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

  VOLUME 2, NUMBER 3                                    MARCH 1995


  This month: Public relations on the Internet
              Running an on-line newsletter
              Social networks and democracy
              What does "free" mean?


  Welcome to TNO 2(3).

  This issue includes a series of short articles by the editor.
  The first is addressed to public relations people who wish to
  practice their craft on the Internet.  The bottom line is that
  the Internet provides the public relations profession with a
  marvelous opportunity: learning to communicate in a rigorously
  honest fashion in a democratic environment where manipulative
  practices do not work.

  The next article summarizes some lessons I've learned from
  running this newsletter for the last year or so, followed by
  two brief comments, one on a famous article about the threat to
  democracy posed by the decline of bowling leagues in the United
  States and the other on some recent attempts by ideologically
  minded folks to remove all meaning from the simple, unambiguous
  word "free".

  This issue also commences a new TNO department, the wish list.
  Back in TNO 1(7) I remarked upon the phenomenon of technological
  fantasizing, the activity of inventing new cyber technologies in
  one's head as part of daily life.  I am certain that I am not the
  only person who engages in this type of routine fantasizing, but
  I do like to think that I am more ambivalent about it than just
  about anybody else you're likely to meet.  (A reporter in the San
  Diego Union-Tribune (P.J. Hufstetter, 1/10/95) astutely referred
  to Wired magazine as the Playboy of the 1990's, both because of
  its male demographics and because of the vaguely erotic nature of
  numerous men's attachments to computing machinery.  The analogy
  is worth extending.)  The purpose of the wish list, then, is to
  spell out some of each month's half-developed fantasies for new
  kinds of useful computing and networking systems, to dwell on the
  issues that those systems raise, and to think reflexively about
  the nature of technological fantasizing itself.  Lots of people
  have gotten rich on their technological fantasies, and the line
  between science fiction and business management is frequently
  unclear these days.  But that's even more reason to think about
  the fantasies *as* fantasies -- given that the stuff of some
  people's dreams is now rapidly transformed into the material
  conditions of other people's lives.

  A footnote.  An article in the 1/30/95 issue of Forbes magazine
  points out that people are not exactly flocking to buy stuff from
  all those heavily hyped Internet shopping services.  Flowers,
  pizzas, magazines, you name it -- people would rather buy them
  the old-fashioned way.  Of course, so far as Forbes is concerned
  this means that the Internet is basically a batch of hype.  But
  another possible conclusion is that people actually want to use
  the Internet for what it's best at -- getting connected to other
  people in mailing lists, interest groups, political movements,
  interactive games, and so forth.  We've got plenty of shopping
  malls.  We need more street corners, more pubs, more union halls,
  more seminar rooms, more barn raisings, and more quilting bees.
  The Internet can keep on being all those places if we take good
  care of it.


  Public relations on the Internet.

  This quarter I have been teaching both a seminar on public
  relations and a class on computer networking as communication.
  This juxtaposition has provided me with an occasion to think
  about an important topic: the practice of public relations on the
  Internet.  Few people outside the profession of public relations
  have much idea what public relations work actually consists of;
  likewise, it's hard to explain the Internet to anybody who hasn't
  used it awhile.  The intersection of these two topics, then,
  can be obscure.  But this obscurity is going to dissipate as PR
  people discover the Internet.  It will be important for the net
  community to be prepared for PR, and vice versa.  This particular
  article is addressed to PR people, based on a couple of informal
  presentations I've made to groups of PR people in the last month.

  Lots of books have been appearing over the last couple of years
  that purport to explain "how to use the Internet".  If you read
  them, though, you discover that they are all (or all the halfways
  legitimate ones, so far as I am aware) basically technical books:
  how to log on, how to read your e-mail, how to telnet someplace,
  how to set up a web page, how to get on a mailing list, what's
  available where, and so forth.  But this is only a small part of
  the information that belongs under the heading of "how to use the
  Internet".  It is, so to speak, the bottom layer, the technical
  foundation.  But a foundation isn't much use in itself without
  the considerable superstructure that connects the day-to-day
  mechanics of net use with the larger goals of the organization.
  What's needed, and still basically absent, is this next layer of
  knowledge: how to use the Internet strategically as an integrated
  part of the rest of what an organization is doing.  Paper isn't
  going away; television isn't going away; meetings aren't going
  away; the telephone isn't going away.  Clearly, whatever you
  do with the net, it will be one element in a larger ecology of
  forms of communication.  Using the net requires its own technical
  knowledge, but more broadly it requires its own *practical*
  knowledge -- how to use the net in practice, as part of a larger
  strategy, to get the stuff done that the organization is supposed
  to be about.

