T H E  N E T W O R K  O B S E R V E R

  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1                                  JANUARY 1996


     "You have to organize, organize, organize, and build and
      build, and train and train, so that there is a permanent,
      vibrant structure of which people can be part."

          -- Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition


  This month: How to wreck a community network
              The economics of standards
              Doing the Java war-dance
              Chain letters and publicity stunts


  Welcome to TNO 3(1).

  This month Doug Schuler explains some of the ways that community
  networking projects can inadvertently come unraveled.  A lot of
  experience has accumulated with these projects, and all of it
  points toward the need to involve people and their organizations
  deeply in the work so that it doesn't end up being driven by
  technology or money.  Doug is a founder of the Seattle Community
  Network and his book "New Community Networks: Wired for Change"
  comes out later this month.

  Also this month I've provided a mostly-annotated bibliography
  of references on the economics of standards.  Regular readers of
  TNO will know that I regard this topic as crucial.  Information
  infrastructure behaves very differently from other social and
  economic phenomena, and if the information infastructure of the
  future is going to reflect democratic values then it's because a
  good-sized social movement has figured out how to intervene in a
  remarkably complex set of social dynamics that are simultaneously
  technical, political, economic, and imaginative.

  This month's "wish list" follows up on this theme by offering a
  manifesto for the construction of the widely heralded Internet-
  centered computational universe.  If such a universe is actually
  coming then it provides a rare opportunity to do a lot of things
  over again right.  If the users of the world want the newly
  emerging standards to be open and to support democratic values
  then now is the time for them to get organized and articulate the
  connection between standards, self-interest, and the common good.

  Meanwhile, a brief article complains about ill-conceived chain
  letters on the Internet.

  A footnote.  At the moment it seems likely that a strong version
  of the Communications Decency Act will become part of the final
  version of the US Congress' telecommunications bill and sent to
  Bill Clinton.  Many people have observed that the language in
  this provision as it now stands is clearly unconstitutional under
  current law, inasmuch as it restricts speech that is not just
  "obscene" but "indecent".  Yet I have heard nobody ask what must
  be an obvious question: if the folks from the Christian Coalition
  are as smart as they seem, why have they insisted on language
  that will present such an easy target for civil-liberties
  litigation?  Aren't they afraid that all of their hard work
  will go to waste?  It's worth considering the possibility that
  they have done this deliberately in order to raise the stakes.
  Once the courts strike down their language, which they have sold
  to their large and well-organized constituency as a necessary
  means to protect children, they will have some high-quality
  ammunition to use in organizing a movement for the reconstruction
  of Constitutional law away from 20th century interpretations
  and back toward those of the 19th century.  Assuming I'm right,
  what would such a change mean?  It would clearly have significant
  consequences for First Amendment law.  But it would have even
  greater consequences for regulatory law: a return to a broad
  "freedom of contract" legal theory could instantly bring back the
  tumultuous economic conditions that just about tore the country
  to pieces in the late 19th century -- not a family-friendly
  prospect.  The underlying problem is that the Constitution was
  written in a world without computers or corporations by people
  who assumed that communication across large distances was
  inherently difficult.  (See the tenth Federalist paper, Madison's
  famous treatise on factions.)  The world is different now, and
  major technological changes inevitably place the law under great
  tension.  It's a difficult problem to be sure, but I don't think
  we can solve it by turning back the clocks.


  Chain letters bad and good.

  During the 1995 Christmas season, a message went round the
  Internet claiming that the publisher Houghton-Mifflin would
  donate a certain number of children's books to a good cause
  if a certain number of Internet users sent electronic mail to a
  certain address by a certain date.  As Christmas came and went,
  a second message went round stating that they had only received
  a third of the messages they had requested.  This second message
  provoked a lot of speculation: was the first message real or a
  hoax?  When one person sent the follow-up message, which didn't
  even claim to have been written by H-M, to several mailing lists
  (lists, by the way, whose connection to children's books was
  not at all clear to me), others questioned whether it was legit,
  whereupon someone else sent a message saying he had called up H-M
  and verified it, but then of course most people on the lists did
  not know who this person was, and so forth and so on.

  I won't take a stand on the question.  On one hand, the message
  didn't seem extravagant enough to be a hoax.  But on the other
  hand, to be honest, it was too dumb to be real.  I am imagining
  some publicist somewhere, who knew a little about the Internet
  but not very much, thinking that this would be a no-cost pre-
  Christmas stunt to position H-M as a hip, high-tech, big-hearted
  publisher of children's books, unleashing this thing on the net
  with little sense of the dynamics that it might set in motion.

