1995, the Net in Review...
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 96 13:13:19 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: 1995, the Net in Review...
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Alan Langerman <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: Andrew C Bulhak <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[forwards autocancelled, censored, and bought out by AOL]
That was it folks!
1995 on the net
At the start of 1995, we didn't have Web pages where you could see pictures
of an iguana, nor did we have pictures that get updated every few minutes
to keep the attentive iguana-watchers on the Net entertained.
Now these are commonplace and it's not enough to just put an iguana on the
Web, you've got to give users the ability to say things to the iguana with
a speech synthesiser and hear what, if anything, it says back.
At the start of 1995, we didn't have MPs stomping around the Internet
looking under every rock and behind every tree for 'indecency.' We've got
At the start of 1995, we didn't have ads that end with "and here's our Web
page." Got those too. All over the place. It's been a strange year.
1995 is now behind us and there are some who would say "Good riddance!"
It was the year which saw Governments trying to censor the Internet,
everyone, their brother, and their pet dog putting up a Web page, and
business making real strides at utilising the Internet effectively.
It was also the year that 'cyberporn' entered the language and the year that
spam-cancelling became an honoured profession.
A year ago, people scarcely knew what the World Wide Web was, most had no
home pages, no cool photos of themselves standing on a beach posted for the
entire world to see and no stories posted about their days as a teenager.
They do now.
And the frightening thing is, people look at them...in huge numbers.
In one short year, the Web went from an interesting curiosity to something
that gets so heavily used that you often see advertisers sticking their Web
addresses in at the end of TV ads.
It was big news when Netscape,'went public' and sold stock in their firm to
investors - and even bigger news when the price went through the roof on
the first day.
It was huge news when Sun Microsystems announced their new "Java" language
which would lift the Web to undreamed-of heights of functionality and
It was even big news when the people at the University of North Carolina
who'd put up an Elvis Presley Web page got forced to take it down because
they'd used trademarked Elvis stuff on the page.
People around the world woke up in the morning asking themselves "How can
I get my daily Elvis hit?"
Everyone has a Web page these days: companies, non-profit organisations,
political candidates, churches, individuals, even secret underground
Most of them have, by now, realised that it's not enough to simply stick up
a few screens of text and a .GIF or two and call it a Web page.
They've gone several steps further and put up interesting games and puzzles,
interactive forms, clickable maps, and nearly-useful information - and the
users around the world have responded en masse with quadrillions of hits
It's a rare corporation that didn't sign up for a Web page in 1995, be it
as a means of advertising or to post company documents.
Rather than having to do time-intensive things like stuffing reports into
envelopes each time a financial forecast changes, a company can keep in
touch with its personnel by making one change to a Web page and sending
email out to notify them of the update.
Web-based advertising is probably the first form of advertising that is
completely dependent on public interest in what the advertiser has to say.
Television ads blare out at you whether you want them or not, forcing you
to switch the channel or hit the mute button; print ads are there as you
turn the page to continue reading your article.
Signs on buses and buildings stare you in the face when you go for a drive.
Even junk mail has to be discarded if you don't want it.
Web-based advertising, not counting ads that get put in as icons or images
on the Web pages of services you do want to use, depends on persuading you,
somehow, to go to the advertiser's page.
If you don't want to see the Jack Daniel's liquor company's Web page, don't
Obviously, since hundreds of companies are investing time and money in
putting up interesting interactive Web pages, people are visiting them in
appreciable numbers - and when you realise that what they're essentially
doing is spending hours flipping happily through advertising, you have to
wonder if there's something to this Web thing after all.
And with the debut of HotJava, future Web pages will probably do everything
but scratch your back.
Of course. now that everyone, including lawmakers, are online, the long-
awaited attempts to censor and control are beginning.
People are up in arms over what gets said on the Net - while most of it can
be good, there are a lot of bad things happening too, from efforts in the
US Senate to render 'indecent' speech online illegal, to the efforts by the
Church of Scientology to quash all public discussion of their so-called
Ahh Scientology, Scientology, Scientology.
In 1995 we saw the beginning of a massive war against users of the Internet
by the California-based Church of Scientology.
Claiming that their religious scriptures, authored by the late science
fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, are 'trade secrets', the Church has brought
suit against several individuals for mailing those materials available
online via BBS systems and, now, Web pages.
The Church has also spent an enormous amount of time waging war on the
Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, claiming that not only do many
postings to that newsgroup violate the Church's trademarks but also that
the newsgroup name itself violates their trademark and that any site around
the world which carries it is violating their intellectual property.
Individuals acting on behalf of the Church have cancelled postings made by
critics of the organisation and have bounced from Service Provider to
Service Provider as successive accounts used for message-cancelling have
One of 1995's most controversial cases involved the anon.penet.fi anonymous
posting server, which allowed users to make anonymous posts to Usenet
newsgroups and send anonymous email - a service which was sometimes abused
but was often used by those who had reason to fear reprisals if their actual
identity was linked to the content of their messages.
