USENET: An Examination of the Social and Political Processes of a Cooperative Computer/Communications Network Under the Stress of Rapid Growth Jerome Durlak Rory O'Brien Ozan Yigit York University The ease with which people can generate additions to the bulletin board and messages to others has [another] major drawback: electronic junk mail. Many of my colleagues and I have stopped reading the network news and bulletin boards because we cannot afford the time to do so every day. The positive side of these networks overcomes the negative. People can communicate their ideas to others across the country quickly and effectively. In turn, the recipients can respond, criticizing, sharing, and improving the product. The Trouble with Networks Donald A. Norman Datamation, Jan. 1982 Posted to usenet: Nov. 1987 Copyright 1987, Jerome Durlak, Rory O'Brien, Ozan Yigit Rights are hearby granted to print or typeset for personal or academic research purposes only. All other forms of publication, distribution through bulletin boards or distribution on any network other than USENET, CDNNET, NETNORTH, ARPA Internet or CSNET requires prior written permission of the authors. Any non-electronic correspondence about this paper should be mailed to: Dr. Jerry Durlak Mass Communications Programme York University 4700 Keele Street, North York Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3 e-mail correspondence: netters@yuyetti.BITNET [utzoo|mnetor]!yetti!netters As more people use computers as a communication medium, a network and a utility, the design as well as the behavioral and social effects of computer-mediated communications are becoming critical research topics. This is the first of a series of papers on USENET, a cooperative computer/communication network/utility that has over 236,000 readers at 8300 sites in North America alone (As of November 5, 1987). The readers represent only 22% of the 1,064,000 users with accounts on the UUCP (UNIX is a registered trademark of AT&T to UNIX COPY) network (electronic mail). USENET news is often carried on top of the same UUCP links that carry UUCP mail. In addition, there are other nodes that cover the United Kingdom, parts of Europe (with the hub in Amsterdam), Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, and numerous other countries. Until recently USENET has been in a special class all by itself, because of its unrestricted growth, its self-governing structure, and its extraordinary collection of public discussion groups. Users have been able to post articles to approximately 280 distributed conferences, collectively called netnews, that are used by thousands of people every day. There are bulletin boards for every subject for which there is sufficient interest, including political groups, social groups, groups for telling jokes and groups related to a wide variety of research areas. Since 1980 USENET has grown at an incredible rate in terms of news volume and variety, network span, type of user and type of hardware. This means that the system has been constantly adapting to rapid growth. This paper has two objectives: - To briefly examine a number of important ideas that people have discussed about information utilities and networks of the future. - To examine how USENET has adapted organizationally, structurally, politically and socially to rapid growth and communication overload. In December 1969 the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS) and the Encyclopedia Britannica held a conference on Information Utilities and Social Choice at the University of Chicago, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Britannica. In a sense the Britannica was one of the first information utilities. In the keynote address, J. C. R. Licklider defined the choices quite succinctly: The advent of information utilities is truly a crux for our civilization. The prospect is either down to a mindless complex of electronically stored and retrieved facts and data-based economic exploitation or it's up toward a realization of the potentials of human creativity and cooperation... It's a choice between data and knowledge. It's either mere access to information or interaction with information. And for mankind it implies either an enmeshment in the silent gears of the great electronic machine or mastery of a marvelous new and truly plastic medium for formulating ideas and for exploring, expressing, and communicating them. (Licklider, 1970, p.6). At that same conference two other papers discussed the positive and negative potentials of an information utility. The first by Ed Parker on Planning Information Utilities predicted that the initial content of computer utilities would be derived from materials previously prepared for other mass media such as newspapers, magazines and TV (Parker, 1970). Only later would content specifically designed for information utilities appear. However, in a more optimistic vein he suggested that computer utilities had key advantages that should deter us from following the laissez-faire example of TV: - More information - greater variety of information, ultimately individualized - greater selectivity of information by user - more powerful information processing capability - individualized user feedback to the system - Conversational permissiveness, encouraging exploration of information In the second paper, The Public Data Bank, Edgar S. Dunn (Dunn 1970) suggested that the organized activities of humankind fall into two broad categories. First, there is organization which is directed at the management of ongoing activities: those that assure the routine maintenance of the life of the individual, family or social organization. Second, there are activities that are developmental in nature. This second class of activities is directed to solving problems, changing the behavior of individuals or organization and leads to