A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Michael Haub » Thu, 10 Dec 1992 14:51:02



I posted several messages requesting information over a period of
several months. The following is the "finished" copy I handed
into my professor in my Computer and Society class. I intend to
come back to this paper when I have time. I am also interested in
trying to figure out someway of studying computers and society as
an undergraduate. Telecommunications would be an interesting
angle. If anyone has any comments on the paper, or any
suggestions as how to study Computers Effect on Society please
either E-Mail me or post in responce to this message.
        Thank you,
        -Michael

                    The Social Forces Behind
                 the Development of Usenet News
                        By Michael Hauben

     Right at this moment someplace in the world, someone is
being helpful (or someone is being helpful.) At the same time,
others are participating in various discussions and debates. A
new communications medium is currently in its infancy. Over the
past two decades the global computer telecommunications network
has been developing. One element of this network is called Usenet
News (also known as Net News), and this service's original
carrier was called UUCPnet (or just UUCP). The rawest principle
of Usenet News is its importance. In its simplest form, Usenet
News represents democracy. The basic unit of Usenet News is a
post. Each individual post consists of a unique contribution from
some user placed in a subject area, called a newsgroup. In
Usenet's very beginning (and to some extent today) posts were
transferred using Unix's UUCP utility. This utility allows the
use of phone lines to transmit computer data among separate
computers. The network (UUCPnet) that Usenet News was transferred
on grew from the ground up in a grassroots manner. There was no
official structure originally. Three sites on the network in 1979
expanded to 15 in 1980, 150 in 1981, and 400 in 1982. The very
nature of Usenet is communication. Usenet News greatly facili-
tates inter-human communication among a large group of users.

     Inherent in most mass media has always been central control
of content. Many people are influenced by the decisions of a few.
Television Programming, for example, is controlled by a small
group of people compared to the size of the audience. In this
way, the audience has very little choice over what is emphasized
by most mass media. However, Usenet News is controlled by its
audience. Most of the material written to Usenet is by the same
people who actively read Usenet. Thus, the people decide the
content and subject matter to be thought about, presented and
debated. The ideas that exist on Usenet come from the mass of
people who participate in it. Instead of being force-fed by an
uncontrollable source of information, people set the tone and
emphasis on Usenet. People control what happens on Usenet. In
this rare situation, issues and concerns that are of interest and
thus important to the participants are brought up. In the tradi-
tion of Amateur Radio and CB, Usenet News is owned and controlled
solely by the participants. Currently the range of connectivity
is international and quickly expanding allowing the ability to
communicate with people around the world quickly.

     The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Depart-
ment of Defense laid the ground for UUCPnet and other computer
networks. ARPA conducted an experiment in attempting to connect
incompatible mainframe computers in the late 1960s.(1) It was
called the ARPA Computer Network (ARPANET). ARPA stated objec-
tives were:

     "1) To develop techniques and obtain experience on inter-
     connecting computers in such a way that a very broad class
     of interactions were possible and
     2) To improve and increase computer research productivity
     through resource sharing." (2)

ARPA was conducting communications research and trying to study
how to conserve funds by avoiding duplication of computer re-
sources.(3) A Cambridge, Mass. company, Bolt Beranek and Newman
Inc. (BBN), was chosen to construct the network, and AT&T was
chosen to provide the communications lines. ARPAnet was needed
because it was found that a data connection over existing tele-
phone voice lines was too slow and not reliable enough in order
to have a useful connection.(4) Packet-switching was developed
for use as the protocol of exchanging information over the lines.
Packet-Switching is a communications process in which all messag-
es are broken up into equal size packets which are transmitted
and then re-assembled. In this way, short, medium and long
messages get transferred with minimum delay.(5)

     The ARPANET was a success. ARPA provided several advances to
communications research. ARPANET researchers were surprised at
the enthusiastic adoption of electronic mail (e-mail) as the
primary source of communication after its introduction. E-mail
was the first source of major productivity increase through use
of ARPAnet resource sharing.(6) By 1983, the ARPANET officially
shifted from using NCP (Network Control Protocol) to TCP/IP
(Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol.) A key point
to TCP/IP's success is in its simplicity. It is very easy to
implement over various platforms, and this simplicity has ac-
counted for its continued existence as a defacto standard of the
Internet up to today. ARPANET's lasting contribution was demon-
strating how a back-bone infrastructure can serve as a connection
between gateways. A gateway is a computer or part of a computer
programmed to receive messages from one network and transfer them
onto another network.

