Layered Internet

CakeThe Internet is like a cake – always popular but you have too much and it makes you sick. No, not really (well maybe yes). The analogy I am actually after pertains only to certain types of cake. Start again…

The Internet is like a layered cake – it has layers. Not as dramatic I know, but please read on; I’m going to make a point that you need a perspective on the Internet to understand why it is not all bad nor all good and accept it for what it is. I then go on to make a nebulous comparison to the human mind. All this on a Friday! Still at least I mention cake!

Feel free to get in touch or comment!


The whole philosophy of the Internet is layered. At a techie level the thing has a model called ATIN which means you have (from the top):

  • Applications – stuff you actually want to do
  •  Transport – the bit that joins it all up and lets devices get to each other wherever they are
  • Internet – the bit that gives everything strange numbers to make it all work (e.g.
  • Network – the physical bit (including wires, wireless, connectors and other stuff).

There is a much more painful to explain set of models for networks as a whole (that maps to this) in the 80211 world (which only means 1980, February 11th some key committee date) but treat is as a bunch of labels. I do.

The thing with the layers is depending on what layer you think about it is all different. At home you may have a problem with your access to twitter (A layer) or the configuration (T or maybe I layer) or equipment (N layer). The solution in most cases is of course switch off and on again.

As we evolve there are many more layers appearing – off the top of my head a storage layer (Cloud) a global identity layer (Facebook) and others. Each succeeds or doesn’t by understanding where it is in the layers. Facebook is becoming a rich world but can not be everything to everyone (despite its ambitions). The Internet will work best when things work as layers which does need a level of agreement as to how to interwork. I see oAuth as being part of the solution – easy to say as I don’t understand it!

Good and Bad

Now the Internet (and we mostly mean the World Wide Web (which is an A-layer) enables the full spectrum of human experience. Take a few examples:

  • File sharing – with first Napster and now general P2P (point to point) protocols buried in tool such as BitTorrent the world is flooded in stolen music, films and porn. But – P2P protocols make a lot of things work for example BBC iPlayer (you may have heard of it) which is one of the largest users of bandwidth in the UK. The P2P bit is the T-layer. The A-layers are where the good and bad happens. Don’t shoot the protocol!
  • Hackers – there are bad people (or amoral or naive or adolescent…) and the web gives them amazing reach and potential for harm. Is that a reason to not have the web?
  • Google – google lets us get to information (choice of which it has control over). The ability to find sites that incite terrorism, recipes for bomb making or to plagiarise someone else’s work to cheat on course work is all undesirable but we want the ability to research and learn (and argue about trivia). Google is an A-layer but your need for it is at some higher layer (U for user?)

The Mind

Where is all this going? Consider the human mind. This is an effect based somehow around a clever signalling lump of organic material including synapses and all sorts of other stuff. Consciousness (which is easily effected by the physical e.g. medicines, narcotics and alcohol) is not a bunch of neurons. They are a different layer.

I get amused when people argue that computers can not be intelligent as they are neuron based. Sort your layers out people.

The mind is subject to the physical and to disease. Some minds do bad things some good most just get on and add to the general (hopefully forward) movement of humanity. It isn’t perfect or uniform but it has separated us from the beasts (a bit).

Similarly I argue that the Internet is not perfect, has problems but is still pretty new and it is evolving and it makes a bigger contribution to humanity as a whole than the problems it exaggerates.

There you go – some evangelism for a Friday!


About Tony Jones
Big Finish writer, reviewer and blogger, I'm interested in science fiction and Doctor Who. I review for CultBox, The Doctor Who Companion and others. I am also Lead Writer for Starburst Magazine, and write the occasional piece for Vortex, the BSFA critical magazine.

3 Responses to Layered Internet

  1. Bruvva says:

    In your ATIN, wouldn’t ATPN be more accurate? Protocol rather than Internet? I personally always think internet is a conceptual label for the whole experience. But I’ve been wrong before.


    • HelmStone says:

      The Model is called ATIN, it isn’t my model! There are protocols at each layer:

      A – layer: ftp, http(s), dhcp, dns, p2p…
      T – TCP (and I think UDP)
      I – IP itself (hence the name)

      Somewhere in the depths are ARP as well.

      My concept is the layers are there and continue up and you could layer something above (e.g.) Facebook


  2. Pingback: Me too?! « Reality Checkpoint

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