Scott Bradner: Battle of high-tech has-beens

What an amazing concept! Take people for whom the Warholian 15 minutes of fame was about three times too long and set them up in a boxing event aimed squarely at the heart of the vast wasteland part of the TV dial. Who would have thought that anyone could outwrestle the World Wrestling Federation and Chia Pet infomercials for dominance of this critical part of our culture? Having Tonya Harding (of clubbing an opposing skater’s knee fame) take on Paula Jones (renowned for being able to distinguish Presidential features) and call the result “Celebrity boxing” is a stroke of genius that is sadly not rare enough.

But it did get me to thinking of other things – even if they were only real in the gullible minds of the press and professional pundits or in the random number generators of the analyst companies – that could be paired up for imaginary boxing matches that would be at least as interesting or have the same level of lasting importance as celebrity boxing.

My first match would be between Fred “Ethernet killer” ATM-to-the-desktop and Charlie “IP killer” Novell IPX. This battle between ex-pretenders (in both senses of the word) to well-established kingdoms pits two accomplished money sinks against each other. The winner of this fight would get to take on Lou “Pure Blue” Token-Ring, once the darling of the business world and now a fading memory.

The second match would feature Ellen “QoS Jr.” APPN and Mary “I’m official” OSI protocol suite. APPN, once the heir apparent to the original “Mr. QoS” (IBM Corp.’s mighty SNA), would come out of retirement just for this match. The OSI protocol suite, last seen in requests for proposals from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, was once world famous as the technology that governments loved to love, but now is seen mostly in network theory classes. This would be a fight to the death, if the contenders were not already effectively dead.

The highlight of the show would be a tag-team event with four of the biggest lights of the Internet boom era. Team Irrational would include the sock puppet, representing the dozens of business-to-consumer ventures that thought Super Bowl ads could replace rational business models, and Joe “Bell Beater” CLEC, fronting for all those who thought that playing to the stupidity of the incumbent telephone companies was a license to print money. This fine team would face Team Exuberance, consisting of “Ms. Walled Garden” WAP, still pretending that a part of something that looks sort of like the Internet is better than the Net itself, and Billy “I’ll do it for you” ASP, whose future depended on fast networks and expensive disks. This bout would be all the more interesting because most of the players have not figured out the state they are actually in.

Well, that was fun, and only disappointing in the number of well-qualified candidates for inclusion that had to be dropped for lack of space.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University’s University Information Systems. He can be reached at