Chapter One: The Heart of the WELL
Chapter Two: Daily Life in Cyberspace: How the Computerized Counterculture Built a New Kind of Place
Chapter Three: Visionaries and Convergences: The Accidental History of the Net
Chapter Four: Grassroots Groupminds
Chapter Five: Multi-user Dungeons and Alternate Identities
Chapter Six: Real-time Tribes
Chapter Seven: Japan and the Net
Chapter Eight: Telematique and Messageries Rose: A Tale of Two Virtual Communities
Chapter Nine: Electronic Frontiers and Online Activists
Chapter Ten: Disinformocracy
Engelbart, who had been a radar operator during World War II, began to see an actual picture come into focus in his mind's eye, like a snapshot of the future: "When I first heard about computers, I understood, from my radar experience, that if these machines can show you information on punchcards and printouts on paper, they could write or draw that information on a screen. When I saw the connection between a cathode-ray screen, an information processor, and a medium for representing symbols to a person, it all tumbled together in about a half an hour." He saw groups of people at desks and in theaterlike environments where people could control the computer by pointing at it.
The scene in his imagination grew more vivid and detailed. Knowledge and information and thinking tools not yet invented could be available at the touch of a keyboard, the twist of a dial. With a setup like that, Engelbart dreamed, groups of people might have a real handle on solving complex problems. By the time he arrived at work at the end of that commute in December 1950, Engelbart's internal logic had taken him to the threshold of a crusade that has lasted almost half a century. By the 1990s, as a direct result of Engelbart's crusade, tens of millions of people around the world use computers and telecommunications to extend their abilities to think and communicate. Computers as mind amplifiers are something we take for granted today.
The problem in the 1950s was getting somebody to listen--somebody who could give him access to a computer and some research funding. His friends warned him that talking too much about his science-fiction schemes when he was interviewing for jobs might not be good for his career as an electrical engineer. Traveling from university to private industry to entrepreneurship, he spent over a decade trying and failing to convince computer scientists, psychologists, librarians, that computers could become marvelous problem-solving assistants to people who work with their minds.
In 1950, there were less than a dozen electronic computers. The first "electronic brains" were so big and generated so much heat that they filled air-conditioned warehouses, and in terms of computing power, all of them put together couldn't compete with the cheapest microchip in a twenty-dollar toy today. Nobody thought anybody would need many more computers or very much more powerful ones than that to fill the world's computational needs. By 1960, people were convinced that computers were useful tools, and the slightly less enormous, less expensive devices proliferated, but strictly as high-tech instrumentation for scientists or payroll devices for businesses.
In 1957, the Soviet launching of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, shifted some funding paradigms in Washington, D.C.; two direct side effects of that shift were the personal computer revolution and computer-mediated communications. In 1963, Engelbart was funded to create the thinking machines he had dreamed about. Engelbart was just the first of a lineage of stubborn visionaries who insisted that computers could be used by people other than specialists. It is very unlikely that we would have the computers and CMC systems we have today if it weren't for these few people who stuck stubbornly to their desire to build better thinking tools, computers designed for most people to use, in order to do the things most people do.
The essential elements of what became the Net were created by people who believed in, wanted, and therefore invented ways of using computers to amplify human thinking and communication. And many of them wanted to provide it to as many people as possible, at the lowest possible cost. Driven by the excitement of creating their own special subculture below the crust of the mass-media mainstream, they worked with what was at hand. Again and again, the most important parts of the Net piggybacked on technologies that were created for very different purposes.
The most important parts of the Net began as dreams in the imaginations of a few specific people, who acted on inspiration rather than orders. Computer networks started with a former MIT professor working in a small technical funding office in the Pentagon; the global Usenet was created by a couple of students in North Carolina who decided it was possible for computer communities to communicate with each other without the benefit of an expensive Internet connection; hobbyists in Chicago triggered the worldwide BBS movement because they wanted to transfer files from one PC to another without driving across town.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) funded a small group of unorthodox computer programmers and electronic engineers who wanted to redesign the way computers were operated. With keyboards and screens and graphics, people could interact directly with computers instead of laboring through the time-consuming and arcane mediation of punched cards and printouts. Some young programmers felt their virtuosity required the kinds of computers that a good mind could play like a musical instrument, in real time. They called their crusade "interactive computing," and still speak in terms of the "conversion experience" that led their research. When the ARPA-funded crusaders succeeded in creating the computers they wanted, they discovered that they also wanted to use their computers as communication devices.
It took two more decades of research and development for interactive personal computers and CMC to mature, proliferate, and converge into the increasingly citizen-accessible Net of the 1990s. It took another couple of revolutions beyond interactive computing to get that far.
By the late 1970s, the personal computer revolution, built on the technical foundations created by the ARPA researchers a decade previously, had created a new industry and a new subculture. The old ARPA stars were creating new companies and running research laboratories by the time their younger brothers and sisters decided to turn computers from business machines and scientific workstations into thinking tools "for the rest of us," as Apple put it in their first Macintosh commercials (13.4 meg).
Again, changes in the way computers were designed and used led to the expansion of the computer-using population from a priesthood in the 1950s, to an elite in the 1960s, to a subculture in the 1970s, and to a significant, stillgrowing part of the population in the 1990s. Again, it wasn't the mainstream of the existing computer industry that created affordable personal computing, but teenagers in garages. And it was neither national defense nor the profit motive but the desire to make a tool for changing the world that motivated the young entrepreneurs who built the PC industry.
When enough people brought sufficiently powerful computers into their homes, it was inevitable that somebody would figure out a way to plug PCs into telephones. All the off-the-shelf devices that you could plug together to make that work, the "enabling technologies" for personal telecommunications, were available and the price was dropping. With the powerful computers available to citizens today and affordable modems, you don't need an expensive, high-speed conduit like Internet uses. You just plug right into your telephone line, perfectly legally--so far--and publish your manifestos or organize your meetings.
The BBS enthusiasm spread among a wholly different population from the research roots of the Net. BBSers benefited from the research and development that made PC technology possible because it is unlikely that microchips and interactive computers would have been available to civilians today if the Department of Defense had not found them essential to national security decades ago. But BBS enthusiasts aren't interested in ARPA or big laboratories. They want to know what they can do at home with their own hands and affordable technology.
By the 1980s, it wasn't just computer scientists using the Net or BBSers scattered across the globe. Internet, the successor to ARPANET, sponsored in the 1980s by the National Science Foundation, already included tens of thousands of researchers and scholars in private industries and universities connected to the Net through their institutions'
computer centers. Each computer center is a community of individuals who share computer resources, and when it joins the high-speed backbone of Internet, each community is virtually connected to every other, via private e-mail, public real-time chat, and worldwide public conversations such as Usenet. Net culture took on a global, youthful, often heavily American flavor as so many colleges worldwide came online, starting in the United States.
In the future, that's where the net culture in the rest of society will come from worldwide--those who connected with it in college. Will the future see an increasing gap between the information-rich and the information-poor? Access to the Net and access to college are going to be the gateways, everywhere, to a world of communications and information access far beyond what is accessible by traditional media.
Through the 1980s, significant computing power became available on college campuses, and everybody, not just the programming, science, and engineering students, began using networked personal computers as part of their intellectual work, along with textbooks and lectures. Not only did many university computer centers join the high-speed backbone of the Net, millions of students gained dial-up access to the Net. Thousands got hooked on Usenet, MUDs, Internet Relay Chat, and electronic mailing lists.
More efficient means of communicating traditional forms of information, such as research papers, from place to place or performing routine knowledge-gathering tasks, such as searching for a reference, were facilitated by the Net's campus infrastructure. The Net was also a gateway to purely social realms. Two of the most important and popular cultural experiments--MUD (which first appeared at the University of Essex, England) and Usenet--originated on college campuses in 1979-1980.
In 1979, computer science students at Duke University and the University of North Carolina experimented with a simple scheme by which these two computer communities, which were not connected via Internet, could automatically exchange information via modem at regular intervals. By 1990, Usenet brought tens of millions of words daily to several million people in more than forty countries, sprouting from the experiment in North Carolina and propagating itself like a virus from campus to campus, research lab to research lab, around the world, more or less unofficially, via the sympathetic managers who ran the computer centers. A few private-sector institutions-- AT&T's Bell Laboratories and DEC foremost among them-- helped boost the growth of Usenet by paying the bill for increased telecommunications among its key backbone sites. The people in those companies who were the most passionate advocates of CMC use were also valuable enough to their employers to allow for a few interesting experiments.
Usenet is not a network or a BBS but a way of managing multiple public conversations about specific topics, conversations that are not located or controlled in a central site but spread throughout the system. It is a network-scale computer conferencing system. It rides on the computer networks but doesn't need them. You can read Usenet newsgroups from Internet, or you can read them from your desktop PC, if you can talk a medium-size system like the WELL into feeding the stream of conversations to your PC. Usenet enables people to read and respond to specific conversations about specific topics, similar to the way they read and respond to e-mail, but Usenet postings are public rather than private; in this way Usenet is related to other efforts to use computers as many-to-many group communication devices. Usenet is more like the WELL than Internet because it's about conversation--hundreds of thousands of conversations a day about thousands of different subjects.
ARPANET, the BBSs, and the conferencing systems that had separate origins ten and twenty years ago are growing together now into one system with many parts--the Net. In the 1990s, the role of government and private industry in the creation and regulation of the next level of Internet, the National Research and Education Network (NREN), is becoming the focus of increased public debate about how to manage that convergence.
As big government and big business line up to argue about which information infrastructure would be better for citizens, it is the right of the citizens to remind elected policymakers that these technologies were created by people who believed that the power of computer technology can and should be made available to the entire population, not just to a priesthood. The future of the Net cannot be intelligently designed without paying attention to the intentions of those who originated it.