  With that in mind, then, let us imagine a world, one otherwise
  similar to the existing world of professional communications
  work, in which anybody who doesn't like your direct mail can
  easily and cheaply turn right around and tell you so.  Now
  imagine a world in which anybody who doesn't like your direct
  mail can easily and cheaply turn right around and tell your whole
  mailing list just what they think about you.  That, my friends,
  is the Internet.  The Internet holds some real dangers for people
  who are in charge of managing the image that an organization
  projects to the outside world.  Anybody can use the Internet
  to circulate poor opinions or unfavorable information about you,
  and as the recent Pentium case shows, interesting news, good or
  bad, can travel the length and breadth of the Internet in hours.
  It's next to impossible for anybody to control what happens
  on the net.  Nobody formally governs the net and no particular
  set of written-down rules adequately describes its functioning.
  Instead, the denizens of the net run things according to their
  own continually negotiated sense of what's right.  The net,
  in short, is the world's closest large-scale approximation to

  Looked at in a positive light, then, the net holds tremendous
  promise for allowing PR people to actually put in practice the
  ideals described in PR textbooks: open, symmetrical, two-way
  communications between an organization and the publics that
  have a stake in its operation.  It has long been difficult
  to conduct this kind of two-way communication, for the simple
  reason that the mass media don't work that way.  If you are
  getting your message out to the public by persuading reporters
  to write or broadcast stories about you, then that's one-way
  communication.  And it's sneaky one-way communication as
  well, inasmuch as the organization is rarely identified as
  the instigator of the article, and the people who see or hear
  the story have little opportunity to discuss among themselves
  what they think about it, much less make their voices heard in

  The Internet changes this.  If you want to communicate with a
  certain public then get your "Whole Internet Catalog" down off
  the shelf, look for the relevant mailing list, sit down at your
  computer, and send a message.  Simple, right?  Actually, of
  course, it isn't that simple at all.  The difficulty has shifted
  from the laborious hustling of reporters to something else.  But
  what exactly?

  Put yourself in the shoes of the people on a given mailing list.
  These people all have other things to do, of course, but a few
  times a day or week they sit down at their computer and read
  their e-mail.  Some of it will be from the people on that mailing
  list, probably as part of an ongoing dialogue that has its own
  history, its own vocabulary, and its own background of shared
  references, memories, precedents, values, and assumptions.  If
  you just send out your own message, with no sense of this whole
  background, then you're likely to seem like an odd, presumptious
  stranger.  And if your audience gets any sense that your agenda
  is basically more about taking than about giving then they are
  likely to get downright mad at you.  This is what happened to
  that so-called Internet expert who decided that he would promote
  his book by sending form-letter messages to a hundred-odd news
  groups, each customized with a bit of relevant text from the
  book.  These messages were widely reviled on the net (and justly
  so), whereupon a German anarchist decided that they constituted
  spam (which they did) and that therefore he was justified in
  running a "cancelbot" to automatically erase them (which he
  wasn't).  When things like this happen, people in the PR world
  sometimes start going off into manipulation and control, under
  the bogus guise of calling for "consensus" about what behavior
  (revenge-taking behavior, that is, not PR behavior) is
  acceptable on the net.  Out here in reality, though, no such
  consensus-building process is necessary, for the simple reason
  that control-oriented PR people are just about the only folks
  who are not already in alignment with the perfectly functional
  uncodified rule that you can't play on the net unless your basic
  operating mode is one of giving rather than taking.

  Most PR people, I like to think, would prefer the difficult but
  more satisfying route of losing their one-way habits and learning
  to participate in the net on a symmetrical, two-way basis.  How
  might this be done?  Well, nobody knows for sure.  All I can do
  here is offer a few observations based on stories I've heard and
  things I've been involved in myself.

  The Internet is full of computer people, and as you might imagine
  they use the net pretty heavily to talk about computers.  Usenet
  has numerous news groups devoted to particular computers and
  software packages.  These are the cyberspace equivalent of the
  user groups found by the score in most larger communities.  These
  discussion groups are clearly a gold mine for companies that need
  to know what their customers are thinking, and it is common for
  PR and marketing people to monitor these lists.  Of course, these
  companies have other ways of finding out what their customers are
  thinking, and they have to decide whether they get enough extra
  information from paying someone to monitor these mailing lists,
  but often they do.  My sense is that the companies do not care
  to spend a lot of time actively intervening in the lists, except
  occasionally when technical people have technical information to
  communicate.  This might seem counterintuitive, given that people
  on the lists must occasionally say bad or wrong things about
  the company and its products.  But generally, if somebody says
  something unfair or mistaken then somebody else will correct them
  without the company having to throw a fit.  But to my knowledge
  no real studies have been done, and I doubt if any reliable
  generalizations can be made right now.

