Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Incentives on the Internet

Promoting the use of end-to-end congestion control in the Internet proposed a few possible approaches for avoiding congestion collapse. The bulk of the paper considers router-based incentives to encourage applications to use congestion control. Unfortunately, these incentives are not strong enough to dissuade users who are actively trying to game the system.

In the end, the only thing keeping the Internet from imploding are the combined good intentions of network architects, application developers, and users. I am reminded from the anecdote described in Freakonomics: a daycare started charging a fee for late pickups, so the number of late pickups increased. Sometimes adding specific incentives can backfire by taking away the guilt that stops people from abusing the system. The paper focused on technological solutions, but I think it's important not to neglect the social issues.

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