From ARPANET to NREN: The Toolbuilders' Quest
Douglas Engelbart might have remained a voice in the wilderness, one of the myriad inventors with world-changing devices, or at least the plans for them, gathering dust in their garages. And you might still be required to wear a lab coat and speak FORTRAN in order to gain access to a computer. But Engelbart got a job in the early 1960s doing some respectably orthodox computer research at a new think tank in Menlo Park, California, the Stanford Research Institute. And a few years later, the paper he wrote, "The Augmentation of Human Intellect," fell into the hands of J. C. R. Licklider, another man with foresight who was in a historically fortunate position to do something about their shared vision of the future. Licklider had written a paper of his own in 1960, "Man-Computer Symbiosis," predicting that "in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human being has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today."
Licklider was an MIT and Harvard professor who studied psychoacoustics. Like Engelbart, he was captured by a picture in his mind's eye of a new kind of intellectual tool involving computers. Licklider's revelation came to him as he was sitting in his office. He was spending hours creating a graphic plot of some experimental data when he realized that he spent far more time fiddling with data, drawing graphs, finding citations, than he did thinking. A friend of Licklider's worked at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, a Cambridge computer consulting company that had a special kind of computer known as a DEC PDP-1. DEC--Digital Equipment Corporation--was a new computer company that a couple of MIT graduates had created. And the PDP-1 was the first commercial computer that showed information on a screen.
Licklider realized, as had Engelbart, that if he could get the right information into the computer's memory, he would be able to fiddle with data, draw graphs, and find citations--what he called "getting into position to think"--far more efficiently. In 1983, I interviewed Licklider and he recalled his encounter with the PDP-1 as the beginning of his involvement with the interactive computing crusade. "I guess you could say I had a religious conversion," he said.
Licklider became involved himself with computer display technology at Lincoln Laboratory, an MIT facility that did top-secret work for the Department of Defense. The new computers and displays that the North American Defense Command required in the early 1960s needed work on the design of information displays. Out of that work, one of Licklider's junior researchers, a graduate student named Ivan Sutherland, created the field of computer graphics. Through Lincoln Laboratory, Licklider met the people who later hired him at ARPA.
In October 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the people who were responsible for maintaining the state of the art in U.S. military technology were shocked into action. To keep up with the pace of technical developments, the Department of Defense created the Advanced Research Projects Agency with a specific mandate to leapfrog over existing technology, bypassing, if necessary, the standard process of peer-reviewed research proposals. ARPA had a license to look for visionaries and wild ideas and sift them for viable schemes. When Licklider suggested that new ways of using computers not only were valuable to weapons and air defense technologies but also could improve the quality of research across the board by giving scientists and office workers better tools, he was hired to organize ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office.
Licklider knew there was a whole subculture of unorthodox programming geniuses clustered at the new Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT and graphics geniuses like Ivan Sutherland at Lincoln. There were others around the country, chafing to get their hands on the kind of computing resources that didn't exist in the punched card and mainframe era. They wanted to reinvent computing; the computer industry giants and the mainstream of computer science weren't interested in reinventing computing. So Licklider and his successors at ARPA, Robert Taylor and Ivan Sutherland (both in their twenties), started funding the young hackers--the original hackers, as chronicled in Steven Levy's book Hackers, not the ones who break into computer systems today. They also funded Engelbart, whose Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at Stanford Research Institute lasted for more than a decade and created the first word processors, conferencing systems, hypertext systems, mouse pointing devices, mixed video and computer communications--the technical foundation for half a dozen of the biggest high-tech industries today. When the first ARPANET went online, Engelbart's ARC was the original network information center that centralized all information gathering and record keeping about the state of the network.
During the 1960s, ARPA-funded groups worked on different aspects of interactive computing at different research centers scattered around the country. At MIT, they concentrated first on time-sharing, the scheme by which many individuals could interact directly with a central computer through a terminal, instead of waiting in line to submit their programs to computer operators. When you build a computer system that enables fifty or a hundred programmers to sit around a computer room and interact individually and directly with the main computer, you are automatically building in the potential for a community, because they are going to want to exchange lore and wisecracks while they do their programming. Electronic mail was one of the features built into the new time-sharing systems. Once they had e-mail in place, they were loathe to give it up. Later, they built e-mail into the system that linked the computer communities across geographical boundaries. The earliest users of CMC systems also were the people who built the first CMC systems; as users as well as designers of this thinking tool, they were reluctant to build in features that took power away from individual users, so they designed a degree of user autonomy into the system that persists in the architecture of cyberspace today.
At Lincoln Lab and the University of Utah, where Ivan Sutherland and a younger generation of crusaders such as Alan Kay ended up, interactive computer graphics was the quest. The jump from alphabetic printout to graphic screen display was a major leap in the evolution of the way computers are designed to be operated by people, the "human-computer interface." Humans process the world visually extremely well; we can extract far more information from color and pattern than we can from a page full of numbers. This breakthrough of manipulating patterns on a screen to display computer information involved more than graphics, because once you could display graphic information on a screen, you could display words as well. The capability of using the graphics to control the computer, as well as using the computer to control graphics, also led to further breakthroughs that made computers easier for nonprogrammers to use. Instead of a computer command that requires a person to type in an arcane code phrase, the computer user can point to a picture and press a button and issue the same command--now known as "point and click" commands.
Engelbart's team at SRI put graphics and time-sharing and group communication together in a new kind of research environment that Engelbart named "bootstrapped research": the researchers' goal was to design better tools for themselves; then they would test and debug their own tools and use them to create better tools. Other ARPA projects produced essential hardware for ARC. There were major nodes of the research network at a dozen different universities, and private research institutions such as RAND in Santa Monica and Bolt, Beranek, and Newman in Cambridge, the consulting firm that first showed Licklider the PDP-1. Under the ARPA direction of Licklider, Taylor, and Ivan Sutherland, a community of interdisciplinary toolbuilders collaborated for a decade to produce what they were then calling multiple-access computers.
The ARPA researchers from all the major projects got together in the same place once or twice a year. Through the 1960s, directly from their efforts, the original dreams of interactive computing and augmentation of human intellect began to turn into the kind of computers people use today. After six or seven years, the different projects initiated and supported by ARPA were beginning to converge. Each computer center had special hardware or software or data that other centers didn't have. A programmer using a powerful interactive computer in Illinois might make good use of the computer graphics software at another ARPA-sponsored computer center in Utah. In the previous era, the bottleneck was the way people had to stand in line to use the computer. Time-sharing made it possible for individuals to interact directly with the computer. The next bottleneck was the geographic distance between user and computer, and between computer and computer. In the era of time-sharing, it was natural to ask, Why not extend the line of control and link computers up, through telecommunication lines, at a distance?
Could computers send data fast enough through copper wires to allow remote operation of computers and resource-sharing? If it could be done through the short wire that connected all the terminals to the central time-shared computer, it could, in theory, be done with a wire as long as a continent. The telecommunications orthodoxy of the 1960s was as pessimistic about the ARPA quest as the computer orthodoxy had been uninterested in interactive computing. The ARPA planners adopted a particular way of sending chunks of computer information over a network, a scheme known as
Packet-switching is yet another case of a technology invented for one purpose evolving into purposes beyond the intentions of the inventors. It started in the 1950s, when the RAND Corporation performed top-secret studies on thermonuclear war scenarios. They focused on the survivability of the communications system that made command and control possible on local and national levels. In an all-out nuclear war, communications infrastructure--networks of wires, command centers, antennae--would become prime targets. RAND's Paul Baran proposed that the threat of the unreliability of any communications network under nuclear combat conditions could be dealt with by decentralizing authority for keeping communications flowing. The key idea he proposed was "that messages be broken into units of equal size and that the network route these message units along a functioning path to their destination where they would be reassembled into coherent wholes." Baran's scheme was made public in 1964.
Instead of having a hierarchy of command centers in the communications system to match the hierarchical organization of military command and control, Baran proposed eliminating the command center for communications. Chop all the communications into small packets of data, and precede the message data in each packet with information about where it originated and where it is going and which other packets it connects with when it gets there. Then distribute routers throughout the network that know how to read the addressing information on the packets and send them on their way. In this way, the routers could update each other about the state of the network at very short intervals. What any node knows about routing information, all other nodes know soon thereafter. Packets can take alternate paths through the network. If nodes go down, the network routes around it. If the receiving node does not receive all the packets it expects in a message, it can ask the transmitting node to retransmit specific packets. If you build a message-passing network on this scheme, and use computers to do the routing, you can build a network that will survive as node after node is blasted away.
The National Physical Laboratory in Great Britain tested packet-switching principles in practice in 1968. At the same time, ARPA issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a system to link geographically remote research computers into a network. Robert Taylor hired Lawrence Roberts from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory to write the RFP and choose the sites for the first network nodes. Roberts made the decision to use the packet-switching scheme. Robert Kahn, a mathematics professor at MIT, took a leave to work at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN), a government-funded think tank that ended up designing and running key components of ARPANET. Kahn wrote the proposal that won the first contract from ARPA for BBN. The first node was delivered to UCLA in 1969, and the network expanded to four nodes by the end of the year. In 1970, Harvard and MIT came online. By the middle of 1971, more than thirty different computers (and their communities) were linked to the network. Many of the people involved in funding and building the first network, such as Robert Taylor and Robert Kahn, are still actively involved in creating the next generation of network technology, more than twenty years later.
The significance of packet-switching technology to nontechnologists is twofold . First, this invention creates the building block for a communications system with no central control because you don't need a central controller when each packet and the entire network of routers all know how to get information around. Second, as the world's information becomes digitized, those packets can carry everything that humans can perceive and machines can process--voice, high-fidelity sound, text, high-resolution color graphics, computer programs, data, full-motion video. You can even send packets over the airwaves.