  Some other companies have made information about themselves
  available on the World Wide Web and other, similar facilities.
  Creating web pages is easy and exciting, since you can produce
  something flashy in a few hours of work -- or easily pay someone
  else to do it.  It is still entirely unclear, though, what role
  these web pages can play as part of a serious communication
  strategy.  Web pages have the advantage, compared to posting on
  mailing lists, that you can be as commercial and self-interested
  as you want and nobody will get mad at you.  Whether this is the
  best course of action depends on who you are trying to reach.  If
  your goal is simply to communicate with your existing customers,
  for example by providing customer-support information and product
  updates, then a simple, low-overhead approach is probably best.
  If you are providing an on-line equivalent to your paper brochure
  then similar production values are relevant, although you should
  keep in mind that large color bitmaps take most real users a long
  time to download.  Silicon Graphics is now advertising a service
  for people who want to produce very fancy bitmaps for their web
  pages, but I doubt if this is a good idea unless your intended
  audience is all in the top one percent in terms of the power of
  their hardware and the bandwidth of their net connections.

  If your aim is to reach a broad audience with your web pages,
  then as a general matter you need to advertise them.  One
  common way to do this is by placing ads in print media.  Another
  approach is to build and maintain web pages that are actually
  going to be useful to the net community, and then include
  information about your organization as one of the links that web
  users can follow if they care to.  If you are a law firm then you
  could create a well-organized archive of on-line legal documents
  in the area of your specialty.  If you are a publisher then you
  could create an on-line index of your books that can be searched
  by authors, book titles, subject headings, publication dates, and
  so forth.  Use your imagination -- what information or software
  can I put on the web that my target audience of net users will
  genuinely find useful?  That's the test: whether you are making
  a genuine contribution to the net community.  If so then you are
  free to post simple, low-hype messages to newsgroups and mailing
  lists announcing the availability of your new on-line service.
  Everybody will know that you're doing this out of self-interest
  in the end, but nobody will mind.

  Another approach is to create a mailing list.  This can be the
  much cheaper electronic equivalent of your paper mailing list
  for distributing advertising materials and the like.  Definitely
  never, ever add anybody to an electronic mailing list without
  their permission.  The best policy is to let people take their
  own initiative to add themselves; the net's cultural convention
  is definitely "opt-in" rather than "opt-out".  Nobody knows for
  sure whether the materials you send to the electronic mailing
  list should simply be copies of the materials you send to a paper
  list.  Since the electronic list is free, of course, you can
  afford to send more materials more often, provided you don't make
  a nuisance of yourself.  You can also offer pointers to web pages
  that provide much more additional information than you could
  possibly afford to print on shiny paper.  But maybe it's worth
  trying to rethink this conventional notion of a mailing list

  I've been running a mailing list for a while now, the Red Rock
  Eater (see TNO 1(1)), which consists simply of whatever I find
  interesting.  People subscribe mostly after hearing about it
  through word-of-mouth, or word-of-e-mail I suppose, from their
  friends, for example when their friends forward RRE messages
  to other people and other mailing lists with the RRE headers
  still attached.  Many of RRE's 2400 subscribers are big fans of
  the list because I keep the signal/noise ratio high, as technical
  people say, by only sending out items that I feel in my guts are
  really interesting.  If someone doesn't share my tastes then they
  presumably move along after a while, which is fine.  It's not a
  difficult list to maintain, especially after I stopped looking
  at the error messages generated by mailers that bounce RRE mail
  back to me, since most of the material simply comes from other
  mailing lists.  Indeed, an increasing proportion of the material
  is stuff that people send me because they think it would be good
  for RRE, so that I don't even have to filter those other mailing
  lists myself any more.

  My point is that RRE has grown something of a loyal following.
  Howard Rheingold says that the net has a "gift economy": people
  contribute stuff without the expectation of return, but when
  they do, other people are willing to help them out in time of
  need.  It's like the patterns of reciprocal assistance in any
  region whose economy is based on subsistence agriculture: when
  you pick your apples, you immediately take a bushel to every
  neighbor within a few miles who doesn't have an orchard of their
  own.  That way, when you break your leg some day, your neighbors
  will spontaneously start bringing stuff by until you get better.
  It's that way on the net as well.  For example, when the students
  in my Internet class (mentioned at the outset) were having trouble
  getting people on the net to sit still for interviews about the
  place of computer networking in their lives, I hesitated a while
  and then I broadcast a call for help on RRE, whereupon about
  two hundred offers of assistance poured in to the class mailing
  list over the next forty-eight hours.  Many people said that they
  were helping out as repayment for the benefits they got from RRE.
  Questions arise: Can you create similar good will by operating
  a simple, useful service like RRE?  How far can this model be
  extended, and what can it accomplish?  I don't know for sure, but
  I do firmly believe that if you approach it without the spirit of
  being genuinely helpful then it won't work.