     ARPANET grew quickly to more than 50 nodes between Hawaii to
Norway.(7) However, it did not extend to all who could utilize
it. Computer Scientists at universities without ARPA contracts
noticed the advantages and petitioned the National Science
Foundation (NSF) for similar connectivity. CSNET was formed to
service these scientists. CSNET was initially financed by the
NSF. Very quickly the desire for interconnection spread to other
members of the university community and CSNET became known as
"Computer 'and' Science Network" rather than just "Computer
Science network."(8)

     ARPAnet was phased out by the Defense Department, and was
replaced by various internal networks. The role of connecting
university communities and regional networks was taken over by a
NSF funded NSFNET, which originated as a connection for universi-
ty researchers to the five National Supercomputer Centers. CSNET
and NSFNET were made possible by the research on ARPANET.

     ARPANET research was pioneering for communications research.
Researchers discovered the link between computer inter-connection
and increased productivity of human communication. The sharing of
resources was discovered to save money and increase computer use
and productivity. The development of packet-switching revolution-
ized the basic methodology of connecting computers. The source of
these discoveries were the people involved.

     The personnel involved in the ARPANET project were very
intelligent and forward-looking. They recognized their position
of developing future technologies, and thus did not develop
products that commercial industry could (and would) develop.
Instead they understood that the communications technologies they
were developing had to come from a forward-looking body. ARPA
researchers had no proprietary products to support, and no dead-
lines to meet. Either would have tainted, or made networks of
incompatible computers impossible to produce. Current users of
international computer networks are in debt to the people of
ARPANET.

     So ARPANET was successful in its attempt to connect various
spatially far-apart computers, and thus the people who used them.
However, these people were professors at Universities that had
Department of Defense research grants. Eventually other Universi-
ties connected through CSNet, NSFNET, BITnet and other developing
connections. There were still a mass of people who wanted a
connection, but were not in a position to gain one. Duke and the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were two such loca-
tions. It was in these unprivileged fertile grounds where the
grass-roots computer communication of Usenet originated and
developed.

     The UNIX operating system provided the basic tools needed to
share information between computers. Unix(10) was developed as "a
system around which a fellowship would form."(11) One of the
programmers of Unix, Dennis Ritchie, wrote the intended purpose
of Unix was to "encourage close communication."(12) Unix's
purpose thus conceptually foreshadowed the basic tenet of Usenet
News. How else should one go about designing communications pro-
grams, but on an operating system which was designed with a basic
principle of encouraging communication? The Unix utility UUCP
(i.e., Unix-to-Unix CoPy) was introduced in 1977 with version 7
of the Unix Time Sharing System. UUCP provided a simple way of
passing files between any two computers running Unix and UUCP.
Unix's popularity also arose from AT&T's liberal distribution
policy. The operating system was seen as an "in-house" tool on
DEC computers and was in use throughout Bell Labs. Many Universi-
ties used the same type of computer and were licensed by AT&T to
utilize Unix. It was thus easily accessible. Schools picked it
up, and Computer Science students learned the intricacies of the
operating system. Unix was a widely used operating system. This
paved the way for a massive public communications system to form.

     Usenet News was created by graduate students Tom Truscott
and James Ellis of Duke University in conjunction with graduate
student Steve Bellovin of University of North Carolina in 1979.
A 5-page leaflet introducing Usenet News was distributed at the
Winter 1980 Usenix Unix Users' Conference in Boulder, CO. Later
that year, at the Summer Usenix Conference in Delaware the
software needed to participate in ...

read more »

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Chip Salzenbe » Fri, 11 Dec 1992 01:56:04



Quote:>                    The Social Forces Behind
>                 the Development of Usenet News
>                        By Michael Hauben

>In its simplest form, Usenet News represents democracy.

*plonk*
--

  "you make me want to break the laws of time and space / you make me
   want to eat pork / you make me want to staple bagles to my face /
   and remove them with a pitchfork" -- Weird Al Yankovic, "You Make Me"

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Taki Kogo » Fri, 11 Dec 1992 12:16:19




>>                    The Social Forces Behind
>>                 the Development of Usenet News
>>                        By Michael Hauben

>>In its simplest form, Usenet News represents democracy.