In research-and-development laboratories today, one popular buzzphrase is "digital convergence," which means that a lot more than virtual communities and libraries of text are going to live on the Net in the near future. Digitization is where the future of the Net is likely to collide with other computer-amplified forces in the world. As John P. Barlow is fond of saying, "Cyberspace is where your money is." Money is already an abstraction, part of a huge, incessant, worldwide flow of electronic messages. The value gained now by knowing how to move these abstract money messages around the world's telecommunications networks dwarfs the original value of the goods and services that produced the money.
Cyberspace is where global entertainment and communications are headed; large colonies of those industries already live there. Televisions and newspapers rely on a slightly different flavor of the same basic electronic signals traveling through the same worldwide network. The cable companies are in on it. Everybody knows that only those whose networks connect to everybody else's have a chance to reach the enormous world market, but nobody knows yet which set of interests--newspapers, television networks, entertainment conglomerates, communication giants--will dominate the mass-market networks of the future.
At the same time, many of the same powerful financial interests are investing in providing subject matter--"
content," in telecom jargon--for universal, high-speed digital networks of the future. Entertainment and communications industries are both eyeing the same technological pipelines for delivering their products. In laboratories in Palo Alto and Cambridge, England, today, CMC communities are including video clips and voice mail with their e-mail and conferencing.
The fact that these new technical conduits for information had the potential to create new kinds of communities was noted and encouraged by the very top leaders of the research projects that created it. Before ARPANET went online in 1969, the people who had sponsored its initial development, J. C. R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, wrote an article with E. Herbert, "The Computer as a Communication Device," in which they set forth their vision for the future of computer-linked communities:
Although more interactive multiaccess computer systems are being delivered now, and although more groups plan to be using these systems within the next year, there are at present perhaps only as few as half a dozen interactive multiaccess computer communities . . .
For the society, the impact will be good or bad, depending mainly on the question: Will "to be on-line" be a privilege or a right? If only a favored segment of the population gets a chance to enjoy the advantage of "intelligence amplification," the network may exaggerate the discontinuity in the spectrum of intellectual opportunity.
On the other hand, if the network idea should prove to do for education what a few have envisioned in hope, if not in concrete detailed plan, and if all minds should prove to be responsive, surely the boon to human kind would be beyond measure.
As soon as ARPANET went online, people started sending electronic mail, far beyond the requirements of maintaining the network. One of the characteristics of e-mail is that it is easy to send a one-line message or a hundred-page file to one or a thousand people. You just make an automatic mailing list that contains the addresses of the people you want to reach. Another characteristic of e-mail is that you can reply to any message that arrives in your private electronic mailbox by typing one keystroke ("R" for "reply," on most systems). If you get a message from one person on a mailing list, you can reply privately to that person, or you can reply to everybody on the list. Suddenly, correspondence becomes a group conversation. Private lists continue to proliferate today as a way for individuals to create their own personalized conferencing systems: "roll your own" virtual communities.
The first large list, the first to foster its own culture, ARPANET veterans recall, was SF-LOVERS, a list of ARPA researchers who wanted to participate in public discussions about science fiction. SF-LOVERS started appearing publicly on ARPANET in the late 1970s. Attempts were made to suppress it, because it clearly fell outside even the most liberal interpretation of research-related activities. It is to the credit of the top ARPA managers that they allowed virtual communities to happen, despite pressure to reign in the netheads when they seemed to be having too much fun. The system engineers redesigned the system again and again to keep up with the explosive growth in network communications traffic. The social side of computer networking found its first forum in the HUMAN-NETS e-mail list.
By the time ARPANET was up and running and the different communities were knitting themselves into e-mail lists, the Vietnam War was beginning to politicize ARPA policy. Many of the brightest young researchers weren't as comfortable working for the Department of Defense. At that time, yet another visionary in the private sector came along and was fortunate enough to capture the best and the brightest of the ARPA crew.
In 1969, Peter McCullough, chief executive officer of Xerox, proclaimed the intention to make his company "the architect of information for the future." He initiated the construction of a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art, information-processing research facility in California, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, known as PARC . To create and manage the Computer Sciences Laboratory, Xerox hired Robert Taylor, formerly of NASA and ARPA. And Taylor hired Alan Kay and a few dozen of the best ARPA luminaries, who had been scattered around the country at different institutions for years.
PARC was hog heaven for the hardware engineers and software programmers who converged on Palo Alto in the early 1970s. These were people who had known each other by reputation, cooperated as colleagues, competed as peers, for almost ten years of ARPA-sponsored work. Here they were, together for the first time in one place as an all-star team, working for a research manager who shared their vision, with a generous budget and the best possible equipment. These were people who, as Alan Kay put it, "were used to dealing lightning with both hands." Many of them had been in their teens and early twenties when they created time-sharing and computer graphics; they were still young enough to accomplish another revolution. They were working for private enterprise now rather than the military, but the goal of the quest remained unchanged when the focus moved to PARC: liberating computer power for nonprogrammers to use to help them think and communicate.
Xerox PARC in the 1970s was the second crusade for the thinking-tool builders. Many of the ideas developed by Engelbart's team at SRI migrated to PARC. At PARC they knew exactly what they wanted to do: they wanted to go beyond time-sharing and create computers powerful, compact, and inexpensive enough to put one on everybody's desk--personal computers. They knew that the cost of computing power fell by half every two years, and that the coming technologies of microchip fabrication, known as integrated circuits, would make personal computers economical in about seven years. They also knew it would take about seven years to design them so people could use them. The PARC team also knew that the cost of another technology, televisionlike display screens, was dropping drastically as well. Cheap computers and cheap screens meant you could design a highly graphic human-computer interface, where people "point and click" at graphic representations instead of typing commands in computer language.
The first personal computer was the Alto, the workstation that the PARC team designed and built for themselves in the early 1970s. At the same time they were building the prototypes for the PCs of the future, the ARPA veterans at PARC didn't want to lose the personal communication connectivity they had enjoyed with time-sharing and ARPANET. So they designed a very high speed network--Ethernet--to link all the Altos in their building. The idea of local area networks (LANs) grew out of
Ethernet. All the offices and factories and campuses full of workstations in the 1990s are becoming linked by LANs. PARC researchers also pioneered research into ways that local networks such as PARC's Ethernet could be linked through gateway computers to wider networks such as ARPANET. The technology of "internetworking" that started at ARPA and PARC has been one of the stimulants for the rapid growth of the Net, because it allows all the individually emerging archipelagoes of local networks to link with each other into internetworks.
Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, the technology of internetworking itself evolved at a rapid rate. The speed with which information can be transmitted through a medium is one fundamental determinant of what kind of information can be transmitted, the value of the information, and who can afford to send or receive it. This is one place where technological leaps in capability transform into economic leaps. When your bits-per-second rate is low and expensive, you can send messages laboriously via telegraph. When your bits-per-second rate is high and inexpensive, you can send books, encyclopedias, entire libraries, in less than a minute. The economics of speed in CMC technology are central to the notion of citizen-accessible computing. If a citizen today can have the telecomputing power only the Pentagon could afford twenty years ago, what will citizens be able to afford in telecommunications power five or ten years into the future?
ARPANET used 56,000-bit-per-second links for over a decade. This is a very high speed compared to the speed of the first personal modems, for example, which sent information at 300 bits per second. In 1987, NSFNET (the successor to Internet) moved to communication lines capable of transporting 1.5 million bits per second. By 1992, the NSFNET backbone had moved to 45-million-bit-per-second lines--a seven-hundredfold increase in speed in five years. At that speed, you can send five thousand pages per second, a couple of encyclopedias per minute. The next quantum leap in speed is the gigabit level--billions and hundreds of billions of bits per second; at the multigigabit-per-second level, you are talking about how many Libraries of Congress you can transmit every minute. Gigabit-rate networking is one of the projects of the present NREN testbed, so Libraries-of-Congress-per-minute networking is already in the prototype phase. And research into terabit--trillions of bits per second--networking is well under way. Just as the cost of anything dependent on computer power dropped drastically when miniaturization made computers more powerful, the cost of anything that depends on the speed of information transfer is going to drop.
Gross and/or rapid changes in quantity can make for equally discontinuous changes in the quality of a phenomenon, when "emergent behaviors" kick in. When you can transfer the Library of Congress from one place to another in under a minute, the very notion of what it means to have a place called the Library of Congress changes. As it goes digital, that place in Washington, D.C., is virtualizing. I can already get the Library of Congress catalog from my desktop. When I can download the source text itself to my desktop, my sense of where that information resides changes. It's at the other end of my modem line, along with the rest of the Net, which means it is more or less on my desktop.
In terms of population growth, the original ARPANET community numbered around a thousand in 1969. A little over twenty years later, the Internet population is estimated at between five and ten million people. The rate of growth is too rapid for accurate measurements at this point, with worldwide internetworking plugging together all the little and medium-size networks that have been growing over the past decade or so. The total number of connected networks grew from a couple hundred in the early 1980s to over seventy-five hundred by the early 1990s, reaching people in more than seventy-five countries. In the September 1991 issue of Scientific American, then-senator Albert Gore noted an estimate that has been supported by others: for the past five years, Internet alone has been growing in numbers of users at around 10 percent per month.
The hosts on Internet are the individual computer communities. Some hosts, like the WELL, have thousands of users; a few have tens and hundreds of thousands of users. On Internet, in a publicly available document known as an RFC (Request for Comment), is a graph of the rate of growth of Internet hosts for the 1980s (see page 81).
Obviously, these rates of growth have to level off eventually. There aren't enough people in the world to sustain growth rates like that. But cyberspace cartographer John Quarterman, in his article "How Big Is the Matrix?" captured the most important aspect of these growth rates, the obvious implication that this largely invisible subculture is likely to break the surface of the world's awareness, due to sheer size, soon:
In two years, there will be more network users than residents of any state in the United States. In five years there will be more network users than citizens of any single country except India or China. What will happen when McLuhan's global village becomes one of the largest countries in the world? Using two-way communications, not broadcast? And crossing boundaries of space, time, and politics?