  What this person, if he or she exists, does not understand is
  that anybody who has been on the net awhile has become accustomed
  to a whole menagerie of e-mail microbes -- such as the "Good
  Times" message, the "modem tax" rumor, and the "$250 cookie
  recipe" stories -- that have been circulating on the Internet
  since time began (a few years ago).  These messages each suggest
  that their reader would be doing a good deed by the simple act
  of forwarding them to everybody they know.  In this regard they
  are the Internet equivalent of the boy in England who supposedly
  wants to get a world-record number of postcards before he dies,
  or the urban myth, propagated by people who send clippings from
  local newspapers to their relatives in other towns who then
  create rumors that get reported in the local newspaper, about
  the peel-off "tattoos" that supposedly contain LSD.  If you're
  a publicist, please consider that if you attempt such a stunt
  then anybody who knows the net at all well is going to place
  you in the same category as these not-so-prestigious phenomena.

  Of course, there do exist good reasons for sending out messages
  for broadcast across the net.  But these messages must be
  constructed very carefully in accordance with formats that have
  developed over time.  For example I've discussed the case of
  political action alerts in TNO 1(1).  When these are done well,
  as in the case of the excellent alerts from the Voters' Telecom
  Watch <vtw@vtw.org>, the result can be instructive and uplifting.
  When they are done badly, as in the case of the recent chain
  letter originating in Japan against French nuclear testing in
  the South Pacific, things can really get out of hand.  I've
  recently seen a message purporting to be from those Japanese
  folks asking people to stop sending their chain letter around.
  In my opinion their original message should have had a definite
  expiration date, an organizational identity with full contact
  information, sources of background information, and a clear set
  of instructions only to forward the message where appropriate.
  Everyone has to decide what the phrase "where appropriate"
  means for themselves, but my sense is that it greatly reduces
  the number of alerts that are sent where they don't belong.

  In the case of the putative publicists, my point is not that
  they were out to mislead anyone.  But a problem with messages
  originating in publicity stunts is that -- by their nature --
  they are each *sui generis*, so that nobody understands what are
  the appropriate places to send them.  As a result, I expect that
  an awful lot of people are grumbling to themselves about what
  they regard as inappropriate postings.  You *can* do positive
  PR on the net (see TNO 2(3)), but you shouldn't fool around with
  dynamics that you don't understand.


  How to kill community networks.

  Hint: We may have already started...

  Doug Schuler
  Seattle Community Network

  Community networks (often called Free-Nets or civic networks) are
  geographically centered computer systems that support the local
  community with a wide range of free or low cost information and
  communication services.  While just a handful of systems were
  operational in the late 1980's, perhaps 300 operating community
  networks now exist and hundreds more are being planned.  The
  National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) reports that the
  total registered users on their affiliate "Free-Net" systems is
  nearing 400,000 people.

  For purposes of this essay, I'd like to further restrict what
  I mean by a community network: A community network is designed,
  used, administered, and owned by the community.  These additional
  constraints "disqualify" (here at least) several popular
  non-profit and government projects and nearly any for-profit

  The Community Network Vision

  One of the most intriguing documents to emerge from the community
  networking community is a list of goals that developers have set
  for their systems.  With few exceptions, the goals (offered by
  attendees at the 1994 Ties that Bind conference) were unabashedly
  idealistic.  They included the "development of civil society in
  a post-apartheid South Africa", "civic networking at the local
  community level", "economic revitalization," "environmental
  consensus building and education", "providing open forums where
  free speech is encouraged", and "bridging the gap that currently
  exists between people" to name just a few.  Taken as a whole,
  the goals reveal the optimistic belief that a more equitable,
  egalitarian, and convivial future is possible -- if people are
  willing to work towards it.  This vision is quite different from
  those offered by corporate interests, either major political
  party, or the semi-official cyber "visionaries" currently on the
  lecture circuit.  In addition to providing a vision, these goals
  establish a basis for action for thousands of experiments in
  community-building.  These local experiments include community
  computing centers, employment services, electronic memorials,
  social and political activism, economic development, health-
  based self-help forums, teen counseling, assistive technology,
  electronic pen pals, training and distance learning, homework
  assistance and many others too numerous to mention.

  Perhaps the unfolding of time will belie this optimism.  Or
  perhaps not.  At this moment in history, while new communication
  paradigms are being shaped, it may still be possible to play
  a leading role.  But this moment won't last forever.  And
  effectively seizing this moment will require persistence and hard
  work.  As abolitionist Frederick Douglass reminds us, "Without
  struggle there is no progress".

  Killing the Concept: Three Approaches

  Community networks may continue their rise in importance or they
  may fade into obscurity.  Community networks will not be killed
  by a stroke of the pen, a judge's degree, or a rejected funding
  proposal.  If they wither away it will likely be for reasons
  that we see today; attitudes that can sometimes be found within
  today's community network movement.  These counterproductive
  attitudes include:

  *  Community networks are utilities, like electricity or gas.