Julf Helsingus, maintainer of the anon.penet.fi server in Sweden, was forced
by Finnish courts acting on behalf of the Church of Scientology to reveal
the real name of one of the people who'd posted information using his server.
It's hard to say where it will all stop.
At the last report, though, so many people had posted copies of the so-
called 'trade secrets' which the Church of Scientology was so desperate to
protect that there may literally be too many people for the Church's lawyers
1995 was also the year that 'cyberporn' entered the English language as a
term to describe the supposed proliferation of pornography online.
The culprits? Time Magazine, which featured an absolutely meritless 'study'
of pornography online with a cover story.
Martin Rimm, an American college student who authored the garbage, and
several United States Senators, who strode proudly around on the floor of
the Senate waving copies of the 'cyberporn' issue of Time claimed that this
justified their attempts to 'clean up' the Internet.
You may recall that three weeks after Time ran its scurrilous article on
'cyberporn,' they were forced by a mountain of evidence to publicly
discredit the study they'd trumpeted as being sound research.
Unfortunately, the damage is already done - millions of Time readers and
users of the Internet alike are now convinced that if they permit their
children to log in to an online service, people will send them pornography.
It ain't necessarily so.
Usenet, the easiest way to access pornography doesn't make 'cyberporn' very
easy to get at.
Yes pornographic pictures are posted to Usenet newsgroups in the alt.
binaries.* hierarchy of newsgroups in encoded binary format: strings of
characters and numbers that look like utter gibberish and which are no more
'pornography' than the photographic chemicals and emulsions used in printing
a magazine such as Playboy.
To actually view the pictures, you have to save the messages to disk, cut
and paste them together (removing the message headers and footers in the
process), download them, and only then can you see naked women cavorting
with dogs or whatever it is the picture shows.
This is hardly the sort of thing that Joe Internet Newbie can figure out on
his own or be subjected to without warning by some saboteur.
The US Senate has now passed legislation making it a crime to post
'indecent' material on the Internet, but other legislative efforts have,
for the time being, derailed that.
If that legislation passes though, Internet Service Providers the world over
wilt be in a position of having to drop an enormous number of Usenet
newsgroups for fear that they'll be held liable for the content of postings.
If that happens, Usenet will be instantly dead - most of the major feed
sites are located in the USA.
And then there are the people who've taken to ranting lately about porn
being mailed to them online.
I never had porn mailed to me online, and I've had something like 30
different email addresses that people could be using.
Do you suppose I'm doing something wrong?
Why am I getting neglected?
Obviously, there is pornography online, but it's hardly a threat.
Efforts to protect the freedom of speech online were not aided in 1995 by
the case of University of Michigan undergraduate student Jake Baker.
He made headlines all over the planet when he was administratively
disciplined by his university and then brought up on Federal charges for
posting sick stories to an alt.sex.* newsgroup about his plans to torture
and murder a 'fictional character' who happened to bear the same name as a
student in one of his classes.
This was considered the transmission of a threat to injure across State
lines in the eyes of Federal officials.
One form of control over freedom of speech has effectively been endorsed by
Usenet sites around the world: spam cancelling.
Spam, which by now everyone should know to be the term for mass-posted junk
messages, threatens at time to take over many Usenet newsgroups, driving
the people who actually have something to say out in a torrent of garbage.
1995 saw the creation of the newsgroups news.admin.net-abuse. announce and
news.admin.net-abuse.misc forums for the discussion and announcements of
efforts to fight the tide of spam through cancellation of spammed messages.
1995 also saw the debut of spammers who make our old friends Canter and
Siegel look like amateurs.
A host of spammers who move from Internet site to Internet site, spamming,
getting their accounts cancelled, and moving on have made it virtually
impossible to stop them from spamming - they use fake IDs and made-up names
and have spammed and vanished before the poor Internet Provider knows what
Of course Predictions about the death of the Internet have been made for a
long time and no phenomenon has sparked more of them than the flood of users
from large commercial services such as America Online, CompuServe, Delphi,
and so forth.
Even the large American phone companies such as MCI and Sprint have gotten
into the business of offering Internet connectivity, through services such
as Internet MCI and SprintLink.
America Online purchased the WebCrawler Web-searching service at the
University of Washington and also swallowed up Advanced Network and
Services, the operators of the former NSFNet.
CompuServe purchased Spry, makers of the popular Internet In A Box software.
All services brought out their own Web browsers in an effort to remain
In other words, the day of the commercial Internet is at hand.
The day when most users posted from research or educational sites is now
Millions upon uncounted millions of users are flocking to the Internet as
a result of Microsoft bundling software for its new online service with
virtually every computer sold in the United States and many other countries.
Commercials on television routinely include a Web address for viewers to
get further information about the advertiser.
Newspapers and magazines accept letters-to-the-editor via email.
Every major candidate for President of the United States has his own Web
page, and all of the UK parties are now using the Net to promote themselves
as parties of the future - and, of course on all party pages there's a link
for potential contributors to visit for information on donating to their
It may be a brave new world, but many of us still miss the old days.
© 1996 Peter Langston