Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

A Fire Upon the Web

A Fire Upon the Web

By Dennis D. McDonald

A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) is a science fiction novel written by Vernor Vinge. Vinge is, in my opinion, the best SF writer since the Golden Age’s Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, and Bester.

In A Fire Upon the Deep, Vinge created a universe where different physical laws exist in different locations corresponding to different levels of communications and travel speed. This got me to thinking about the different levels of computing and networking that have existed and are evolving as arguments about what constitutes Web 2.0 continue.

With apologies to Vinge, here is my (tongue-in-cheek) take on the different levels of computing that exist and are evolving:


Vinge: The Unthinking Depths. The lowest level, centered about the galactic core. Not much happens here.

McDonald: Web 0.0. The lowest level of computing. Machines are room size and dependent upon wire based magnetic core memories and paper fed programs that fundamentally increase the volume and speed of basic calculations that previously had been performed by mechanical devices optimized for ballistics calculations and industrial weaving. Networking and information sharing are practically nonexistent among these huge beasts. Control centers around cadres of specialized caretakers who speak something called “Assembler.”


Vinge: The Unthinking Depths. Faster than Light (FTL) travel and communications do not function.

McDonald: Web 1.0. Networking and information sharing function on controlled access systems. Static pages and electronic catalogs support vast increases in electronically supported commerce among traditional educational and corporate entities. Communication speeds vary greatly across different parts of the network with residual zones still requiring dial-up and slow downloads and uploads. Beginnings of individual networking with rudimentary blogs. The care and feeding of network components called “Firewalls” becomes common as a new breed of human begins evolving, the “Security Geek.”


Vinge: The Beyond. FTL travel and FTL communications are possible.

McDonald: Web 2.0. Network functionality barriers inside and outside organizations become fluid and start to crumble. System users begin pumping personal details into the web. Sharing of these personal details and the formation of relationships that exist only electronically becomes possible. Widespread identity theft and piracy of intellectual property cause a rise in new online business models that threaten legacy domination of digital content supply chains. Blogs and online personas metastasize through the Web and begin talking, communicating, and reproducing. Security geeks unionize and establish their own political party. Gerunds become obsolete as a new part of speech evolves combining both noun and verb, e.g., “google.”


Vinge: The Transcend. No limits on nanotechnology. FTL travel and FTL communications are VERY fast — and cheap. Super beings transcending physical reality regularly meet and greet.

McDonald: Web 3.0. People are the web. No intervening technology is necessary for augmented humans to interconnect, communicate, and exchange data. Two classes of humans exist – augmented and unaugmented. Augmented humans at birth are implanted with organic telecomputers that communicate automatically though an ocean of interconnected wireless channels. Clustering of such humans results in the final destruction of nation states. Unaugmented humans are relegated to using external devices to accomplish similar tasks and as a result are relegated to second class status; blogging remains SOP for this class.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald. Originally published April 2006 on The Podcast Roundtable’s web site.


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