  *  The lack of money is the biggest obstacle to their success.

  *  Community network projects are technological projects.

  This last attitude has three consequences: Don't involve the
  community; have "professionals" guide the project; and don't
  think politically.

  Death by Utilitarianism

  If a community network is seen as a utility, like electricity
  or gas, that is always available and is paid for with a monthly
  check, then it can be provided by the government or by business
  with little or no involvement from community members.  This
  would mean another lost opportunity for citizen participation
  and another lost opportunity to help rebuild the community.

  Community networks as utilities offer little excitement.  The
  commercial network providers don't sell their services as merely
  utilitarian.  Their system may make your life more exciting (or
  so the ad copy implies).  In print ads for the "new" Prodigy, a
  sultry "Loni" (who loves to "pseudo chat" on Wednesdays at 9:37)
  is shown lounging against a car provocatively declaring "Let's
  just say I don't hang out in the knitting forum".  The other
  commercial services offer a smorgasbord of virtual excitement,
  edification, and entertainment all for a small monthly charge.
  Although community networks may not want to entice users with
  sex (although an on-line Dr. Ruth would be a valuable service!),
  they should be made as useful, interesting, and exciting as they
  can be.

  We know that information and communication services provide
  benefits unequally.  University of Washington professor Philip
  Bereano's reworking of the old maxim makes the point clearly:
  "Only the naive or the scurrilous believe the Third Wave claim
  that 'information is power'.  Power is power, and information
  is particularly useful to those who are already powerful."
  Information is actually quite plentiful: we are already on the
  receiving end of a firehose of information with neither the tools
  or the time we need to give it adequate consideration.  If all
  this information were power then surely there would be enough
  power for everybody!  We find that the opposite is closer to
  the truth: the asymmetry of power is becoming greater every day,
  and computer networks are probably contributing to the problem.
  The powerless are becoming increasingly isolated.  Their opinions
  are infrequently sought; their concerns are often not even

  Therefore it isn't enough to provide more information.  People
  with no access to power -- let alone to computers -- and whose
  voices are seldom heard need to be partners in the design of
  new services.  These services could include job information
  and electronic forums for laid-off workers, crisis referral
  information and information on civic assets -- churches,
  organizations, meetings, projects, and programs.  Most
  importantly, the services need to be tied to community programs:
  literacy, economic development, job training, activism, cultural
  events, education, and others.  And tying community networks to
  community programs and community organizations is diametrically
  opposed to the idea of information as a utility to be metered out
  by a telephone or cable television company down an information
  super pipe way.

  Death by Fiscal Longing

  A common complaint among community networkers today is that they
  don't have enough money.  While this complaint is true enough,
  it sidesteps the real issue which is the lack of community
  understanding and support.  While money is indispensable to
  a community network system -- for telephone lines, hardware,
  office space, and staff -- its acquisition should not become
  the sole motivation of the organization.  I've heard more than
  one developer say that if they didn't get one grant or another
  they'd be forced to start charging users.  Although a very small
  fee might ultimately be justifiable, this decision may begin
  a gradual shift in emphasis from a public library model to a
  commercial model -- like Prodigy or America Online, a profound
  change indeed.

  If the focus is on money then the focus is unlikely to be on
  community outreach.  If the focus is on money, especially on
  getting large amounts of it in the short run, then the organizers
  will be more likely to accept a deal -- any deal -- with a large
  organization that could swallow them or cause them to water down
  their principles.  Finally, focusing on the acquisition of money
  in the short run blinds organizers from envisioning sustainable
  models for the networks.

  Death by Software Engineering

  Attention to the technology itself is valid but should not
  predominate.  While software engineers may know how to build
  programming language compilers and word processing applications,
  they don't know how to build community.  In general, the world
  does not proceed by the same orderly and inflexible logic of
  computers.  And trying to conceptually force-fit the world
  into such a framework can make the community networking project
  seem irrelevant, uninteresting, unrewarding, and elitist.
  If community members perceive the project in this way they are
  unlikely to have any enthusiasm for it.

  Community network developers, perhaps because of a focus on the
  technology, have done little to advance their cause politically.
  Unfortunately, many people now fear and mistrust politics and
  feel that participation in the democratic arena is obsolete
  (thus leaving decision-making to those without such doubts).
  But the democratic arena, for better or worse, still exists, and
  it is a proper place in which to debate and discuss the future of
  democratic technology.

