The internet has run out of room.
Like a prairie with no more vacant land to homestead or a hip area code with no more cellphone numbers, the pool of available numeric internet addresses has been completely allocated as of Thursday (.pdf).
With that, the frontier has closed. The internet — in its current form — is now completely colonized. All that’s left is to divide the allocated properties into ever-smaller portions, or to start trading what’s already been assigned.
This change will have no immediate effect on ordinary people, but will eventually force any company that wants to be on the internet to reckon with a complicated and potentially expensive technology transition.
It could also introduce widespread delays and other strange behavior into the internet at large.
“In a sense the net’s going to get stickier,” says John Heidemann, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California who has done a survey of the distribution of internet addresses (shown above). “It’ll be harder to do things that used to be easy.”