By the early 1980s, the bureaucratic and financial demands of running ARPANET had outgrown ARPA. The Net was an intellectual resource now, and scholars and scientists were clamoring to get in on it, even if they weren't doing weapons-related research. CMC was following the same path of diffusion that computer technology had followed ten to twenty years before: first developed as part of weapons-related research, computers and networks soon proved valuable and then affordable first to scientific researchers outside weapons research, then to big businesses, then to small businesses, and then to citizens. By the early 1980s, scientists outside the most liberal interpretation of military-related research wanted to make use of computer networks.
Science is a communication-dependent enterprise, one of the most universal communications enterprises in the world: If you are a scientist, you make an observation or think up a theory, and you publish it; other scientists can read your observation and theory and test it, then publish the nature and results of their tests. From this process of observation, experimentation, theorization, and communication, scientific knowledge is supposed to emerge. The bottleneck is access to the academy, to the scientific hierarchies that admit novices to circles where their communications can be noticed. In the nineteenth century, an Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, experimented with sweet peas and discovered the laws of genetics, but he did not have access to the highest scientific journals. The knowledge lay fallow for decades, until it was rediscovered in an obscure journal by biologists who were on the track of the mysteries of genetics. Mendel's experience is worth remembering as scientific discourse moves onto the Net.
If more and more scientific communication moves onto the Net, as it seems to be doing, where anybody who has net access to put forth their equations or their theory along with the academicians, several kinds of results are likely. First, you are as marginalized as Gregor Mendel was if you are a member of neither the academy nor the Net, because that is where all the important attention will be. Second, if you are Gregor Mendel, all you have to do is gain net access in order to participate in the international group conversation of science.
But before the Net grew enough to allow citizen participation, access to the Net enabled scientists in quickly moving fields to have their own specialized versions of the living database that the WELL and Usenet provides other groups; to the degree that the process of science is embedded in group communication, the many-to-many characteristic of virtual communities can both accelerate and democratize access to cutting-edge knowledge. Hence, the pressure from nonmilitary scientific researchers to gain access to the Net in the 1980s.
In 1983, ARPANET split into ARPANET for research and MILNET for military operational use. These were both wide-area backbone networks that communicated among their own backbone nodes at the highest speeds, supporting communities of users that numbered in the hundreds and thousands. When networking began to be built into the kinds of computers most colleges and research laboratories were using, Internet grew explosively. This was, in part, encouraged by ARPA. When computers changed from the old-fashioned batch mode that took punch cards to time-shared multiple-access computing, new ways of operating computers were created. Unix, an operating system for multiple-access computers, was created by programmers at Bell Laboratories for research uses in 1969, the year ARPANET went online.
An operating system is a master control program that handles interactions between human users and computer programs; Unix was designed for programmers of interactive computers who needed to be able to build tools for each other, share those tools, and propagate successful tools throughout the programmer community. Nobody ever dreamed it would become a worldwide standard, used by millions of nonprogrammers. Thus, the unexpected success of Unix, originally a research tool for programmers, as an operating system for use by scientists and students created a uniform set of communication building blocks built into every Unix-using computer. These building blocks came in handy later, when all those Unix machines in colleges and laboratories around the world started calling each other with modems and communicating via high-speed networks.
UUCP, a Unix to Unix Copy Program, made it possible for any computer using Unix to automatically dial and share information via modem with any other Unix computer. This was to provide an alternative networking infrastructure for those computers not on Internet.
In 1983, programmers at the University of California, funded by ARPA, created a version of Unix for the new kinds of computers becoming available; the computer codes for communicating with Internet, known as the
TCP/IPprotocol suite, were built into Berkeley Unix . Now, Unix computers not only could call each other via relatively slow modems, but could encode and decode the packets of data that travel at much higher speeds on Internet. Because public funds had supported its development, this new version of Unix was distributed for the cost of distribution. New companies, like the ARPA-funded Sun Microsystems , sprang up in the mid-1980s and instantly flourished as carriers of Unix and built-in networking. Local networks grew in science departments of colleges all over the world. And the local networks started grouping with larger networks such as ARPANET and MILNET. Another network for scholarly and academic discussions not limited to the sciences, BITNET, sponsored by IBM, started to grow. Huge internal corporate networks grew at DEC and IBM and AT&T.
This network of networks that emerged in the 1980s was called ARPA Internet, then just Internet. The more useful this new tool proved to be, the more people who were not originally authorized to use it wanted to get their hands on it. The computer scientists who were denied access to the Net according to the Defense Department's strict interpretation of "acceptable use" turned to the National Science Foundation (NSF). Now that internetworking was becoming a valuable intellectual resource for scientists, NSF established
CSNET, another science-oriented network within Internet, and funded other regional research networks. Nonscientist scholars wanted access to CMC, so BITNET was established by NSF and IBM. Because packet-switching and networking technology was created with tax-supported funding, successive generations of network implemented "acceptable use" policies that ruled out commercial activity; this situation started to change in 1993 as Internet began to privatize.
Time and again, the Net has been widened and the definition of "acceptable use" has expanded as the result of pressure by people who wanted access. The first definition of "acceptable use" limited the Net to DARPA (as ARPA is known now) researchers; that was expanded to include other military- and government-funded scientific researchers, then expanded to the scientific and scholarly communities, and now it is in the process of expanding to the business community. Right now, whether the next and most important extension of the Net community--to the education field and then to all citizens--will happen remains in question. The mid-1990s look like a fork in the road: will the expansion process continue beyond the business community, or will they try to own it all?
The reason the U.S. Congress continues to allocate funds to develop increasingly powerful networks is that it has been told that America is in danger of falling behind, either in supercomputer research or in competitive economic advantage. Educational and citizen uses--and rights of access--are a relatively recent issue. Supercomputer competition, not a recognition of the intrinsic intellectual value of high-speed networking, was the key factor in funding the upgrade of the old ARPANET to a new generation of networking technology.
NSF was also involved in the early 1980s with another experiment in leapfrogging, a high-speed network to interconnect supercomputer centers around the United States. Supercomputers were too expensive to distribute widely, so NSF supported five regional supercomputer centers. By the mid-1980s, supercomputing had moved to the part of the cycle where scientists wanted to use it for non-weapons-related research. High-speed networking was by then a proven technology, and ultra-high-speed networking technologies on the horizon could do for supercomputers what ARPANET did for the first multiple-access computers. NSF initiated the NSFNET project to link the supercomputer centers and their communities of users. The network came online in 1986, and NSFNET became Internet's main backbone. By that point, transmission speeds on the backbone were at the million-bit-per-second level. ARPANET was honorably decommissioned in March 1990.
The process of technology transfer, of handing off the government-developed Internet to private enterprise, has been controversial from the start. In 1987, NSF awarded a contract to manage and upgrade the Internet backbone to Merit Network, Inc., which was running the state educational network in Michigan in partnership with IBM and MCI Communications. By that time, several ARPANET veterans and others had set up small organizations to develop new applications for new network communities, and these companies were not at all happy to hear about the entry of the same old big boys into what had previously been a wide-open frontier.
Like computer technology in the 1950s, CMC technology in the late 1980s had reached the point where it was time to migrate from publicly funded defense research to private businesses and citizens. This is the most critical point in the history of the technology, as the decisions and events of the near future will cast a long shadow into the future. As the Net continues to serve as an intellectual, economic, and perhaps cultural resource to citizens, a kind of knowledge-tide that lifts all boats, should it be the kind of infrastructure project that is properly funded by the national government in the United States, as it is in Japan and France? If this technology is more properly left to the marketplace and private industries, how should the rights of citizens be protected against infringement from those industries, the way those rights are constitutionally protected when the government runs it? How should small start-up companies be protected from unfair competition from today's industry giants? Who shall determine the new rules about privacy, intellectual property, international trade, that accompany the growth of the Net? In the early 1990s, these questions became the topics of heated debate that will continue for years to come.
By the late 1980s, the Net began to outgrow the government's ability to manage. It was time to hand off the wider-access networks to private industry. But serious questions remained about the appropriate way to privatize this publicly funded technology. Is CMC a publishing medium or a communication service or an informal public space? What degree of public regulation is appropriate in an industry in which the citizens' rights to communicate about matters of public interest is staked to the price of access? Now that some of the same commercial outfits that weren't interested in developing the technology twenty years ago are competing for contracts to provide it in the future, what rights do citizens have to determine the way this tool is handed off from the public to the private sector?
At the same time that the Net has once again outgrown its government sponsors, a movement to create an even more powerful and even more inclusive Net has grown into the legislative foundation for the next incarnation of ARPANET-INTERNET-NSFNET, called the National Research and Education Network (NREN). Again, the legislation was heavily influenced by fears of U.S. military and industry losing a competitive edge in supercomputer and networking technologies, in response to a report from the Office of Science and Technology that emphasized the possibility of falling behind in those fields. In the late 1980s, the High Performance Computing Act began
its way through Congress. Along the way, the notion of a "
national superhighway for information" became attached to the legislation for looking into upgrading Internet, and Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee emerged as the champion of a network that would enable schoolchildren to access the Library of Congress and rural physicians to upload CAT scans to metropolitan medical centers. During congressional hearings, experts such as Robert Kahn, who had been instrumental in creating ARPANET, made a strong case for the utility of a national information infrastructure that would bring the benefits of the Net to elementary schools and libraries as well as to laboratories, universities, and businesses. The High Performance Computing/NREN bill, signed by President Bush, authorized $650 million of new spending by NSF, $388 million by DARPA, and $31 million by the Departments of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. Five gigabit-network testbeds were set up around the United States. The fundamental research for a vastly faster network technology, capable of sending CAT scans and real-time video, along with Libraries-of-Congress-per-minute of text, got under way. The debate over how much of that money should be allocated for educational and citizens' applications is far from over. At the same time, there is controversy over the institutional transfer of technology from NSF to private corporations. The initial funds necessary to create the technology for a new national information network will be spent, no matter what budget cuts may come in the future. The question of who will run it and who will be allowed to use it is wide open. Again, the terms of "acceptable use" are being challenged by populations of outsiders who want in.