  The fear of politics can unnecessarily expose the entire movement
  to external threats.  Currently Democratic Senator Exon and
  others are pushing legislation to enforce "on-line decency" in
  a way that will force Free-Nets and other community networks
  into the uncomfortable, unwanted, and wholly impractical role of
  network censor.  Although a stronger challenge could scarcely be
  imagined, the community network community -- with some exceptions
  -- is strangely silent.

  Is it too early to work with legislators or to hire lobbyists?
  Is model legislation needed?  Developers are building local
  technological models but perhaps it's time to build local
  social and political models as well.  In many cities there
  are government efforts to put information on-line and provide
  other services.  While many of these efforts appear to be as
  unapproachable as the commercial services, government is still
  (in theory at least) answerable to the public.  Developers
  need to be working with local governments to insist on strong
  community participation and oversight and to ensure that they
  receive other information in addition to that which their
  friendly telephone, cable television, and computer companies may
  supply.  Developers also need to be working with the local PEG
  (public access, education, and government) community because they
  have waged similar struggles in the past.  And community network
  organizers in communities all over the world might begin to
  contemplate what types of relationships they need to build with
  each other.


  While the counterproductive attitudes I have described may
  contain the seeds of self-destruction for community networks,
  there is no ill intent within the community of community network
  developers.  Many developers (myself included) are relatively new
  to the idea of community development and organizing, having come
  from technical backgrounds such as computer science or software
  engineering.  We may also be naive.  We expect the righteousness
  of our cause will prevail or that democratic, community-oriented
  computer networks are inevitable.  Even a cursory look, however,
  at the history of communication technology will reveal the
  unwarranted optimism of this view.

  The medium is currently malleable enough to be coaxed into
  various shapes.  On many levels there is a struggle for these
  "shapes" of cyberspace.  The struggle is waged with ideas,
  debate, and investment (both of time and money) and everybody
  who discusses these issues, influences policy, or builds on-line
  systems is involved.  It is largely a struggle of consciousness:
  Who will define this future and what future will they define?
  Will pay-for-byte, pay-for-view, and home shopping crowd out
  public dialogue and deliberation, educational programming, and
  alternative voices?  Will there be a public place in cyberspace
  for seniors, youths, or people with disabilities?  The time may
  be short -- and those with other views might move faster and
  more decisively and more persistently than community networkers.

  Determining the nature of public cyberspace -- and whether
  it exists at all -- will be due in part to the efforts of
  community network developers.  To this end, developers need
  to form strategic alliances with community organizations.
  When organizations begin working independently through their
  own channels, the momentum will grow rapidly.  Developers
  need to go to these groups and tell powerful, idealistic, and
  transformative stories.  Computer companies, telecommunications
  and cyber-pundits are not the only ones capable of crafting
  alternative futures for cyberspace.

  While working with other community organizations is crucial,
  developers also need to register lots of users -- tens and
  hundreds of thousands -- and make sure that they are finding the
  information and services that they need.  Make sure also that
  they are engaged in a dialogue about the future of free, public
  computing.  The community network message is simple, yet it is
  powerful and compelling.  In spite of the high intensity rhetoric
  to the contrary, people still "get" public libraries, free fire
  and police protection, free public universal education, and free
  public, community cyberspace.


  Bibliography on the economics of standards.

  Several issues of TNO have touched on the remarkable and highly
  consequential economic phenomena that attend technical standards,
  particularly with regard to issues of interoperability, and
  this month's "wish list" is about to carry the analysis further.
  One of my goals in TNO is to explore the implications of these
  phenomena for a broader range of political and social issues,
  with particular reference to the ways that the Internet community
  can organize itself to intervene in order to encourage both
  technical advance -- through coherent, extensible, well-designed
  open standards -- and social justice -- through broad access to
  the means of association that computer technology and especially
  computer networking may be able to provide.  So here are some
  of the more useful references.  I have also included several
  references to the economics of information infrastructure more
  generally.  All of these references will be helpful to anyone
  who wants to get deeper into the issues raised by the "economics"
  section of my article on genres for new media in TNO 2(11).

  Brian Kahin and Janet Abbate, eds, Standards Policy for
  Information Infrastructure, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.  This
  extensive edited collection is probably the best starting place
  for exploration of these issues.

  Carl F. Cargill, Information Technology Standards: Theory,
  Process, and Organizations, Maynard, MA: Digital Press, 1989.
  An influential book distinguishing various types of standards,
  various stages in the standards-setting process, and various
  roles that standards can have in a single organization's
  processes and strategies.

  Caroline S. Wagner, Carl F. Cargill, and Anna Slomovic, Standards
  and the National Information Infrastructure: Implications for
  Open Systems Standards in Manufacturing, Santa Monica, CA: RAND,
  1994.  An excellent and unfortunately obscure paper arguing for
  a policy of government support for standards-setting activity,
  inasmuch as standards are often public goods.