experimentation with changes in the nature of the goals and controls that define human social behavior. Dunn states that these two classes of activity require two quite different types of information. Management activity requires more repetitive information, which is more commonly quantitative in nature and needs little qualitative information related to values and goals. Development activity, on the other hand, is less interested in routine and is more concerned with knowledge relationships and is also more apt to need information about goals and values. Dunn also suggested that the design of an information utility to serve the routine needs of management is a vastly simpler task than the design of an information system to serve the creative needs of developmental activities. The fundamental question for our society is to what extent do we wish to allocate resources to deliberately design mass information utilities to enhance social creativity? Since that conference many authors have written books and articles on information utilities, computer conferencing, computer networks, and machine mediated human interaction. (See for example, Dordick, Hiltz and Turoff, Hiltz, Johansen, Mosco, Rice, and Vallee). Some of these books are enthusiastic about the potentials for human interaction and development and others are critical. It is the Japanese, however, who have made the development of an information environment an important and well thought out social goal. In their view it is crucial to increase their citizens' capacity and ability to make good use of information for planning their society's future. In 1972 the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in cooperation with leading industries, published the Plan for an Information Society: A National Goal Toward the Year 2000. The report emphasized quality of life over economic success at any cost. New media which would be based on computer technology was integral to their vision and involved much more than the simple enhancement of traditional media: The information society centering around computers is different from the society characterized by projected images that are passive, sentimental and sensible such as mainly represented by TV. It is necessary to stress that the information society is an intellectually creative society and is subjective, theoretical and objective-pursuing. Yoneji Masuda's book The Information Society (Masuda, 1980) is useful in this context. To him a desirable and feasible information utility will represent the integration of (1) the information infrastructure, (2) joint production and shared utilization of information and (3) citizen participation. While development of the information infrastructure is straightforward, the two other points are not. To achieve joint production and shared utilization of information Masuda suggests that information utilities will go through four stages of development to reach maturity: - Public Service Stage: This is the stage at which the information utility provides information processing and services for the public. - User Production Stage: The user of the information utility produces information. Masuda suggests that there will be four factors that will promote user production of information; the awareness of the general public that one's own information can be produced for oneself, the development of powerful conversation software, the development of various packaged program modules, and the preparation of databases to suit many different fields. - Shared Utilization Stage: Here the information utility makes possible the shared use of information produced by individual users. As the production of separate information by individuals reaches a certain point, the data and programs become available to third parties, and the self-multiplication process and shared utilization interact to produce a geometric effect. - Synergistic Production and Shared Utilization Stage: The shared use of information created by individuals develops into voluntary synergistic production and shared utilization of information by groups. When there is a need for complex programs several people will work together in the development and utilization of the product. This synergistic production and shared utilization of information represents in Masuda's mind the most developed form of information production. The third concept fundamental to a desirable information utility is citizen participation in, and management of, the information utility. In a citizen managed utility, as envisioned by Masuda, the capital needed to operate the utility is raised by the citizens themselves and the operation of the utility is completely under the autonomous management of the citizens, with the operation base consisting of funds raised by citizens, from usage fees, and voluntary contributions (including money, mental labor, and programming). The processing and supplying of information is done by the citizens themselves, with types of information related to problem solving, opportunity development for individuals, groups and even society as a whole. The merits of the system are the maximum of voluntary participation of citizens, allowing the individual to obtain the information needed. It becomes so much easier to arrive at solutions and the direction for joint action to solve common social problems. The weakness of the system is that it depends to a very great extent on the voluntary contributions of citizens, which are difficult to coordinate. This makes it inferior to government and business utilities in capital formation, technology, and organization. Masuda states that information utilities of the future will probably be some combination of a government type, a business type and a citizen managed type. Whatever the combination, the most desirable form would be citizen oriented because (1) only by citizen