Rainie, Cerf interview: Google, Internet encounters and economic problems of journalism

28 04 2010

Special session four kicked off just after 4 p.m. with Lee Rainie interviewing Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol and chief technology evangelist for Google. Cerf helped Rainie establish the Pew Internet Research Center and assisted with its earliest research initiatives.

Lee Rainie interviews Vint Cerf during a special session at FutureWeb2010. "The part I like most about my job is the repeated and regular exposure to people who are smarter than I am," Cerf told Rainie. (Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

Cerf addressed questions about his position at Google, which he describes as developing in real time; unexpected encounters with the Internet over the years; and the controversy surrounding services in China.

“A piece of me is always astonished (by the Internet),” Cerf said. “Every time a page comes back with all the pieces, I’m astonished. If you knew all the things that had to happen for that page to come back, it’s really amazing.”

He says younger generations have a different view of the Internet and its technologies because “it’s always been there, and isn’t always remarkable,” quoting the adage, “technology is what you didn’t grow up with.”

Cerf reminisced over the initial stages of the Internet, including the moment when he realized that it would be possible to commercialize the system. Prior to the late 1980s, there had been no attempts to utilize the tool to make money.

He said the turning point came in 1989 when commercial email systems were able to connect online to different email systems. Instances of spam mail that followed broke the policy in government that said no commercial traffic could flow through a government-sponsored system.

Rainie asked Cerf to elaborate on the “dark side” of the Internet, including the continuing problem of spam.

“Spam became a problem because email was free,” Cerf said. “If we found a way to charge a little for email, then span would have been less of a problem.”

Another problems that Cerf attributed to the dark side is cyberwarfare, which he said occurs on an international level with the general population gains access to technology and abuses it. He said its important to realize that when something because this essential to society’s infrastructure, problems are bound to arise. The important thing is to learn how to cope with the issues.

Rainie and Cerf discussed the possibility of government intervention and the implications of asserting authority in an effort to maintain order. He said he is sympathetic to the idea that there should be a plan for dealing with a serious disruption to the system. At the same time, he hopes that “if there is such a plan, the openness of the Obama administration will allow for greater scrutiny.”

When addressing  the question of Google’s management of its China services, Cerf said he is part of a group whose job is to discuss corporate policy. His group has long debated whether Google should offer services to China, because it didn’t want to be in a position where the government could demand information to expose someone.

Click to see Vint Cerf speak on the recent controversy between China and Google:

“The outcome is pretty interesting, and of course some of it is still in play,” Cerf said. “China isn’t the only regime exhibiting concern about the use and abuse of the Internet. There isn’t any pixie dust we can sprinkle and make everything better. In this decade, we have to live through the bad parts and the good parts.”

Cerf discussed the economic problems of modern journalism and the ways he thinks the news media can best survive.  He said the steady erosion of newspapers began well before the Internet had a strong presence. Journalists should consider the cheapest and most efficient method of distributing news.

“I think if the news industry is going to survive in online mode, they’re going to have to provide more than just news,” Cerf said. “They’re going to have to engage with readers in a way that they can take reactions. This more engaged form of news reporting might be an interesting way of gaining readership and increasing the likelihood that advertising can support it.”

He said the quality of news reporting is now essential to the success of a publication.

“People are going to have to be a little braver about going online and doing things they haven’t done before,” Cerf said.

-by Ashley Dischinger

ADDITIONAL DETAILS FROM THIS EVENT…
Video and more written FutureWeb coverage:
http://bit.ly/imaginingtheinternet
FutureWeb YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Futureweb2010#p/u
Flickr photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38539612@N02/sets/72157623891937652/

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