  Cristiano Antonelli, ed, The Economics of Information Networks,
  Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1992.  See especially Antonelli's own
  survey article, "The economic theory of information networks",
  which includes an impressive taxonomy of different kinds of
  externalities that operate on the economics of information

  H. Landis Gabel, ed, Product Standardization and Competitive
  Strategy, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1987.  See especially the
  first chapter, by Joseph Farrell and Garth Saloner, which I have
  already recommended in TNO 2(8).

  Paul A. David, Clio and the economics of QWERTY, American
  Economic Review 72(2), 1985, pages 332-337.  A famous article
  about how standards get entrenched in the economy -- that is,
  become "de facto" standards -- even when they do not represent
  the best available technical approach.

  W. Brian Arthur, Self-reinforcing mechanisms in economics, in
  Philip W. Anderson and Kenneth J. Arrow, eds, The Economy as an
  Evolving Complex System, Redwood City, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1988.
  A more theoretical consideration of the mechanisms through which
  economic phenomena can produce the conditions for their own
  perpetuation and expansion, so that whichever option gets an
  initial jump in the economy then gets reinforced even though it
  may not be the best one by some objective standard.

  Robert E. Babe, ed, Information and Communication in Economics,
  Boston: Kluwer, 1994.  I find that the economics of information
  technology standards is, as you might expect, greatly clarified
  in the context of the economics of information.  This volume is
  quite eclectic, and Babe's own historical review is the chapter
  that is most relevant here.

  Lisa Bud-Frierman, ed, Information Acumen: The Understanding
  and Use of Knowledge in Modern Business, London: Routledge,
  1994.  This is a terrific collection of papers on the connection
  between infrastructure, standards, information, and ideology in
  the history of business.  Geof Bowker's article at the end sums
  up a truly profound point: that the practice of talking about
  the whole world within a common repertoire of categories, though
  taken for granted and treated as something entirely natural and
  given, in fact presupposes the existence of the infrastructure
  and institutions to represent the world in a standardized way
  across its full extent.  Mark Casson's article provides a useful
  outline of how economists think about the role of information in
  shaping economic relationships.  As standards and infrastructure
  spread, he says, information costs go down, so that transaction
  costs do as well, meaning that the economy evolves toward the
  ideal of perfect markets, so that transactions come increasingly
  to be governed by freshly negotiated price-mediated exchange
  rather than custom.

  Shane M. Greenstein, Invisible hands and visible advisors: An
  economic analysis of standardization, Journal of the American
  Society for Information Science 43(8), 1992, pages 538-549.

  D. Linda Garcia, Standard setting in the United States: Public
  and private sector roles, Journal of the American Society for
  Information Science 43(8), 1992, pages 531-537.

  Michael B. Spring, Information technology standards, Annual
  Review of Information Science and Technology 26, 1991, pages

  Oliver E. Williamson and Sidney G. Winter, The Nature of the
  Firm: Origins, Evolution, and Development, Oxford: Oxford
  University Press, 1991.  This book surveys intellectual
  developments downstream from Ronald Coase's original 1937
  paper on transaction costs and the structure of the firm.
  The information technologies that he had in mind were the
  telegraph and telephone, of course, but the point generalizes.

  William J. Drake, Europe in the new global standardization
  environment, in Charles Steinfield, Laurence Caby, and Johannes
  Bauer, eds, Telecommunications in Europe: Changing Policies,
  Services and Technologies, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992.  A
  good article about evolution in the institutions through which
  standards related to telecommunications are being established.

  Nathan Rosenberg, Telecommunications: Complex, uncertain,
  and path dependent, in Exploring the Black Box: Technology,
  Economics, and History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
  1994.  A good, brief summary of the distinctive economic features
  of telecommunications networks.

  George Basalla, The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge: Cambridge
  University Press, 1988.  One of several theories of technology
  choice that likens the process to biological evolution through
  natural selection within a complex ecosystem -- the primary
  alternative in this area to the neoclassical economic worldview.

  Gernot Grabher, The Embedded Firm: On the Socioeconomics of
  Industrial Networks, London: Routledge, 1993.  This isn't about
  standards as such but about the economics of the increasingly
  complex and various interorganizational relationships whose
  shape influences and is influenced by the workings of networking


  Wish list.

