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1995 on the Net
From TBTF for 1996-02-10



Editor's note 1996-02-10: The author and origin of this work are unknown.

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 those now.

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 service.

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 conspiracies.

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 per day.

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 notity 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 Daniels liquor company's Web page, don't go there.

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 secrets.

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 maliing 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.

lndividuals 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 been revoked.

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 to sue.

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 Inrernet 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 ta 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 hit them.

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 competitive.

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 forever dead.

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 campaigns.

It may be a brave new world, but many of us still miss the old days.