  A small number of organizations have engaged in issue campaigns
  on the Internet.  These can take the simple form of monitoring
  certain mailing lists and posting company press releases as
  they seem relevant.  Posting them in the form of press releases,
  as opposed to spontaneous-looking messages, makes it clear that
  you're not really pretending to engage in dialogue, which is okay
  on many lists as long as you're open about it.

  Some issue campaigns on the net are more ambitious.  I discussed
  one of these campaigns in a critical light in TNO 1(12).  The
  problem there was not that a coalition of companies was rallying
  the net community's support in a case it was arguing in front of
  the FCC, but that its on-line materials did not make adequately
  clear the nature of the organization that was conducting the
  campaign.  Although I was a little unjust in my criticism of
  it (see the follow-up clarification in TNO 2(2)), I think it is
  fair to say that the standards for such things are much higher
  on the Internet than they are in the trenches of Washington.
  In the world of mass media and and one-way communications,
  you can get away with blandly saying "we are a coalition of
  public interest groups, concerned citizens, nice old ladies
  and companies" when in fact all the money is coming from the
  companies.  But on the Internet this won't work, even if you're
  doing it from habit without consciously intending to mislead
  anybody.  If you do not thoroughly and clearly disclose who you
  are, who you represent, where the money is coming from, and what
  the real agenda is underneath, then you can expect that someone
  else will make their own construction of these things widely
  available to the net community.  On the other hand, if you *do*
  disclose all these things then nobody is going to bother you,
  or if they do then nobody else will listen to them.  The net is
  basically a fair place in that regard, and the net culture has a
  tremendous respect for free speech.

  The larger point here is that the Internet provides the public
  relations profession with the opportunity for a rigorous
  self-examination.  Straightforward practices based on full
  disclosure, genuine participation, honest listening, and real
  contributions to the net community will earn the community's
  trust and permit a high level of useful two-way communication.
  Anything else will provide the net community with an opportunity
  to trash some manipulative PR people, which it will happily do.
  The choice is up to you.


  How to run an on-line newsletter.

  I've been running TNO since January 1994, and since then several
  people have asked me for guidance in starting on-line newsletters
  of their own.  I cannot say that I encountered any very helpful
  reference works as I was developing TNO, nor would I want to call
  myself an expert on the subject.  And I would strongly oppose any
  sort of "rules" about on-line publication.  But if the Internet
  is going to live up to its promise of providing freedom of the
  press to people who don't own one then we should at least *try*
  to write down some guidelines about running on-line newsletters.
  So here are my own guidelines, and I would encourage others to
  publish complementary (or even conflicting) guidelines based on
  their own experiences.

   * Lay it out in a simple, consistent, visually distinctive
  format.  Neatness counts.  Include a table of contents and a
  summary at the beginning, as well as a publication date, since
  you can't rely on people to keep your original mail header as
  they forward your newsletter around the net.

   * Be able to explain what the newsletter is about in a few
  words.  TNO, for example, is about networks and democracy.
  Make sure that most everything in the newsletter connects to
  that simple definition in some way.  At the same time, don't
  try to cram your entire agenda into every article you write.
  Instead, let each article convey a piece of your larger message
  while remaining a useful, self-contained whole.

   * Be provocative but keep the rhetorical temperature down.  That
  is, try not to flame.  It's difficult, I know, but it makes a big
  difference in the long run.  One problem with flaming is that you
  tend to assume that your audience shares all of your assumptions,
  rather than thinking carefully about what beliefs and values you
  actually want to assume that readers share with you.

   * Say something new.  Most everything on the net consists of
  people saying things they've heard elsewhere.  People really
  appreciate it if you say something original.

   * Find a low-overhead way to work the newsletter into your life
  so that it provides an outlet for some of those great ideas that
  would otherwise go to waste.  I find that the best way to keep
  TNO's content fresh is to make simple notes during each month
  about possible TNO article ideas.  Then in the shower, or while
  driving, I look for simple language to explain the issue.  (The
  language you want is more like an after-dinner speech than like
  a scholarly paper or newspaper article.)  Then when the time
  comes to actually type in the articles, they flow pretty quickly.