  I wish for a completely brand-new set of e-mail standards based
  on the Web.  The basic Internet e-mail standards we have now are
  okay for the 1970's and for basic things: ASCII text is still the
  major use that most of us have for e-mail, or more accurately,
  ASCII text is still passably adequate for the major uses that
  we now have for e-mail.  The problem is that those old standards
  have become set in stone, not because someone decreed it thus but
  because there are now dozens or hundreds of systems in use that
  assume those standards: mailers, mail-readers, Listserv, and so
  on, and it would be nearly impossible to get everyone to upgrade
  to more sophisticated standards in a coordinated way.  But those
  old standards have a lot of problems -- for example it is hard
  to send anything except plain ASCII.  MIME was a heroic effort to
  define a higher-level standard that permitted more complex kinds
  of documents to be mailed around.  It's a good thing, but it only
  goes so far and it has attained far from universal acceptance.

  This impasse can be broken, though, as Java permits hundreds
  of useful new applications to be built on top of the WorldWide
  Web.  This really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a
  lot of things right by setting really-thought-through standards,
  most especially for e-mail.  In case it's not clear, what I have
  in mind is a brand-new kind of e-mail that you use from entirely
  within your Web browser.  I don't pretend to know in any detail
  the right way to do this.  An e-mail message is probably just a
  URL that your server sends to my server or vice-versa, where the
  URL points at a form with various standard fields and a link to
  the body of the message, which of course may have other links to
  anything it likes.  So now it's a trivial matter to mail someone
  any format of material that their Web browser can handle, and if
  you send them a format they can't handle then they can just go
  and download the necessary bit of extra software (as for example
  with the Adobe reader for PDF).  Merging e-mail with the existing
  Web will also help erode the dichotomy between passive reception
  of information (e-mail) and active search (Web browsing).  The
  challenge, of course, would be to design something that everyone
  could upgrade to -- or else we'd just be expanding the morass of
  incompatible standards.  As the MIME experience shows, this is at
  least as much a hard social process of consensus-building as it
  is a technical process.

  While I'm wishing away here, I would particularly like this new
  e-mail regime to include an extensive set of building blocks and
  other support for end-user programming.  Individual net users
  should be able to build their own mailing lists, servers, and
  other e-mail based mechanisms, with the level of sophistication
  of these mechanisms depending in a smooth way on their level of
  programming skill.  So for example users would be able to simply
  fill in a form to create a simple mailing list like the ones that
  Listserv supports now, with form entries to control things like
  moderation, the text that is sent to new subscribers, whether
  nonsubscribers can submit items to the list, whether the list
  of subscribers is private or openly available or what, and so on.
  Then someone else could build a system to let people build other
  kinds of servers that are controlled with e-mail, for example
  servers that manage file archives (e.g., an archive of the
  past messages to a list), operate real-time games, or whatever.
  At last -- a world without Unix sendmail!  More importantly, a
  GUI interface that provides freedom of the press to people who
  do not otherwise own one.  That's what the Internet is supposed
  to be about, but hasn't really become yet.  Maybe such a system
  could even become a platform, at long last, that will let anyone
  build their own distributed applications -- it's surprising, in
  this day and age, how few globally distributed applications are
  running on public networks.

  What will it take to create such a happy world?  Obviously it
  will take a lot of hard technical work.  The standards-setting
  activities at the WWW Consortium have plenty of vision, talent,
  and good intentions, but they're going to need everyone's help
  -- and everyone's vigilance.  Vigilance will be needed to ensure
  that the process results in open standards, and especially so
  that proprietary standards do not get entrenched in the global
  economy, thereby creating a replay of the Microsoft Windows
  debacle.  Vigilance also involves community spirit: when deciding
  whether to adopt one of the hundreds of Web-based Internet
  applications that will appear over the next few years, everybody
  needs to apply a version of Kant's categorical imperative by
  asking whether that application would make a good de facto
  standard for the whole Internet.  Often an individual or
  organization can acquire a local, temporary kind of advantage
  by adopting a system that then turns out to be a closed
  standard, so that they pay a penalty if they buy any other
  supplier's upgrades.  Avoiding this situation is self-interest.
  But individuals and organizations can sometimes also acquire
  short-sighted advantage by adopting particular applications
  without first getting a sense of what is good for the whole
  community: what is open enough, extensible enough, broad
  enough to include everyone's requirements, able to provide
  basic functionality to people without the highest-end hardware
  or broadest bandwidth, and so on.  Technology adoption can
  and should be a matter of broad discussion and debate in the
  community of users, not just isolated choices by isolated
  individuals.  And I think that recent history has made clear that
  this is true *both* for sound economic reasons *and* for sound
  political reasons as well.  If the user community exhibits this
  kind of solidarity then the vendors will have no choice but to
  comply with what the community decides.