participation in the management of information utilities will the self-multiplicative production effect of information be expanded, (2) autonomous group decision making by ordinary citizens will be promoted, and (3) the dangerous tendency toward a centralized administrative society will be prevented. USENET does allow people to interact with a great variety of information, permits feedback and allows a great deal of conversational permissiveness. It also has many of the elements of a citizen managed utility/network that Masuda envisions, but Dunn's question to what extent do we wish to allocate resources to a utility that enhances social creativity? is still the key question. USENET was originally designed as a task oriented network, but since 1983 social creativity interests have expanded more rapidly than the task oriented interests. Much of the current tension in the system revolves around the older task oriented users versus the new socially oriented users who are generating volumes of social information. USENET is one of the largest decentralized computer conferencing networks in the world. Almost 200,000 people in North America have access to it via their computer terminals and public telephone lines. It is piggybacked onto the UUCP electronic mail network, which has almost one million users on four continents. One can visualize USENET as a sort of giant distributed electronic bulletin board system, where users can initiate or join on-going discussions on a large number of topics. Like on their cork board counterparts, articles concerning the topics are created, posted, and read asynchronously. Participation is at the leisure of the users. USENET originated seven years ago as a medium of exchanging technical information about computers. Today the users have a mixture of academic, corporate, research, and commercial interests, and are not so technically oriented. Postings to the over 280 newsgroups (the discussion forums) show a great diversity. The space shuttle, soap operas, philosophy, celtic culture, and taxes are but a few of the many topics offered in addition to the core newsgroups on computers and software. USENET is a decentralized, distributed network. No one organization has control over its operation. New articles are automatically propagated throughout the system by daily feeds among the larger sites (backbone nodes) who, in turn, pass it on to the local sites. The articles are collected and stored in the computers of each full-feed site for a limited period of time, after which they are deleted or perhaps archived. Information is passed from one site to another over public and private telecommunication lines, with the sender paying the charges (which vary according to the volume sent). The backbone sites, due to their higher volume of transmissions, end up paying the major portion of the costs of USENET's operation. Another important aspect of this network is its incredible rate of growth. At the end of 1980, there were 50 sites, jumping to 500 in 1983. By 1985 there were 2,500 and at the time of this writing the number of sites has reached 6,500. The average traffic per day on USENET is 910 messages, comprising 2 megabytes of information [news.groups 2/5/7 article, ``Readership Summary Report for April 1987'']. In an average two-week period, traffic through seismo, the largest backbone node, was sizeable: 11,213 articles, totalling 21.52 megabytes, were submitted from 1663 different USENET sites by 4269 different users to 261 newsgroups. Sorting this by top-level news grouping, 28% was about recreational topics, 25% was filtered by a moderator beforehand, and 23% were computer oriented [news.lists 22/3/87 article - ``Total traffic through seismo for the last two weeks'']. Along with this incredible growth has come information overload. The system's hardware, software as well as the users are constantly being pushed to the limit of their abilities in trying to cope with the exponentially expanding volume of information. From an individual's perspective one of the most fundamental impacts of hooking into USENET is what Hiltz and Turoff (1985) call superconnectivity. Individuals can potentially access over 280 conference groups. If they decide to move beyond the stage of just reading messages from various groups, they can actively enter into the ongoing conversations. This can increase social connectivity of users tenfold (Hiltz and Turoff, 1985, p. 688). It is not hard to become an information junkie and to crave your daily dose of information. However, the volume and pace of information can become overwhelming, especially since messages are not necessarily sequential and multiple topic threads are common, resulting in information overload. (Ibid., p. 680). To deal with communication overload people and organizations employ coping and/or defensive mechanisms. Coping mechanisms are adaptive. They are concerned with solving the problem that the individual and the organization encounters. Defensive mechanisms, on the other hand, protect the individual or organization from breakdown but do not solve the problem. The USENET administrators have used a variety of filtering (the selective receiving of information) and structuring (that is, reoganizing the newsgroups) mechanisms to deal with overload. The problem is that while the system administrators believe that they have designed useful coping mechanisms for handling overload, many users view those same mechanisms as defensive and destructive. Another approach to problems of overload is to reverse the usual stance of seeking new mechanisms for handling overload and to seek instead ways of reducing the inputs. Given that much of the overload within USENET is created by the volume of socially oriented communication, some users recommend reducing the amount of social communication. However, many of the users who have joined in