>*plonk*

You realize the problem involved in informing all these people that
usenet is *not* a democracy.  After all, putting it in "What is
Usenet?" on news.announce.newusers won't satisfy some people...;-)

>--

>  "you make me want to break the laws of time and space / you make me
>   want to eat pork / you make me want to staple bagles to my face /
>   and remove them with a pitchfork" -- Weird Al Yankovic, "You Make Me"

--

 I'll get a life when someone demonstrates that it would be superior to
                          what I have now...
 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Ken Arromd » Sat, 12 Dec 1992 04:25:01



>>>In its simplest form, Usenet News represents democracy.
>You realize the problem involved in informing all these people that
>usenet is *not* a democracy.  After all, putting it in "What is
>Usenet?" on news.announce.newusers won't satisfy some people...;-)

Actually, he didn't say it _is_ democracy, he said it _represents_
democracy.  Usenet does have some aspects which resemble democratic
institutions, and one could reasonably argue that the inertia involved in
implementing anything non-democratic means that it is for most practical
purposes a democracy.  
--
"the bogosity in a field equals the bogosity imported from related areas, plus
the bogosity generated internally, minus the bogosity expelled or otherwise
disposed of."  -- K. Eric Drexler


 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Hans Muld » Sat, 12 Dec 1992 05:00:55




>>                    The Social Forces Behind
>>                 the Development of Usenet News
>>                        By Michael Hauben

>>In its simplest form, Usenet News represents democracy.
>*plonk*

Michael Hauben is an incredible optimist: in his third sentence he claims
that Usenet is in its infancy.  We all know the Death of Usenet is imminent.

Film at 11.

--
Hans Mulder                             The rawest principle of Usenet News

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Tom Limoncel » Sat, 12 Dec 1992 08:33:37



Quote:>Actually, he didn't say it _is_ democracy, he said it _represents_
>democracy.  Usenet does have some aspects which resemble democratic
>institutions, and one could reasonably argue that the inertia involved in
>implementing anything non-democratic means that it is for most practical
>purposes a democracy.  

*plonk*

No.    No no no.

Let's try this again.

Usenet is an anarchy.  It is not governed by rules.  It is governed by
social constructs.  The fact that you have misinterpreted certain
social constructs as democracy is due to the fact that all you have
ever seen is a democracy.

I spent many years in organizations that did things in a consensus
model.  I often misinterpret Usenet's anarchy to be a modified
consensus model.  It goes both ways.

If some social constructs of Usenet represent democracy that's your/his
image of things.

This is an issue close to my heart right now.  In another organization
that I belong to (outside of work) we are struggling to change the
structure from President/Vice President to two equal "co-chairs".  Many
members are having a problem dealing with this since all they have ever
seen (governments, other organizations, businesses, families, etc) has had
a top-person/sub-person hierarchy.  Therefore, it's difficult for them to
adjust to a system like co-chairs.

I think the author of this paper should go back and re-read the FAQ on
what Usenet is NOT.

Tom
--

Reality is stranger than fiction #943247:  The IRS granted
ANS approval as a 501c3 "charity" on September 14, 1992.

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Ken Arromd » Sat, 12 Dec 1992 09:27:11



>>Actually, he didn't say it _is_ democracy, he said it _represents_
>>democracy.  Usenet does have some aspects which resemble democratic
>>institutions, and one could reasonably argue that the inertia involved in
>>implementing anything non-democratic means that it is for most practical
>>purposes a democracy.  
>Usenet is an anarchy.  It is not governed by rules.  It is governed by
>social constructs.  The fact that you have misinterpreted certain
>social constructs as democracy is due to the fact that all you have
>ever seen is a democracy.

I didn't say it _is_ a democracy.  I said it resembles a democracy, that for
practical purposes it is a democracy, etc.

Quote:>I think the author of this paper should go back and re-read the FAQ on
>what Usenet is NOT.

Your own argument betrays you here.  Since Usenet is an anarchy, there's no
real reason he should accept that FAQ as an authoritative description of
Usenet.
--
"the bogosity in a field equals the bogosity imported from related areas, plus
the bogosity generated internally, minus the bogosity expelled or otherwise
disposed of."  -- K. Eric Drexler


 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Edward Vielmet » Sat, 12 Dec 1992 16:13:28


: >I think the author of this paper should go back and re-read the FAQ on
: >what Usenet is NOT.

: Your own argument betrays you here.  Since Usenet is an anarchy, there's no
: real reason he should accept that FAQ as an authoritative description of
: Usenet.

Is it time for me to re-post my lengthy rebuttal to Chip?

--Ed

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by mathe » Sat, 12 Dec 1992 23:38:29




> >                    The Social Forces Behind
> >                 the Development of Usenet News
> >                        By Michael Hauben

> >In its simplest form, Usenet News represents democracy.

> *plonk*

Quite.  Not only that, the article doesn't even mention anarchy or anarchism,
liberty, libertarianism, freedom... or even the most important social force
behind the development of Usenet, apathy.

mathew
--
You can communicate with me securely via PGP 2.1.  For information, send mail

PGP public key fingerprint = B2 41 30 5F 5B 20 B9 D5  7C 8F 75 88 7C DA D8 C5

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Hans Muld » Sun, 13 Dec 1992 00:31:36



Quote:>Let's try this again.