  The Internet can play a crucial enabling role in supporting
  this global congress of users.  It is a rapid, flexible medium
  for conducting debates, and it is a place where anybody's views
  can travel far and wide if they are phrased compellingly enough.
  But the simple existence of the Internet does not ensure that the
  necessary discussion will take place, nor does the establishment
  of broad access to Internet connectivity.  What's also required
  is confidence that technical imagination, which is always also
  social imagination, is a material force.  Information technology
  is one area where the supply-and-demand equilibration of the
  decentralized market does not necessary yield the most efficient
  outcome -- even by the narrow definition of efficiency found in
  economics.  That is because of the extensive range of economic
  externalities that are inherent in the technology, especially
  because of the tendency of certain de facto standards to become
  entrenched in the market.  Whereas supply and demand in perfect
  markets settle down to a single unique optimum, markets involving
  externalities associated with the interoperability of machinery
  (hardware, software, networks, protocols, and so on) exhibit
  what economists call "path dependencies".  When the long list
  of assumptions that constitute "perfect markets" roughly hold
  true (which they sometimes do), such effects can be treated as a
  residual category, "external" to the smoothly functioning price
  system.  But information technology turns this picture inside
  out: the "externalities" become central to the picture and the
  central phenomenon of neoclassical economics -- the fact that,
  other things being equal, people buy less or something that
  costs more and vice versa -- becomes nearly useless as a guide
  to strategy and policy, or at best simply one principle among

  We often forget about the struggle between vendors and users
  over open and closed standards, or else underestimate its
  scope and consequences, because our attention has been grabbed
  by the phenomenally successful open standards of the Internet
  -- specifically the TCP/IP protocols.  But the market does not
  tend to produce things like the Internet, for the simple reason
  that things like Windows -- the opposite end of the open-closed
  spectrum -- are much more profitable.  Closed standards, though,
  are only profitable once they get entrenched, and they only get
  entrenched if their suppliers get a powerful jump on the market.
  This "jump" has two parts.  The less important part is simply
  being first and/or most aggressive to market.  The more important
  part is a discoordinated user community: if a user community is
  not working as vigorously to share its experiences as vendors are
  working to push their proprietary standards, then everyone will
  end up paying a much higher price than they realize in the long
  term.  This has become obvious enough for operating systems, but
  many people still don't find it obvious for lots of other systems
  -- think about Lotus Notes, or the Microsoft/Visa electronic
  payment specs.  Unix is an even worse example since it is an
  irremediably poor standard that has gotten entrenched in a large
  segment of the market while also fragmenting into an uncountable
  number of variants, each of which is entrenched in its own
  subset of local user environments.  If we have our act together
  this time then maybe we can avoid these sorry phenomena in the
  forthcoming universe of Internet-based systems.


  This month's recommendations.

  Given that TNO 2(12) ended the year with a somewhat peculiar list
  of Things That Are Not Good, it's only fair to start the new year
  with an equally peculiar list of Things That *Are* Good.  And so
  here they are...

  Foam-rubber ear plugs.  I first started wearing foam-rubber ear
  plugs virtually every night when I lived in a loft five floors
  above the largest all-night Chinese restaurant in Boston, whose
  revelrous patrons routinely created traffic jams at 3AM.  They
  improved my life instantly, and since then I cannot tell you
  how many roommates, songbirds, motorcyclists, car alarm owners,
  television watchers, hotel managers, and bouncers of upstairs
  bedsprings owe their lives to these marvels of low technology:
  cylinders of foam rubber, usually white, measuring perhaps 1/2"
  inch in diameter and 3/4" inch in length.  Two widely available
  brands are Flents and North, and you can buy them in bulk from
  industrial supply catalogs (they are often provided to machinists
  and the like).  They are indispensable for traveling, especially
  if, like me, you often stay in pensions and youth hostels and
  cheap motels that turn out to be across the street from major
  freight lines.  They only work passably on sounds created within
  the room you're trying to sleep in, but they work quite well on
  sounds whose high frequencies have been filtered out by walls.

