Clay Shirky

AGE: 38

CLAIM TO FAME: Writer and columnist on the development of the Internet for, the original Business 2.0; The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; and the Harvard Business Review, most recently working on peer-to-peer issues. Red Herring called him one of the few Internet pundits "who can make sense of this world-changing technology," while Slashdot cited his prolific and wide-ranging views on Internet evolution.

WHAT HE'S DOING NOW: Writing and consulting. He's also working on a book of essays to be published by O'Reilly & Associates Inc. and teaching a class for New York University's interactive telecommunications program.

You've thought a lot about distributed computing. It seems like there's this primordial soup of technologies right now. What are we going to see come out of this? The Napster effect is, I go to Napster or Gnutella, I open a LimeWire client [a popular client interface for Gnutella], and I have a library there. The resources are hugely distributed across the entire fabric of the network. This decoupling [of resources from effects] is in its infancy.

How long will that decoupling take to grow up? The first thing we'll have to deal with is a trust horizon, because what you're saying in Web services is that there is a service out there that I may have to use, and I may have to decide at runtime whether or not it's trustworthy. After the trust horizon, we get to the context horizon. Essentially, there's really no way to guarantee that two different services have the same kind of semantics. There is no global ontology that is universally adopted, nor will there ever be.

Isn't that a fundamental problem with the notion of Web services in the market economy? Absolutely.

Do you think Web services and peer-to-peer technology are inevitable? I do think they're inevitable, but that's a different question from them being ubiquitous.

What will be the next technology advance that will radically change the business landscape? The architecture of coordination. Ongoing collaboration is simply binding together a group of people for a particular project which has a particular duration, but which may span several organizational boundaries or include people with no organizational attachment at all.

Fitzgerald is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif. Contact him at

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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