   * Where do you come up with things to write about?  Don't set
  out with a grand plan.  Just read broadly and talk to a wide
  range of people, and as you do so, take note of your personal
  responses -- emotional reactions, intellectual free-associations,
  patterns, things that ought to be named and discussed, and so
  on.  Write these reactions in a notebook, or explain them in
  plain language to other people, and trust that some of them will
  develop into newsletter articles without you having to fake or
  force anything.

   * Write for people who are reading on computer screens.  Keep
  it brief and get to the point.  Paragraphs should be shorter
  than those in books but longer than those in newspapers.  Try to
  use plain language; minimize technical and political jargon.  In
  ASCII versions, keep the lines of text narrower than 72 columns.
  Keep the total length of each issue below 49,000 bytes, since
  some mailers reject anything longer than 50,000 bytes including
  headers.  You probably cannot rely on anybody to consistently
  read that much anyway.

   * Include a department in every issue that provides pointers to
  web pages and other net resources that you find interesting.  A
  large proportion of your readers will find this the most valuable
  part of your newsletter.  "How to" features (like this one) are
  also popular.  Lots of people want something that's immediately
  useful and will ignore anything else.

   * Before sending out your first issue, write "DRAFT -- DO NOT
  CIRCULATE" all over it and send it to a dozen friends and a dozen
  people who already run Internet newsletters with a low-pressure
  request for criticism and comment.  Several people maintain web
  pages with pointers to existing newsletters; the standard search
  tools ought to locate them quickly enough.

   * Publish it both on the Web and in ASCII form.  The ASCII
  version is the more important of the two because people will
  forward the ASCII version around to one another by electronic
  mail.  If you do have a web version, make sure the ASCII version
  includes the URL for it, and that the Web version includes
  instructions for subscribing to the ASCII version and fetching
  back issues.

   * Include a clear copyright notice that tells people what they
  can and cannot do with the newsletter.  Think about whether you
  want the copyright notice at the top or the bottom of each issue.
  Also think about whether you want people clipping out particular
  articles to pass around.  I personally do not, and will make
  a special ASCII version of a single article when people want
  to pass just that article around, but I decided it wasn't worth
  the trouble of explaining my policy about this in the copyright
  notice.  You might decide differently, for example by saying
  that your newsletter can only be passed along in its entirety.

   * Speaking of copyright, do not include any copyrighted
  information in your newsletter without obtaining permission.
  In the United States anyway, everything original that is written
  is copyrighted by default, even if it doesn't have a copyright
  notice on it.

   * Think twice before charging subscribers money.  It's a lot
  harder than making it free.  If you do plan to charge money for
  it, provide a shorter ASCII version of each issue for free and
  include instructions for how to subscribe to the paid version.
  That way you'll get a lot of advertising from people who pass the
  free version around on the net.  Provided that the free version
  includes a generous amount of useful content and isn't overly
  crass in its advertising, nobody will mind.  A set of teasers
  for the paid version, as opposed to a useful, self-contained
  shorter version of the newsletter, is just advertising and will
  justifiably annoy people.

   * Consciously design particular articles to appeal to particular
  constituencies: librarians, net newcomers, Europeans, graduate
  students, reporters, etc.  That way they'll pass it along to
  one another, thus increasing your publication's visibility and
  circulation.  This assumes, of course, that you actually have
  something interesting and useful to say to the constituency in
  question.  In general, you can be sure that whatever you write
  will get forwarded to people who fit whatever topic you write
  about.  For example, if you make any off-handed nasty comments
  about economists, you can be certain that a batch of economists
  will end up reading them.


  Bowling for democracy.

  Much of the American establishment is worrying late at night
  about the conclusions in a paper by Robert Putnam in the January
  1995 issue of the generally conservative Journal of Democracy
  entitled "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital".
  Perhaps you've seen an op-ed piece about it.  Putnam observes
  that American membership in associations is steadily declining.
  By associations he means everything from the Masons to labor
  unions to sports leagues to the PTA -- groups organized outside
  of the government and the market.

  This trend, he says, is particularly striking given Tocqueville's
  eighteenth-century observations about Americans' great affinity
  for associations.  The trend is also disturbing, he argues, both
  on economic grounds, since a dense network of relationships of
  trust facilitates the growth and evolution of the economy in a
  given region, and on political grounds, since this same network
  of relationships allows issues to be discussed more rationally
  than is possible when politics is conducted largely through
  enormous, impersonal intermediaries like national membership
  organizations and the mass media.