  Robert Christgau's "Consumer Guide" in the Village Voice.  Being
  an intellectual, I'm supposed to disapprove of commodity-making
  exercises like ratings and rankings.  Yes, it's easy to reify
  the rankings so that you taste the score the wine got in the
  guidebook rather than the wine that's actually in your mouth.
  Nonetheless, my omnivorous appetite for music prevents me from
  sampling everything I want to listen to.  Most of it is rarely
  on the radio, and I don't go to enough clubs to keep up with it
  all.  So I read Robert Christgau's more-or-less monthly "Consumer
  Guide" in the Village Voice.  Even though his one-paragraph
  reviews are written in the Voice's typical insiderish code,
  they still manage to communicate useful information.  The real
  point, though, is in the grades: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc.
  He finds, as I do, that the hardest thing is deciding what's
  a B- and what's a C+, so lately he has stopped listing most
  everything below A- except when bursting the balloon of an overly
  hyped "must to avoid".  His range is considerable, with greatest
  strengths in rock, pop, hip-hop, and world music, with some
  jazz and country and almost no classical.  I find his judgements
  extraordinarily precise, meaning of course that they agree with
  mine, and I'm really impressed with his ability to distinguish
  the merely very good from the genuinely permanent.  If you own
  most of his A and A+ records then you have an outstanding record
  collection, and more importantly you've been forced to acquire
  a lot of tastes.  I do think he has an excessive weakness for
  eccentrics (such as the unlistenable Peter Stampfel) and for
  interminable greatest-hits CD's (e.g., the admittedly virtuous
  archival compilations from Rhino Records), but I can just ignore
  those.  Da Capo Press has published a book of his reviews from
  the 1980's, which I highly recommend for those who now regret
  having stuck with the Top 40 through that pretty decent musical

  Library Express.  The library at UCSD provides its patrons with
  this amazing service called Library Express, and it makes the
  professors at other universities jealous when I tell them about
  it.  Here's how it works: I call up the library's catalog on my
  computer, and when I find a book I want I type "X" (entering a
  password the first time in each session), and the book shows up
  in my department's office a few days later with my name on it.
  I like to stay current with several different fields, depending
  on what I'm working on at any given moment (right now it's
  economics, social studies of technology, theories of democracy,
  and the social organization of public controversies), and Library
  Express provides me with an efficient way to acquaint myself
  with all of the relevant work all of the time.  I sometimes feel
  guilty about using it so much.  One of the librarians referred
  to me as a "power user"; he made it sound like a good thing.  The
  fact is, I can't imagine how I could live without it.  I learn
  about books I want to see in several ways: through book reviews,
  publishers' catalogs, the communication librarian's periodic
  lists of new acquisitions, and above all the bibliographies of
  other publications I have read.  I keep lists of titles on 3x5
  cards (I consume about 2000 3x5 cards a year, a fact I hope to
  write about for TNO some day), and periodically I request another
  batch from among the accumulated titles that seem most important.
  The breakdown of boundaries between disciplines is generally a
  good thing in my view, and Library Express is one way that busy
  scholars can maintain bridges across disciplinary boundaries
  through current awareness of one another's fields.

  The Practical Strategist and the Movement Action Plan.  Now that
  the Internet civil liberties community has gotten comprehensively
  hosed on the issue of online censorship, it might be time to
  learn how a real social movement is constructed.  Two excellent
  and cheap guides to the process are The Practical Strategist and
  the Movement Action Plan by Bill Moyer <bmoyer@igc.apc.org> of
  the Social Movement Empowerment Project (721 Shrader Street, San
  Francisco CA 94117, +1 (415) 387-3361).  Bill (who is not Bill
  Moyers the journalist) worked in the civil rights movement with
  Martin Luther King, and these texts distill his understanding
  of King's procedures for building a social movement.  It's
  important to have a strategy, and it's important to have a set
  of values that can draw people together noncoercively and provide
  a background for resolving internal disputes (particularly the
  ones caused by pathologically divisive people, who as Bill points
  out are indistinguishable in their behavior from government
  provocateurs) and helping everyone get in gear for the long haul.
  They're each $2 plus $1 s/h (with volume discounts) from SMEP at
  the above address.



  I've bumped this month's follow-up to February to stay near my
  self-imposed 50K limit.

  Web picks.

  Amy Bruckman's Technology Review article on building community
  on MediaMOO is on the web at the following very long URL,
  which I have broken into two lines:  http://www.techreview.com/

  Some interesting articles about the far right are on the Public
  Good site at  http://nwcitizen.com/publicgood/

  The fan club for the Dilbert comic strip is called, as you would
  expect, "Dogbert's New Ruling Class".  The Dilbert home page is
  located at  http://www.unitedmedia.com/comics/dilbert/

  Alta Vista is DEC's impressively fast search engine, and it's
  the reductio ad absurdum of keyword-based searching of the Web.
  Whatever you give it, it'll instantaneously return a directory
  of anywhere from 3 to 300,000 tangentially relevant pages.  The
  URL is  http://www.altavista.digital.com/

  The CIA's Vision, Mission, and Values are summarized at

  Phil Agre, editor                                pagre@ucla.edu
  Department of Information Studies
  University of California, Los Angeles         +1 (310) 825-7154
  Los Angeles, California  90095-1520                FAX 206-4460
  Copyright 1996 by the editor.  You may forward this issue of The
  Network Observer electronically to anyone for any non-commercial
  purpose.  Comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

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