form of extra effort that effectively subsidizes content-oriented applications. They also end up bypassing most of the Internet through Content Delivery Networks and managed services. So the author is wrong regarding her claim that the Internet is the best of all possible networks from the innovator's perspective; it's good for some applications, but not for others.

If you must read this book for your job or a school assignment, wait for the Kindle version if you can (MIT Press says it will be three years from now;) it's just a bit tedious on paper.
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on December 30, 2012
I read this book as part of my Ph.D. studies at the Department of Electronic Systems at Aalborg Univeristy. Barbara van Schewick has notable credentials in both engineering and law, but she provides scant data and evidence for her arguments. If her points are so obvious and self-evident, why can't she prove them empirically with an experiment, or at least, deductive reasoning? Indeed, following her logic, one will not necessarily come to the same conclusions as she.

The author asserts that it is the "architecture" of the internet above all things that is responsible for innovation in web services and applications. While there is some importance to architecture, it is not the only thing that may be required for innovation. I could survey 100 leading internet innovators on why their innovations became successful. They might mention market need, proliferation of personal computers, proliferation of internet subscriptions, personal motivation, luck, or a number of other reasons. The architecture of the internet might never enter the picture, and if so, it may be last on the list.

The only "evidence" that Van Schewick proposes are some well-worn anecdotes about founders of internet companies (eBay, Amazon, Facebook Google, etc), and that it was the architecture of the internet that allowed their companies to flourish. These stories are based on a rather romantic view of innovators, the proverbial hacker working in his spare time in his garage. Indeed there are those persons (again whether internet architecture was consequential is still a question), but there are also legions of internet scientists and engineers working in government and corporate funded projects where internet architecture is only accidental to their missions. It is unfortunate that Van Schewick does not bring the same rigor to other components of innovation as she does to promoting her world view that the end to end principle is the end-all, be-all of the internet.

The book enters dangerous ground when it transitions from Van Schewick's personal theory to policy recommendations. There is no doubt that Van Schewick has a political end game. In building her case for network neutrality, she writes with such animosity about the telecom industry that it becomes hard to take her seriously in certain places. This part of the book is a personal, emotional diatribe, and it distracts from the rest of the finely-wrought authoritative narrative. As such, this is more as a book of philosophy more than of computer science.

While I applaud Van Schewick for creating a theory with an elegant argument and respect the work involved, I regret that this book has informed policy decisions as if it were fact. She has succeeded to win by bludgeoning her audience with more than 100 pages of theory that they assume she must be right just because she is intelligent and verbose. But the list of smart people who were wrong is long.
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on April 22, 2014
Excellent book on Internet architecture and particularly on the end-to-end principle. Anyone interested in learning more about net neutrality should pick this up.
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on January 4, 2015
This is a remarkable book combining a deep understanding of economics with the impact on technical implementation. It follows the principles developed by Carlyss Baldwin and Kim Clark on modularity (inspired by Ronald Coase) as a starting point to define architecture beyond technical implementation ( architecture is not engineering as one reviewer failed to notice). She then cast it as a model to tie this into the Internet bringing legal strength to the arguments of Net neutrality. If there is anything missing she could have referenced Coase directly since he founded the area of economics and law. This however would have made for a more compelling academic treatment, but would have lost the more general audience she was reaching.
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