  While his argument is interesting, I have a number of problems
  with it.  First, he makes few distinctions between types of
  organizations, particularly with regard to their inclusiveness
  and exclusiveness.  If old-fashioned associations served largely
  to enhance solidarity among homogenous groups of people then
  perhaps they reinforced social stratification, and if so then
  we are better off without them.  Associations that mostly keep
  people in line should surely be differentiated from associations
  that mostly help people pursue their own ends.  And associations
  that organize people against those above them in the social
  hierarchy should surely be differentiated from associations that
  organize people against those below them.  Of course, everyone
  is free to create any associations they want, short of criminal
  conspiracies.  My point is that some associations contribute an
  awful lot more to democracy than others.

  Second, he assumes that social networks are implemented solely
  through formally defined associations.  Granted, it is easier
  to get statistics on associations that are listed in reference
  works at the library.  But communications and transportation
  technologies are allowing people to pursue their own networks
  in ways that are not so dependent on organizations and their
  formal meeting places.  Whether this effect compensates for
  the decline of organizations, though, is a significant question,
  particularly for political purposes.

  Third, in discussing national membership organizations, he does
  not adequately address the importance of a working system of
  local chapters, as opposed to sole reliance on direct-mail and
  fax-tree types of one-to-many relationships.  The accountability
  of a national office to the chapters is a crucial indicator of
  whether the organization is truly likely to represent its members
  and avoid cooptation and corruption.  This is a matter of degree,
  and a more qualitative analysis would have to assess historically
  the health of the chapter structures of organizations such as
  the Sierra Club.  This is an urgent issue in the environmental
  movement right now.

  Fourth, I am unclear on why it makes sense to refer to the stock
  of social network relationships as "social capital".  The idea
  is roughly that social capital is an economic asset built up over
  time through people's activities together.  Alright, but capital
  is something more specific than that.  Capital is the result of
  paid labor that someone owns.  "Social capital", by contrast, is
  "owned", if at all, by a community, region, or nation.  Calling
  it "social capital", though, mixes metaphors in just the right
  way to encourage government measures to build the stuff up -- as
  a kind of industrial policy.  Think of it -- the decline of the
  Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks as an issue of national
  competitiveness!  There's some logic to it, I agree.  But it's a
  funny logic.

  Fifth, he is dismissive of the capacity of computer networks
  to contribute to a renaissance of associations.  His argument
  is roughly that people can't really get that intimate with one
  another on-line.  But computer networks are used largely by
  people who also see one another face-to-face, whether at staff
  meetings, conferences, or family reunions.  They also facilitate
  the creation of new connections among people that are conducted
  through other media, not just on-line.

  And this brings me to my conclusion.  Despite all of my hedges
  and qualifications, I definitely agree that democracy has its
  genuine roots in the bonds of association in a community.  Let's
  use technology to do something about it -- not by encouraging
  the creation of associations at random, but by encouraging the
  creation of associations that bring diverse people together to
  pursue ends of their own choosing and assert some control over
  their own lives and the lives of their communities.  Everyone
  belongs to a lot of cross-cutting communities these days,
  and therein lies a test for the net: the net is developing in
  a truly democratic way if it permits us all to participate in
  associations that cut across all possible boundaries, affirming
  and empowering us in our diversity and our commonality alike.


  Free means free.

  In TNO 2(1) I remarked on attempts by conservative pundits to
  appropriate words, that is, to give old words new meanings that
  make non-conservative ideas more difficult to think and express.
  One such word is the word "free".  I've been noticing this lately
  in the context of discussion of Free-Nets -- that is, computer
  networks (or, more precisely in most cases, computer bulletin
  boards) that members of the public can use without charge.  When
  the need for free access to information is argued, it is common
  for conservatives to query the word "free".  In my experience
  (which has so far been confined to private e-mail or spoken
  debate at conferences and the like), they take either of two
  approaches.  The first approach is simply to act puzzled and
  wonder what "free" means.  The second approach is to "clarify,
  in case anybody might have been misled, that somebody somewhere
  has to pay for it".  The conversation usually does not go very
  far from here, since at this point most people just get confused.

  In both cases, of course, the purpose of this type of rhetorical
  intervention is to set up a standard argument for markets: if the
  provision of certain services requires the allocation of scarce
  resources, why shouldn't the cost of those resources be borne by
  the people who consume the services?  This is certainly a valid
  question, and one that should be openly and rationally discussed;
  Peter Harter's article in TNO 2(2), for example, is a serious
  contribution to such a discussion.  What is so exasperating is
  the means by which this argument is introduced, namely through
  the conceit that something is unclear about the meaning of the
  word "free".