As commercial organizations--including two of the biggest corporations in the world, IBM and AT&T--take over management of the Net from government institutions, who will gain access and who will be denied access? Who will make policy about what users can say or do in the Net? Who will arbitrate disagreements about access or online behavior? This technology was developed with tax money. Should there be a cap on the amount that private companies will be allowed to charge us in the future for using a technology that public dollars were used to develop in the past?
The furor was not limited to Netheads when IBM began staking out territory on the Net. It began to look as if some of the industry giants were planning to become competitors in the same market where, as Internet contractors, they controlled commercial access to the Net. IBM and MCI's venture, ANS, had been managing NSFNET since 1987; in 1991, ANS, a nonprofit corporation, set up a for-profit subsidiary called ANS CO+RE to sell CMC services. In a December 1991 story in the New York Times , headlined "U.S. Said to Play Favorites in Promoting Nationwide Computer Network," technology reporter John Markoff , who broke the story of the Morris Worm, wrote, "Just one week after President Bush signed legislation calling for the creation of a nationwide computer data `superhighway,' a debate has erupted over whether the government gave an unfair advantage to a joint venture of IBM and MCI that built and manages a key part of the network." Markoff quoted several experts and private competitors who fear ANS could use its position as manager of the NSFnet to make things difficult for competitors who want to connect to the Net.
"People involved in planning for a national data network say it is essential to provide for fair competition, which will lead rival companies to offer creative and entrepreneurial services in the hope of building market share. Without competition, they say, the government will have created a monopoly that has little incentive to innovate," wrote Markoff. He quoted David Farber, one of the pioneers of the original ARPANET and now a computer scientist at the University of Pennsylvania testbed for the high-speed NREN: "This is the first major communication business to be born under the deregulation era. This hasn't happened since the growth of the telephone industry. You want it to be a business that doesn't repeat the errors of the past."
One private contractor who fears competition with ANS CO+RE is William L. Schrader, president of Performance Systems International, Inc., a company in Reston, Virginia, that provides commercial connections to Internet. "But there is no level playing field. It's like taking a federal park and giving it to K mart," Schrader said to Markoff. "It's not right, and it isn't going to stand. As a taxpayer, I think it's disgusting."
Markoff also quoted Mitchell D. Kapor, founder of Lotus and head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "Nobody should have an unfair advantage. This is important because we're talking about something that is in its infancy but that one day could be on the order of the personal computer industry."
What will people have to pay, and what will we have to agree to say or not say, in order to both feed information to the Net and take information from it? Pricing determines access. What do the big businesses who want to be the chief Net contractors of the future want to control? If they control the conduits for information, the fiber-optic networks and high-speed routers, and they also compete to provide commercial services through that conduit, what effect will that have on their smaller competitors? What should be a fair price for them to charge for continuing network services? And in ways might these major players be tempted to restrain mom-and-pop information providers to compete with them as vendors of content? Government and major business leaders are debating these questions now, which is why the 1990s are a time when the voice of citizens counts in determining the shape of the technology's future.
In early 1993, a press release electrified the Net. The National Science Foundation announced that it was turning over three of the most important administrative functions of Internet management--assigning Internet addresses (and thus acting as a gateway and potential chokepoint for determining exactly which sites are granted permission to join the high-speed network), maintaining directory and database services (keeping track of how to locate people and resources), and maintaining information services provided to Internet users (modernization of tools for making use of the Net). The contracts, totaling $12 million, were awarded to Network Solutions (registration services), AT&T (directory and database services), and General Atomics (information services). First, MCI and IBM jump in. Now AT&T. Have the big boys already made their secret deals? Is a pricing structure being constructed hastily, before anybody but a minority of the population even understand the implications of a privatized Internet? There is a troubling sentence in the press release: "Consistent with FNC guidelines on obtaining reasonable cost recovery from users of NREN networks, the NSF has determined that the INTERNIC Information Services provider may charge users beyond the U.S. research and education community for any services provided. . . ."
Gordon Cook, a well-known Net gadfly who publishes a newsletter on the political and policy issues related to the emerging Net, pointed out in a widely quoted flame to the Community Networks e-mail list that the grassroots applications so dear to all the utopian populists are not the primary purpose of NREN:
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 1993 20:11:48 -0700
From: Gordon Cook
Subject: Re: A WAR OVER THE FUTURE OF THE NREN/INTERNET
. . . .Unfortunately a lot of folk never stopped to read the actual legislation [The High Performance Computing and Communications Act, 1991.
PL 102-194 "Sec 102 (c) Network Characteristics
The Network shall (6) have accounting mechanisms which allow users or groups of users to be charged for their usage of copyrighted materials available over the network, and, where appropriate and technically feasible, **for their use** of the network."
Now I'd say that's pointing pretty squarely in the direction of metered individual bills. Still happy with what Al Gore has brought you?
The big advocates of NREN have been the federal agencies who have believed that public funds will be poured into buying bigger and better bit-pipes for various HIGH end uses. For this reason not many of the network insiders have wished to rock the boat when the bill authorizes $500 million for NREN from fy [fiscal year 92 through 96. But there is a huge difference between authorize and appropriate, and even when appropriated it can be pulled. . . .
The whole thing is hideously complicated. Unfortunately very few folk have any view of the WHOLE picture. . . . which leaves the pieces in charge of the special interests as usual. (After three years full time on the trail I think that I *DO* have an idea of the WHOLE picture.)
I have interested a reporter at the Washington Post. But so far all his editors do is yawn. And most reporters have to cover such a broad swath of technology that they can never find time to educate themselves in how all these pieces should be put together.
The grass roots aspect is a bore to the special interests. There's not enough money there. And as I tried to say when this list first got started, if the grass roots thinks it will reap significant benefits from NREN, it will probably be disillusioned. . . .
This might be the beginning of a well-thought-out process of privatizing a technology that long ago outgrew its government sponsors. But key questions remain to be answered if citizens are to be assured that we aren't being bamboozled: Who will have access, what will it cost, and how will disputes over access, cost, or content be arbitrated? The key questions of access, pricing, censorship, and redress of grievances will be answered in practice, in law, in executive order or legislative action, over the next five years, and thus determine the political and economic structure of the Net for decades to come.
What Can You Find on the Net?
The content of ARPANET started to grow rapidly in two directions from the very beginning. Once the Net exists, all you have to do to increase the collective resources of the entire community is to add a valuable resource to your node and allow other Net citizens to access it. Every day, more and more informational and computational resources came online as local nodes added to that part of their resources they shared with the rest of the Net community, and more and more people started communicating with each other in new ways. The key is the way the resources available to any individual user of the Net multiply along with the Net's growth in other dimensions--number of different computers online, speed at which information can be transferred, amount of material transferred from analog to digital form. The bigger and faster the Net grows, the more leverage it gives each individual who can gain access and who knows how to use it.
When the WELL linked to Internet in 1992, more information became available to me than I could handle in a hundred lifetimes. One computer on Internet, for example, carries up-to-the hour versions of digitized satellite radar weather maps. If I have an account on a computer connected to Internet, I can transfer that computer file containing the satellite photo to my desktop. Another program on my desktop computer transforms that computer file into an image. Presto! There, in living color, is a radar profile of the west coast of North America, taken by a satellite a few hours ago; if I download a set of successive photographs, I can step through them on my desktop machine like electronic flipcards and watch a storm front move across the Pacific. You can go to your local computer store and buy commercial software today that will automatically dial a Net host, download to your desktop the latest weather files, and convert them to ready-to-view images.
The Library of Congress card catalog is available and searchable by any Net citizen, as are several hundred card catalogs and periodical collections of libraries around the world. The latest decisions of the Supreme Court are available online, and so is the full text of the annual CIA World Factbook . I can use sophisticated search engines on powerful computers to find the lyrics to popular songs. The full text of the Bible, the Torah,/a>, and the Koran are available and searchable by keyword. Network technology automatically makes all the machine-to-machine connections between my desktop computer and my Internet host computer, and through the host to any other computer connected to the Net, which means the Library of Congress, every university library catalog on the Net worldwide, the Supreme Court, and other knowledge resources are more or less virtually available to me at all times.
The increasing digitization and availability of information collected by governments at taxpayer expense is another converging force that is pushing the Net toward a critical mass. More and more public and government databases are going online at local and national levels. The coexistence of very large and up-to-date collections of factual information in conjunction with a medium that is also a forum for discussion and debate has important implications for the public sphere. The ability of groups of citizens to debate political issues is amplified enormously by instant, widespread access to facts that could support or refute assertions made in those debates. This kind of citizen-to-citizen discussion, backed up by facts available to all, could grow into the real basis for a possible electronic democracy of the future.
On June 1, 1993, the following notice was posted, copied, and reposted throughout the Net:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of Presidential Correspondence
For Immediate Release June 1, 1993
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT
IN ANNOUNCEMENT OF WHITE HOUSE ELECTRONIC MAIL ACCESS
Part of our commitment to change is to keep the White House in step with today's changing technology. As we move ahead into the twenty-first century, we must have a government that can show the way and lead by example. Today, we are pleased to announce that for the first time in history, the White House will be connected to you via electronic mail. Electronic mail will bring the Presidency and this Administration closer and make it more accessible to the people.