OK.

Quote:>Usenet is an anarchy.

True.

Quote:>It is not governed by rules.

False.  Usenet has lots of rules.  There are procedures for newsgroup creation.
There are RFCs describing what an article header must look like.  You must obey
copyright laws, the laws of libel, and munition export regulations.

Quote:>It is governed by social constructs.

True.  The point of an anarchy is that there is no ruler in charge.
Nobody is forcing you to live by the rules.
If you violate the rules, you'll be informed.  If you continue violating
the rules, you'll be ignored; but you won't be locked up or beaten up.

Quote:>The fact that you have misinterpreted certain social constructs as
>democracy is due to the fact that all you have ever seen is a democracy.

Probably true.

Quote:>I spent many years in organizations that did things in a consensus
>model.  I often misinterpret Usenet's anarchy to be a modified
>consensus model.

Usenet's anarchy _is_ a modified consensus model, for suitably large
values of "modified".
Since there's no one in charge to take decisions, all we can do is
discuss issues until everybody agrees.

Quote:>It goes both ways.

[stuff deleted]

Quote:>I think the author of this paper should go back and re-read the FAQ on
>what Usenet is NOT.

Agreed.

--

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Hazard Class Ma » Sun, 13 Dec 1992 03:08:20



>Usenet is an anarchy.  It is not governed by rules.  It is governed by
>social constructs.  The fact that you have misinterpreted certain
>social constructs as democracy is due to the fact that all you have
>ever seen is a democracy.

All he has ever seen is democracy?!?  
Go back to POL 101.  The United States is not a democracy, it never has
been, it was never intended to be.

Bill Clinton was not elected by the will of the majority.  He was elected
according to rules designed to _prevent_ the popular will of the people from
determining our national leader.  

Usenet is as much a representation of democracy as is the United States.

  <===============================><=======================================>
  || Christopher Landers          || Gravity:  It's not just a good idea, ||

  <===============================><=======================================>

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Eeyore's Evil Tw » Sun, 13 Dec 1992 04:46:11




>behind the development of Usenet, apathy.

He probably meant to do a section on apathy but never got around to it.

--
            Chuq "IMHO" Von Rospach, ESD Support & Training (DAL/AUX)
                      Member, SFWA =+= Editor, OtherRealms

                       Sterling Holloway: We'll miss you.

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Tom Limoncel » Sun, 13 Dec 1992 06:26:14




>>I think the author of this paper should go back and re-read the FAQ on
>>what Usenet is NOT.
>Your own argument betrays you here.  Since Usenet is an anarchy, there's no
>real reason he should accept that FAQ as an authoritative description of
>Usenet.

WRONG!  It's not only an authoritative description of Usenet, it is all
100% FACTS.  In fact, (see? another fact!) it describes the history all
of networks.  It describes the history of all history.  It even has a
chapter about the town you were born in.  In fact, it covers your
birth!  It's 843 volumes long! ...oops, wrong reality.

----

I didn't say it was an authoritative description of anything.  I also
didn't say that it is a description of what *is* Usenet.

Have you read it yourself?  It is a very well-written discussion about
what Usenet isn't.  Nothing more.  However it would have been useful
in preparing the paper.  I hope the paper gets a good grade.

Tom

--

Reality is stranger than fiction #943247:  The IRS granted
ANS approval as a 501c3 "charity" on September 14, 1992.

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Spiros Triantafyllopoul » Sun, 13 Dec 1992 04:08:11



Quote:>Bill Clinton was not elected by the will of the majority.  He was elected
>according to rules designed to _prevent_ the popular will of the people from
>determining our national leader.  

Ouch. Too much Rush Limbaugh there?

Quote:>Usenet is as much a representation of democracy as is the United States.

Hey, let's take this a step further. Let's form the FIRST EVER USENET CABINET,
with cabinet positions assigned to various Usenet personalities...

Then we can do away with Congress (replace with RFD, CFV, etc), voting,

:-)

Spiros (Clear Choice for USENET Ambassador to Greece)
--

Software Technology, Delco Electronics       (317) 451-0815
GM Hughes Electronics, Kokomo, IN 46904      [A Different Kind of Disclaimer]

 
 
 

A Paper on the Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet

Post by Jyrki Kuoppa » Sun, 13 Dec 1992 20:04:18



>You realize the problem involved in informing all these people that
>usenet is *not* a democracy.  After all, putting it in "What is
>Usenet?" on news.announce.newusers won't satisfy some people...;-)

Nope, the real problem is in informing all the people that "democracy"
is not a synonym for any of "good", "equality", "our system",
"desirable system", "a system where you have freedom", "us" and so on.

//Jyrki