  Everybody knows what "free" means: something is free if the
  marginal cost of consuming it is effectively zero.  Everyone
  pays for their own share of the public library through their
  taxes, but then they can check out books for free.  Of course the
  concept requires some slight care in definition (thus the words
  "marginal" and "effectively"), but not too much.  Everybody knows
  that the library costs money to maintain, but nobody is confused
  when we speak of checking out library books as "free".  Claims
  to the contrary are disingenuous, unfair, and corrosive of
  rational debate, since their aim is not to refute an argument
  (the argument for free public information services) but to render
  that argument unthinkable and inexpressible by confounding the
  meaning of one of its central terms, namely "free".  My point,
  then, is not that it is immoral to argue against Free-Nets, but
  that it is immoral to do violence to the English language in
  order to make the whole concept of a Free-Net unintelligible.

  What strikes me is that I suddenly started hearing claims that
  something is confusing about the word "free" about two months
  ago, all at once, in a wide variety of geographic locations and
  institutional contexts.  One possibility is that believers in
  the free market all suddenly came up with this idea independently
  and simultaneously, driven purely by their native intelligence
  and the plain obviousness of their philosophy.  Without meaning
  to impugn either their intelligence or the valid arguments that
  they do have to make, though, I would lean toward an alternative
  explanation, which is that these folks all subscribe to similar
  channels for the distribution of arguments among the partisans
  of a particular political tendency, in this case free-market
  conservatism.  In TNO 2(2) I spoke of this phenomenon in terms
  of the industrial organization of public debate, and I pointed
  out that it is neither restricted to any one political tendency,
  nor is it something that is usefully regarded as a conspiracy.
  I should think that free-market conservatives in particular would
  embrace such an analysis of their own intellectual lives, given
  their high regard for market analyses of such equally significant
  topics as family life, the labor market, and the depredations of
  liberalism.  We will have an opportunity to test this hypothesis
  as my analysis of the economics of public debate develops over
  the next few issues of TNO.


  Wish list.

  I know someone who runs a book shop in a small town.  She says
  that people frequently enter her shop looking for a particular
  book, but all they know about the book was that its author was
  interviewed that morning on a certain television show.  They
  might be able to recall vaguely what the author's name sounded
  like, and vaguely what it was about, but they usually cannot
  recall the title or any of the other information that is required
  to look the book up in the CD-ROM version of Books in Print.

  These authors don't just appear on talk shows for the ego trip.
  They're trying to sell their books.  Clearly the publishers and
  the booksellers need to get together here to send bookstores a
  daily summary of which authors are going to be on which programs
  promoting which books, together with a synopsis of what the books
  are about and generally what the authors will be saying in their
  media appearances.  Faxes would be good for this, and even better
  would electronic mail to a server running inside the bookstore's
  local system.

  This is unlikely to happen, though.  The various publishers are
  all competing against one another; they all run their publicity
  slightly differently and are unlikely to get together to organize
  such a scheme.  The bookstores are also competing against one
  another.  Both publishing and bookselling are turning into
  oligopolies, so perhaps such a publicity-tracking operation
  could achieve sufficient economies of scale within a particular
  publishing or (more likely) bookselling conglomerate.  This would
  be unfortunate, of course, since it would reinforce the drive
  toward consolidation in an industry whose decentralization is
  important to the health of our culture.

  The solution, perhaps, is an independent organization that
  works with both publishers' publicity people and with bookstores
  to keep this information flowing.  The hardest part would be
  defining standards, both to make the operation efficient and to
  ensure that lots of sources can feed into it.  Small publishers
  ought to be able to upload their own publicity schedules into
  the system as easily as the big national publishers, and small
  booksellers should be able to download publicity schedules
  for the media in their area as easily as Barnes and Noble can
  for their national operations.  Since the relevant media are
  evenly divided between national (NPR, Donahue, Liddy) and local
  (affiliate news, local talk shows, public access cable) channels,
  such a decentralized scheme would be necessary and advantageous
  to everyone.  The Internet, perhaps using WWW forms, would be an
  ideal infrastructure for such a system, which once established
  could operate with little human intervention.


  This month's recommendations.

  Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, David Muddyman, Richard Trillo,
  and Kim Burton, eds, World Music: The Rough Guide, London: Rough
  Guides, 1994.  This book is so cool.  It's a 700-page guide to
  the world's music styles in nearly a hundred articles in small
  type with numerous sidebars.  Each article has a recommended
  discography at the end.  I was pretty pleased to already own
  the recommended records for about a dozen of the articles, but I
  had to admit complete ignorance of Thai pop, Egyptian classical
  singing, Indian folk music, Argentinian accordian, and the weird
  modern history of popular music in Indonesia.