The White House will be connected to the Internet as well as several on-line commercial vendors, thus making us more accessible and more in touch with people across this country. We will not be alone in this venture. Congress is also getting involved, and an exciting announcement regarding electronic mail is expected to come from the House of Representatives tomorrow.
Various government agencies also will be taking part in the near future. Americans Communicating Electronically is a project developed by several government agencies to coordinate and improve access to the nation's educational and information assets and resources. This will be done through interactive communications such as electronic mail, and brought to people who do not have ready access to a computer.
However, we must be realistic about the limitations and expectations of the White House electronic mail system. This experiment is the first-ever e-mail project done on such a large scale. As we work to reinvent government and streamline our processes, the e-mail project can help to put us on the leading edge of progress.
Initially, your e-mail message will be read and receipt immediately acknowledged. A careful count will be taken on the number received as well as the subject of each message. However, the White House is not yet capable of sending back a tailored response via electronic mail. We are hoping this will happen by the end of the year.
A number of response-based programs which allow technology to help us read your message more effectively, and, eventually respond to you electronically in a timely fashion will be tried out as well. These programs will change periodically as we experiment with the best way to handle electronic mail from the public. Since this has never been tried before, it is important to allow for some flexibility in the system in these first stages. We welcome your suggestions.
This is an historic moment in the White House and we look forward to your participation and enthusiasm for this milestone event. We eagerly anticipate the day when electronic mail from the public is an integral and normal part of the White House communications system.
President Clinton Vice President Gore
A few days later, the following was posted to the Net:
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
CONSTITUENT ELECTRONIC MAIL SYSTEM
We welcome your inquiry to the House of Representatives Constituent Electronic Mail System. Currently, seven Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been assigned public electronic mailboxes that may be accessed by their constituents.
This effort represents a pilot program that will be used to assess the impact of electronic mail on Congressional offices and their mission of serving the residents of a Congressional District. This initial project will be expanded to other Members of Congress, as technical, budgetary and staffing constraints allow.
Please review the list of participating Representatives below, and if the Congressional District in which you reside is listed, follow the instructions below to begin communicating by electronic mail with your Representative. If your Representative is not yet on-line, please be patient.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVES PARTICIPATING IN THE CONSTITUENT
ELECTRONIC MAIL SYSTEM
Hon. Jay Dickey
4th Congressional District, Arkansas
Rm. 1338 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Hon. Sam Gejdenson
2nd Congressional District, Connecticut
Rm. 2416 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Hon. Newton Gingrich
6th Congressional District, Georgia
Rm. 2428 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Hon. George Miller
7th Congressional District, California
Rm. 2205 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Hon. Charlie Rose
7th Congressional District, North Carolina
Rm. 2230 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Hon. `Pete' Stark
13th Congressional District, California
Rm. 239 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Hon. Mel Watt
12th Congressional District, North Carolina
Rm. 1232 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
INSTRUCTIONS FOR CONSTITUENTS
If your Representative is taking part in the pilot project, we encourage you to send a letter or postcard by U.S.Mail to that Representative at the address listed above requesting electronic mail access. In your correspondence, please print your name and INTERNET ADDRESS, followed by your postal (geographical) address. When your Representative receives the letter or postcard, you will receive a reply by electronic mail that will include the Representative's Internet address. After you receive this initial message, you will be able to write your Member of Congress at any time, provided you follow certain guidelines that will be included in that initial message.
We are aware that it is an inconvenience for electronic mail users to be required to send a post card in order to begin communicating with their Representative. However, the primary goal of this pilot program is to allow Members to better serve their CONSTITUENTS, and this initial postal request is the only sure method currently available of verifying that a user is a resident of a particular congressional district.
In addition, constituents who communicate with their Representative by electronic mail should be aware that Members will respond to their messages in the same manner that they respond to most communications from constituents. That is, Members will generally respond to messages by way of the U.S. Postal Service. This method of reply will help to ensure confidentiality, a concern that is of utmost importance to the House of Representatives.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Please feel free to send electronic mail comments about our new service to the Congressional Comment Desk, at
We will make every effort to integrate suggestions into forthcoming updates of our system.
Thank you again for contacting the House of Representatives' Constituent Electronic Mail System. We are excited about the possibilities that e-mail has to offer, and will be working hard to bring more Members on-line and to expand our services. We feel that this pilot program is an important first step, and we urge your cooperation and continued interest to make the program a success.
This message will be updated as necessary.
Honorable Charlie Rose (D-NC)
Committee on House Administration
A week later, the following message propagated through the Net. Events are moving fast.
GPO ACCESS BILL SIGNED INTO LAW
On June 8, President Clinton signed into law S. 564, the Government Printing Office Electronic Access Bill. It is now P.L. 103-40. A statement released by the President said that "this important step forward in the electronic dissemination of Federal information will provide valuable insights into the most effective means of disseminating all public Government information."
The law establishes in the Government Printing Office a means of enhancing electronic public access to a wide range of federal electronic information. The system will provide online access to the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, and other appropriate publications distributed by the Superintendent of Documents. It will also establish an electronic directory of federal public information stored electronically and an electronic storage facility. The system will be available without charge to depository libraries; other users will be charged approximately the incremental cost of dissemination. The law requires the system to be up and running within one year from the enactment date.
In a press release issued by his office, Sen. Wendell Ford (D-KY) called the law "one more way we can make government more accountable to the American people. This law puts information about the government right at the public's fingertips. Whether they live in a rural community in Eastern Kentucky or the big cities of New York, San Francisco and Chicago, anyone will be able to access government documents through their home computer or a local depository library."
In concluding his press release, Sen. Ford stressed that this law is "the first step to creating across-the-board public access." He believes that coverage of congressional hearings and committee prints will be made available very soon.
In 1992, Rick Gates, director of library automation at the University of California at Santa Barbara, started the tradition of Internet Treasure Hunts. Periodically, Gates posts a list of questions to Usenet, the floating conference that most Internet sites participate in:
THE INTERNET HUNT
for January, 1993
(deadline: Midnight PST 1/10/93
Welcome to the first Hunt of the New Year. This Hunt is running a little late due to a small but tenacious virus (carbon-based variety), that has me pooped.
This Hunt has a maximum of 43 points (with the extra credit).
I'm pleased to announce that past Hunts are now being archived at the Coalition for Networked Information. Thanks to and Paul Evan Peters.
The files are available via anonymous ftp at:
. . . in
. . . and the readme file should explain exactly what's there.
I'll also archive files for introductory text, tips, rules, history, and a list of winners.
I also hope that sometime very soon I'll be able to post these files to a gopher server somewhere, for distribution purposes.
Enjoy, you intrepid hunters. I'm going back to bed.
1. There are a total of 12 questions. The first 11 questions count toward your score. I have personally verified that each of these can be answered using only the resources of the Net. These are contrived questions.
2. The last question is the mystery question. I don't know if there's an answer to this on the Net. I may or may not have tried to find one. These questions usually come to me from people asking for information. This is a real question.
3. Each of these first 10 questions carries a value in parentheses. This point value is my best guess on how tough that question is to answer. The scale is 1 (easy), to 10 (hard). Total points for all questions is listed at the top of this message. Extra credit questions are always worth 1, not because they're easy, but because they're extra credit.
1. (7) How does one say "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" in Czech?
2. (6) Is the Toyota Motor Corporation connected to the Internet?
3. (3) Hi! I have a new account on a unix machine here, and I HATE the editor I have for my mail. It's called vi. So I found another editor that I can use called emacs. Emacs is supposed to be customizable, but I've managed to screw things up a little. Can you tell me where I can get some advice from more experienced emacs users?
4. (5) Can you get AIDS from kissing?
5. (3) I read in an electronic journal somewhere that a conference was held in Padova, Italy on models of musical signals. I wrote down the name of a contact, `Giovanni De Poli'. Can you find his e-mail address for me?
6. (2) What is the primary religion in Somalia?
7. (4) I understand that the Net is being put to use distributing information and pictures of missing children<. Where can I find out more, and where can I find the pictures?
8. (4) Where can I find tables listing the nutritive values of different foods?
9. (3) What is the text of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?
10. (5) You know, I've gotten a lot of good network information by FTPing files from nnsc.nsf.net. What kind of computer and operating system is nnsc.nsf.net?<
Extra Credit. (1) Where can I find the exact time?
If you know how to do it, you can find the answer to each of these questions by using the tools available to every registered user of an Internet node.
Internet provides each registered user with access to three important tools; with this toolkit, a whole range of applications becomes possible. An Internet user who is initiated in the arcane codes of nuts-and-bolts level CMC can use these tools to build more elaborate and personalized tools. If the Internet user just wants to communicate with people and gain access to valuable information without learning computer arcana, these fundamental tools can be masked behind more user-friendly menu systems.
Electronic mail service, the first and most widely used tool, is a set of programs that enables private mail among individuals and groups to be distributed within seconds to any site on the Internet backbone, and within hours to satellite nodes around the world. Access to the programs, including facilities for appending large text files, forwarding messages, and sending one message to all the members of a mailing list, is what makes every Net citizen a publisher as well as a consumer of information. The other two tools are telnet and ftp.
Telnetis a way of issuing a command to your host computer that automatically connects you to another Internet computer. If you have the right password, you can interact with that remote computer in real time, and many computers on the Net make part of their resources available to anybody who uses the password "anonymous"; telnet is how students from around the world participate in MUDs or how I can use a few keystrokes to travel from the WELL to the Library of Congress catalog. "Telnet" is used as a verb on the Net, as in "telnet to well.sf.ca.us for a good time."
The Net's collection of information is not organized like a library or anything else a person would have designed rationally; it's more like something that grew on its own. As new sites join Internet every day, often bringing along large collections of Net-accessible resources, the problem of keeping track of what is out there has spawned new generations of software. One free tool that is spreading through the Net these days, for example, is hytelnet . This program, which your Internet host computer runs, turns the Net into a series of menus you can navigate with the arrow keys on your desktop computer keyboard. The name of the command combines an ancient grail quest in the computer world with the Internet tool for hopping from computer to computer.
