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Re: Top-down or bottom-up?

  • From: David Brownell <david-b@p...>
  • To: David Megginson <david@m...>
  • Date: Mon, 14 Jun 1999 10:01:19 -0700

heap bottom up
David Megginson wrote:
> 
> In principle, I know that Paul is right; in practice, I've lost much
> of the faith that I once had in top-down approaches to anything, from
> system design to macroeconomics.

Stop being reasonable, David ... it really doesn't go with the
political climate anywhere nowadays!!  ;-)


All the same, I agree.  True innovation rarely comes from the top down.
The history of technology shows it conclusively.  It's the sociology
of things -- the incentives need to go to the right people, and when
innovation is the game, people at the "top" of the heap usually can't
even see the problems that need those innovations (and often can't risk
letting them get fixed, if they can see them).

What's interesting is the cycles that show up.  Bottom-up phases get
followed by top-down ones, get followed by bottom-up ones again. IP
networking grew bottom up, but nowadays there are lots of top-down
network management tools that are essential (when they work :-) as
well as small networks and ISPs.  Personal computers are now driven
by corporate buyers, not hackers.  Operating systems for PCs started
as bottom up, have had a detour through a top-down monopoly, and now
there's again a growing interest in more grass-roots efforts such as
Linux ... which curiously enough are now harnessing quite a lot of
"top down" work done over the last few decades!


Top-down approaches work when the problems are relatively stable; but
things like the web are changing way too fast for that.  Bottom-up
ones work to harness innovation, in terms both of technologies (e.g.
new web technologies) and business models (e.g. open source).

- Dave

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