  US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Electronic
  Enterprises: Looking to the Future, OTA-TCT-600, Washington, DC:
  US Government Printing Office, May 1994.  This is an excellent
  introduction to the issues around information infrastructure
  for the businesses and markets of the future.  I learned a lot
  from the report's review of the literature on the crucial place
  of technical standards in the emergence of market structures.
  This is a topic of crucial interest for everyone, not just
  business people, since the architecture of future communications
  networks will play a powerful role in the ongoing restructuring
  of the global market that directly or indirectly employs all of
  us.  I certainly don't agree with all of its conclusions, but
  I do respect it.  You can obtain a copy by sending $12 (or US$16
  for international customers) to New Orders, Superintendent of
  Documents, PO Box 371954, Pittsburgh PA 15250-7954.  (Postage is
  included.  Make checks payable to Superintendent of Documents.)

  Guillermo J. Grenier, Inhuman Relations: Quality Circles
  and Anti-Unionism in American Industry, Philadelphia: Temple
  University Press, 1988.  A relentless and harrowing inside
  story of psychological warfare by a company fighting a union
  organizing campaign in a factory in New Mexico.  Along with
  Martin Jay Levitt's "Confessions of a Union Buster" (Crown,
  1993) and Gideon Kunda's "Engineering Culture" (Temple, 1992),
  it is indispensable reading for anybody who finds themselves
  confused by the experience of "teamwork" and "empowerment".  Kurt
  Lewin is surely rolling in his grave at Grenier's account of the
  highly developed practices of social control through small-group
  psychology.  After reading this book late at night with the new
  Nine Inch Nails record ("The Downward Spiral") playing at high
  volume, I went straight off to bed and had some very bad dreams.
  I don't recommend this specific procedure, but I do recommend
  reading the book.  Read it in a brightly lit space, preferably
  with somebody sane nearby to keep an eye on you.


  Company of the month.

  This month's company is:

  464 19th Street
  Oakland, California  94612

  phone: (510) 835-4692
    fax:       835-3017
    net: datactr@tmn.com

  DataCenter puts out a publication called Culture Watch, which is
  basically a clipping service for people wishing to keep track of
  the religious right.  Every month they briefly abstract a couple
  hundred newspaper and magazine articles on the subject, and you
  can buy them by mail order for a dollar apiece.  They presumably
  pass royalties along to the copyright holders, but they add value
  to the articles by collecting, indexing, abstracting, copying,
  and sending them out to customers.  This kind of service is the
  best argument I know for building a marketplace on the Internet.
  That way these folks could make the articles much more rapidly
  available and easily searchable.

  Culture Watch is $35 for ten 1995 issues, or $50 for both the
  1994 and 1995 issues.



  Roger Clarke <roger.clarke@anu.edu.au> has just created some web
  pages on dataveillance and privacy issues.  His own home page
  is  http://commerce.anu.edu.au/comm/staff/RogerC/RogersHome  and
  the dataveillance page is http://commerce.anu.edu.au/comm/staff/
  RogerC/Dataveillance/RogersDV.html -- note that I've broken the
  URL across two lines.

  The Clinton administration's controversial Green Paper on the
  law of copyright in cyberspace is available on the web at URL:

  Past postings of Jim Warren's GovAccess mailing list are
  at ftp.cpsr.org: /cpsr/states/california/govaccess and by
  WWW at http://www.cpsr.org/cpsr/states/california/govaccess
  To subscribe to the list, send Jim a note at jwarren@well.com

  Those wild hackers at the MIT radio station WMBR have assembled
  an extensive web page of radio stations with web pages.  The URL
  is http://www.mit.edu:8001/activities/wmbr/otherstations.html

  Also at MIT, Ellen Spertus has a list of non-profit organizations
  on the web at http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/ellens/non.html

  And a decent collection of net resources for activists on human
  rights is at http://www.idt.unit.no/~isfit/human.rights.html

  You must check out the web archive of a mailing list about moving
  assets offshore.  It's a whole subculture and quite continuous
  with the general tone of libertarianism on much of the net and in
  many manifestos of the hacker movement.  The URL for the archive
  is: http://www.euro.net/innovation/Offshore.html   I'm told that
  the way to subscribe to the mailing list is by sending a message
  whose body is "sub" to offshore@dnai.com.

  I was charmed to discover the web page for the Indonesian menu
  at Bachri's Indonesian and Middle-Eastern Restaurant in Castle
  Shannon, Pennsylvania.  I wonder if they've gotten any business
  out of it -- http://www.ibp.com/pitt/bachris/indonesian.html

  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 1995 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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