The ancient grail quest, known as
hypertext, was first proposed by Ted Nelson in the 1960s and first implemented by Engelbart's SRI project, as a linked series of texts that could automatically summon other texts for viewing. When you come across a reference or footnote in one document of a hypertext database, you can point at it and instantly see the source document cited, then go back to the first document, if you wish, or continue to explore links forward, to other documents. The entire library is interconnected in such a scheme. When you expand the linkable database to include video, graphics, and sounds, the medium becomes hypermedia, but the idea of links that jump from document to document remains central.
By means of a simple program that maps the arrow keys on most users' computers to the telnet program, hytelnet turned Internet into a hypertext database of sorts.
When I log into the WELL, give it my password, gain access to the Net, I can type the command "hytelnet" and I will see the following menu. Because the hytelnet software is freely available through the Net, millions of other people can use the same command to use the same service. The first menu looks like this:
What is HYTELNET? <WHATIS> Up/Down arrows MOVE Library catalogs <SITES1> Left/Right arrows SELECT Other resources <SITES2> ? for HELP anytime Help files for catalogs <OP000> Catalog interfaces <SYS000> m returns here Internet Glossary <GLOSSARY> q quits <TELNET> Key-stroke commands <HELP>
HYTELNET 6.3 was written by Peter Scott,
U of Saskatchewan Libraries, Saskatoon, Sask, Canada. 1992
Unix and VMS software by Earl Fogel, Computing Services,
U of S 1992
Keep in mind that this top level can hide nested levels that you could take all day to navigate. When I decided to see what "Other resources" means, I used my down-arrow keys to move the cursor on my computer screen and highlight
, then used my right arrow key to see the next menu:
<ARC000> Archie: Archive Server Listing Service <CWI000> Campus-wide Information systems <FUL000> Databases and bibliographies <DIS000> Distributed File Servers (Gopher/WAIS/WWW) <ELB000> Electronic books <FEE000> Fee-Based Services <FRE000> FREE-NET systems <BBS000> General Bulletin Boards <HYT000> HYTELNET On-line versions <NAS000> NASA databases <NET000> Network Information Services <DIR000> Whois/White Pages/Directory Services <OTH000> Miscellaneous resources
Just for the heck of it, I decided to see what is available in "NASA databases" and got this menu:
<NAS013> Astronomical Data Center <NAS015> Coastal Zone Color Scanner Browse Facility <NAS010> COSMIC Online Information Services <NAS006> ENVIROnet (The Space Environment Information Service) <NAS014> International CEDAR Data Base <NAS001> NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database <NAS002> NSSDC Online Data and Information Service (NODIS) <NAS005> NASA Science Internet (NSI) Online Network Data <NAS003> NASA Spacelink <NAS008> NSSDC-National Space Science Data Center <NAS009> Pilot land data system <NAS007> PDS (Planetary Data System) <NAS017> Space Data and Computing Division Information Service <NAS016> Standards and Technology Information System
When you consider that I could go "deeper" or "down" into the NASA files and find days or years of text to read and graphics to view and data to study, or go back "up" a level or two and search the bibliographies online from all the university libraries on the Net, you can see how even a simple two-page menu like this makes it possible at a very crude level to explore and steer my attention through the Net's information resources in a systematic way. Hierarchical menus make it possible to browse through large collections of information and zero in on the specific subcategory you seek. So if new programs can find ways of keeping track of what is on the Net, channel it into the proper categories, and present it to users with menus, then it really doesn't matter that the Net's information resources are expanding so chaotically. The focus of organization in an ever-changing distributed system like the Net turns out to be not in how the information is stored but in how it is found.
The Internet tool
ftpstands for "file transfer protocol," and that is a way for the network to move files around the network. I might have an account on the WELL in which I collect files to download to my home computer, while I range around to dozens of other computers on the Net, using ftp to quickly transfer texts, encoded sounds and pictures, and even software for my computer, from various archives on the Net. Other tools that simplify the Net for users turn an index of key resources into a menu and use ftp behind the scenes to move files from computer to computer, while the users select menu items.
The ability to do very high speed transfers from machine to machine multiplies the resources available to each user. Why keep a document stored on your personal computer when it takes only a few seconds to retrieve it from a computer in Dsseldorf or Tallahassee? What is important is that you know where to find that information, or most important, how to find out where to find that information. One popular form of ftp,
"anonymous ftp," creates a kind of Net ethic, in which computer communities on the Net are applauded for making material available via ftp for Net citizens who don't have the passwords for those communities. It also decentralizes distribution of information to a degree that stymies all thoughts of central control.
When a newspaper reporter in Houston revealed that Internet sites in Texas were serving as repositories of pornographic pictures-which the sites were providing, along with all the Supreme Court and Library of Congress stuff--the archives of the notorious Usenet newsgroup "alt.sex.pictures" instantly moved to Finland. The Net traffic to Finland jumped significantly overnight. The issue of community standards and dirty pictures is key in questions of censorship of content, but the point here is that the concept of "where" something is kept online is spread all over the Net instead of located in one or two or three places you can pinpoint.
The Net can be used to distribute new Net tools in the form of computer programming code, as well as communications and information services, which means the Net is inherently a bootstrapping medium that constantly changes itself as people discover and invent new tools, and then use the Net to distribute them. When the Net upgrades its own software, the Net is used to distribute the upgrade.
IRC, the program that connects Internet users into worldwide real-time chat "channels," started out as an experiment by a programmer in Finland. Multi-User Dungeons originated at a University in England.
Among the original hackers at MIT, the ones who helped invent time-sharing, the hacker ethic was that computer tools ought to be free. The first personal-computer makers were outraged when William Gates, now the richest man in America, started selling BASIC, which PC hobbyists had always passed around for free. The software industry exists now and Microsoft is bigger than General Motors, but the Net continues to grow because of intellectual property that skilled programmers have given to the Net community. Again and again, programmers have created and given to the Net powerful tools that have changed the nature of the Net and expanded its availability. At the grassroots level, in the world of BBSs outside the Net, the key programs that make amateur CMC via modem possible were also distributed for free or at little cost.
It makes sense, even if you plan to profit from a communications medium later, to give away access to the medium in the beginning, when you are trying to build a critical mass. The people who built CMC systems wanted to have a large population of people to communicate with; the value they sought was not the value of metering access to the community, but in the intellectual value, the collective goods, that a community could create together. The tradition of free bootstrapping software is alive and well. Now, tools that act as personal information servants to shield users from the complexities of the Net are becoming available, also free of charge. Like MUDs and IRC and Usenet and public-domain BBS programs, these tools are contributed to the Net community and propagate through the Net itself.
When you begin talking about using your desktop computer to download the actual text of books stored in the Library of Congress, you come up against two barriers. First, only a small fraction of the material in libraries and archives is in machine-readable form, and the process of digitization necessary to make the information available online is no longer prohibitively expensive but remains time-consuming. The Library of Congress is growing far faster than it can be digitized by present-day technology. Clearly, until some breakthrough makes digitization easier, people will have to choose which material is valuable enough to convert to electronic form; even with these obstacles, the amount of data converted from analog to digital form every day is staggering. Telnet to lib.dartmouth.edu and type connect dante at the first prompt if you want full text access to Dante's Divina Commedia and hundreds of years of commentary. Or use the Wide Area Information Server to find the lyrics to that song running through your head.
The other barrier to a Net that contains all the text and photos and sounds in the Library of Congress is a less technical and more social issue: intellectual property. A lot of the best books, photos, lyrics, articles, and videos are owned by somebody. How are royalties to be determined and collected in a world where you can copy anything with a keystroke and transfer a library around the world in a minute? Ted Nelson, who coined the term hypertext, first dreamed up a scheme in the 1960s, looking forward to the day when this social problem lurking at the heart of computer technology would grow large. Nelson's scheme, called Xanadu, involves a database of all the literature in the world, including anything anybody wants to contribute; readers would be able to have access to documents, and the system would automatically pay from their accounts a tiny amount of money to the original author. The Xanadu project, long notorious as the world's most ancient software project that has yet to produce a public product, is still alive. And the problem still exists.
The amount of information available or potentially available to the Net strictly via public-domain information--that which was created with public funds or for which the original copyrights have expired--is still enormous. And thanks to the efforts of yet another Net crusader and his volunteers around the world, public-domain literature, in full text form, is becoming available. Michael Hart , professor of electronic text at Illinois Benedictine College , is the leader of Project Gutenberg, which aims to add ten thousand volumes of public-domain literature to the Net by the year 2001. They have already digitized and uploaded Moby-Dick, Aesop's Fables , Alice in Wonderland, the complete works of Shakespeare, The Federalist Papers , Roget's International Thesaurus, The Book of Mormon , and many other works in the public domain. Volunteers around the world use scanning machines to convert printed text into digital form. The library is doubling in size every year.
To find out whether a drug has been approved recently, you can telnet to fdabbs.fda.gov and log in as bbs to connect to an Internet BBS containing up-to-date information on FDA actions and consumer information. There is a menu-style interface to all the weather information for the United States and Canada located at madlab.sprl.umich.edu port 3000. Accurate and up-to-date agricultural information,seismicity reports, water quality information, patent information, genealogical information, and medical, scientific, and scholarly archives are available to any user who knows where they are and has learned the magical incantations necessary to move them from their home archive to his or her desktop. All the arcana and uncertainty make Netsurfing somewhat alchemical. Things change so fast that folklore is the only reliable way to find out what is really new. If you poke around on the Net a little, or buy one of the paper guides to the Net, you will find that there are public lists of public lists of resources. Net citizens and self-proclaimed Net architects take it upon themselves to compile lists of resources, keep the lists updated, and post the lists regularly.
There is, everybody agrees, a firehose of information coming through the Net, and we need to find ways to channel it. It's disorganized, it's coming at a titanic and accelerating rate, and our minds shut down in the face of all the options the Net represents. We need some kind of go-between to mediate between human and network capabilities.
Answers to the bewildering complexity of the Net are emerging from the Net itself.
Archie, a play on the word archive, for example, is a file-finder program developed by Peter Deutsch and others at McGill University in Montreal. If you are directly on Internet you can telnet to one of the Archie servers now scattered around the globe. If you don't have a direct Internet connection, but your network can send e-mail to Internet, you can do it by e-mail. The Archie database keeps track of all the files that are added to "anonymous ftp" public-archive sites, and the archive sites continue to update Archie. That means Archie knows about tens of thousands of files spread throughout forty-five countries. If you know the name of a file, or part of the name, you can ask Archie, which will consult its database and send you a list of the exact sites that have files that match that name. I've used Archie to explore the Net. Ask it to find a file that exemplifies the kind of information you are looking for, and then use the list of sites returned by Archie in response to your request as a list of places likely to have other interesting information. Then you can use ftp to browse the indexes of files at those sites.
Don't forget that the computing power of machines attached to the Net is often available, as well as the words or files stored in their memory banks. The computers on the Net can help keep track of the information on the Net, and they can distribute their indexes among one another. The problem of finding enough computing power to build an effective software go-between to control the complexities of the Net becomes far more computation-intensive when you want to search the Net for chunks of text rather than just the names of files. Another Net visionary by the name of Brewster Kahle conceived of a powerful text-finder that will literally hunt through hundreds of databases and libraries on the Net for text that contains specific information. The tool, developed jointly by Kahle and Dow Jones, Thinking Machines, Apple Computer, and KPMC Peat Marwick, is freely available to Net users as WAIS--Wide Area Information Servers. Thinking Machines is a company in Massachusetts that makes extremely powerful computers by networking large numbers of smaller computers; maintaining an enormous index and searching that index very quickly is one of those tasks that you need an extremely powerful computer to do. If you can keep that index on a Thinking Machines computer in Massachusetts, the WAIS program that you use on your Internet host (known as the "client" program that interacts with the WAIS "server" program at Thinking Machines) can make use of the WAIS server's computational speed.
One of the capabilities of the WAIS software is a harbinger of future information-finding software agents that will roam the Net in search of information. This capability is known as relevance feedback. You can ask WAIS to search its databases for information about a subject--say, Japanese gardening. In a few seconds, you will get a list of hundreds or thousands of sources. If you pick out three sources that look interesting because they are about the aesthetics rather than the horticulture of gardening, you can ask WAIS to restrict its search. By this kind of back-and-forth dialogue, you can refine the search.
Other experimental projects, such as the Knowbots project, send off software servants to roam the nets and monitor the streams of information that feed the Net, and the vast pools of online databases, in search of specific information. Vinton Cerf, one of the creators of the original ARPANET, has been working at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, in Reston, Virginia, creating information-gathering robots. A knowbot is represented on the user's screen as an icon, a graphic symbol. The computer user can program and activate the knowbots by pointing and clicking at the icon and associated menus. Those menus present a series of questions; answering those questions defines a search strategy. The software then travels across the network, using tools like Archie and WAIS and whatever else is available, to zero in on the kind of information specified by the user. Knowbots can make decisions while conducting a search and send clones to search other networks. The first tests of knowbots involve researchers at the National Library of Medicine. The online library includes forty databases and 80 billion bits of information.
One tool I've seen that I wanted to grab for my own use was a program named Rosebud that my friend Steve Cisler, the librarian at Apple Computer, had running for him. Named, I presume, after the key word in Citizen Kane, Rosebud is an experimental project sponsored by Apple and Dow Jones. It's a customizable personal newspaper that searches the Net and reports back to you. Rosebud, now known as Applesearch, will be a commercial product.
First, you train knowbot-like agents called reporters. You select a fresh reporter, and say that you want these newswires and those databases searched every twenty-four minutes or twenty-four days, for any reference to virtual communities. You can vary the search interval and the reporting interval and construct logical searches based on keywords. You can build your own menus of likely databases and sources you want to choose from. And then you select another fresh reporter and tell it to look for and retrieve any article or news item with the words electronic democracy in the title or abstract. After you train as many reporters as you need to keep track of your current hot issues or your constant professional specialty, you turn them loose on the Net. Your reporters take advantage of the Net's resources and use your account numbers to access commercial sources of information, look for only those items in the information flow that match your criterion, and keep their findings organized for you. The next time you open your "newspaper," Rosebud has organized on your computer screen all the reporter's findings into newspaper-style columns, with headlines and subheads if necessary.
Judging from the proliferation of Net tools today, it seems clear that entire ecosystems of Net-spawned
information-seeking robotswill be circulating through the Net. These entities are formally more akin to robots ( automatais the precise jargon) than to living creatures, but increasingly, automata are being designed to incorporate biological behaviors. The " worms" that can attack networks, and the " viruses" that pester computer users, are the malevolent side of this trend. Knowbots and Rosebud are the benevolent side. In the environment of a heterogeneous, free-form Net, you are going to find both kinds. How you protect the community from dangers of attack without destroying the openness that makes the community valuable is a social problem, as is the problem of who should pay for access to this increasingly powerful pool of knowledge tools.
Gopheris yet another tool that emerged from the Net, this time from the Campus Wide Information System environment. It is not so much like an agent that runs around and finds what you need, as a knowbot does. Gopher is more like one of those stylized maps that enable people to find their way around subway systems in major cities. Gopher is an intelligent map that can take you anywhere it shows you--all you have to do is point. Now that so many colleges are using Internet protocols to link the many computing resources located on most campuses, students who are not computer-sophisticated must have a way of finding information relevant to their studies. Gopher, developed at the University of Minnesota and named after its mascot, is a way of eliminating the telnetting and ftping a student needs to do to find a resource. Gopher hides the incomprehensible command language by substituting menus and abbreviated commands for the telnet and ftp syntax. The resources that are linked together in such a way, known as gopherspaces, can be located on one part of campus or another, or even on a campus system on the other side of the world. As the gopher tool propagates through the Net, more and more sites add their own documents and indexes to the worldwide gopherspace. Now, with special client software for your host computer, you can literally point at maps of resources and tell your computer to transport you there.
The information available through the Net is not limited to the huge amounts of data that collect in databases and stay there until you find them. The Net is constantly receiving input, and the input sensors are proliferating. The Net is growing via many different, separate streams of information, the way great rivers grow from the accumulation of independent tributaries. As entire networks join Internet, their online libraries become available. As more print-based information is digitized, more information becomes available. And now, the constant and evanescent stuff of the news, the wire-service news feeds from its international correspondents, the latest stock quotes--continuous rivers of information--are available through the Net. Internet will now take you to the door of Dow Jones or other pay-for-information services; you still have to open an account on the pay-for service to have access to it.
The remarkable degree of citizen toolbuilding in the Net, particularly tools that enable wider and wider segments of the population to make use of Net resources, is a de facto argument for keeping a widely accessible Net open for citizen experimentation.
The mechanics of the Net support citizen-created tools for people to talk with one another, as well as tools for enabling people to find information. The biographical files that most Internet users keep on their host computers are usually searchable from a distance, through the "
remote finger" command. Several different kinds of electronic white pages and other services help people find other people's addresses. If you locate a user on a remote system who is on his or her host system at the same time you are online to your host system, you can chat in real time, just the two of you, with the talk program; your screen display splits horizontally, so the words you write are displayed above the line and the words the other person types are displayed below the line. You can use Internet Relay Chat to tune in to one of dozens of different channels of chat among Internet users from twenty different countries. You can telnet to a MUD and communicate through the commands available in that imaginary world. You can telnet to one of the medium-size BBS systems that are beginning to emerge on Internet, like the WELL. Or you can participate in the largest conversation of the day, the working anarchy known as Usenet, which is available through Internet but travels outside Internet's boundaries when necessary.
Information and access to information is a complicated matter. Librarians and other specialists have a toolkit and syntax for dealing with well-known problems that people encounter in trying to make sense of large bodies of information. The art and craft of building tools from the Net's resources to help make sense of the Net's resources is well advanced. Human-to-human communication is a more complicated matter. Humans communicate in groups for a variety of reasons. Community might be at the center of those reasons in any society that hopes to endure, but it is not the only reason that groups of people comunicate.
The essence of CMC as a human communication medium is many-to-many capabilities. The idea of a computer conference came from the work Engelbart and others were doing in building the first computer-based thinking tools. The capability of any group to think together over a period of time about a number of distinct, focused topics was the first of several important applications of many-to-many communications to be used. But CMC didn't stop there. This new medium is the result of a transformation of other technologies, accomplished by people who had a purpose different from that which motivated the creators of the enabling technologies. A network that was originally designed to survive a nuclear attack evolved into a citizen's thinking tool, and the structured conversations on the network among people from so many different cultures grew out of national emergency planning. The transformation of many-to-many communications is not complete; the experiments that groups are performing on the Net today will influence the generations of CMC tools that will dominate the Net in the future.
The Net is not only Internet. You could shut down all the hosts on Internet today and millions of people would still find ways to exchange e-mail and newsgroups. The Net is also partially a highly redundant citizen-to-citizen network that grew on its own, using the spinoffs from ARPA research to create something more akin to a fan culture than a military-industrial elite. The parts of the Net that grew out of ARPANET are the mainstream, and definitely the technological leaders, but not the only important tributary that contributed to today's Net. The other two confluent streams are the grassroots movement known as computerized bulletin-board systems (BBSs) that took off in the 1980s, and the history of group conversation systems over the past several decades, culminating in Usenet, the biggest, freest, noisiest one so far.
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