the last couple of years find the social communication aspects of the system its most relevant. The conflict between these two points of view is quite straightforward. The most popular newsgroups, i.e., those with the highest number of readers, were net.sources and mod.sources (both forums for discussing UNIX-based computers and software), with 17% and 15% of netreaders respectively. The newsgroup with the highest number of postings per month was (for single people, their activities, etc.) with 1,167 articles posted. [news.groups 1/3/87 article - ``TOP 40 NEWSGROUPS IN ORDER BY POPULARITY (FEB. 87)''] With these ideas in mind let us walk you through the growth of the system. In the spring of 1980, computer programmers at Duke University using UNIX operating system software decided to establish a communication connection with their counterparts at the neighbouring University of North Carolina. They developed Version A of the USENET news software to be used by members of Usenix (the UNIX users group). In the fall of that year the University of California at Berkeley connected up to USENET. This was soon followed by AT&T's Bell Laboratories with a mother node in Holmdel, New Jersey. By the end of the first year, USENET had 50 member sites and the volume of communications had begun to strain the original software, designed to handle only a few new articles per day. In early 1982, a team at Berkeley devised Version B of the software. Besides being able to technically process the increased amount of data generated by the growing network, it offered some new capabilities to help users deal with a greatly expanded number of articles to read. Whereas the old version listed all articles by time of reception, Version B allowed messages to be sorted by topic. This cut down on the frustration of users having to scan all posted articles to get to the ones they were interested in. Members of the network could also suggest and discuss improvements via the newsgroup net.sources.\** Eventually, however, complaints about ``garbage'' discussions eventually lead to the elimination of net.sources. By mid-1983 USENET had over 500 sites with 5 to 10 new sites joining every month, and a readership numbering in the thousands. Most of the sites were still at universities and Bell Labs research facilities, though manufacturers of UNIX systems and providers of UNIX-related services were joining in increasing numbers. There was evidence that the user population was shifting from an academic and research community to one including many representatives from the outside world. USENET users were polled to assess feelings about potential surge in membership resulting from the spread of affordable desktop UNIX systems. Some members were concerned about network overload but most favoured continued open access. At that time there were about 100 newsgroups, some from users of ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network-a research network that has had an important influence on the development of networking technology), some regionally distributed, and the rest existing throughout the entire USENET. Users discussed UNIX itself, its programs and applications, and computers in general but the non-technical topics were growing. One-third alone were devoted to hobbies and recreation. Though slight revisions of Version B software enabled USENET to grow into a major network with nodes and gateways to other networks in every continent except Africa and Antartica. By early 1986 it was becoming clear that something major would have to be done to deal with the overload of information. Contributions to the newsgroup news.groups show a lively discussion on the matter. Some maintained the problem was the anarchic nature of the system and therefore some sort of centralized control was needed. One user suggested that a non-profit organization be set up to administer USENET. A rebuttal pointed out the potential danger of lawsuits since a corporation, even a non-profit one, can be held liable for any of its communications. Anarchy means never having to say you're sorry, it seems. Other suggestions centred around technical solutions. For example, suggestions included an upgrading of modems or a satellite connection, as a way to cut the costs of increased volume of transmissions. Still others advocated a more rigorous procedure for creating new newsgroups - advancing from a mailing list to a moderated discussion to free access for all - in order to weed out poorly supported topics. One proposal that was eventually acted upon was for a broader restructuring of newsgroups from two top-level groups (net., to which anyone could contribute, and mod., which were moderated and by invitation only) into seven based on general topic. Over 200 old newsgroups were now to be listed under seven top level groups: comp. (Computers), sci. (Science, Research and Technology), rec. (Recreation), news. (USENET Itself), soc. (Society and Social Topics), talk. (High Volume Discussions) and misc. (Miscellaneous). This re-naming scheme was the result of two months' work, including seven revisions and comments volunteered from approximately forty people. It was intended to facilitate the distribution of newsgroups and not to categorize specific groups by quality. The restructuring would make sys or transmission parameter files shorter and therefore easier to maintain and send by the local news administrators. The creation of the new scheme was implemented in two phases, the first in mid-September of 1986 for the unmoderated groups (roughly half of the newsgroups), and the moderated groups following after the completion of phase two in April 1987. Even with the benefits of the renaming, there was the widely-held opinion by system administrators that volume of net traffic should be reduced. They suggested that ``chatter'' should be kept to a minimum. As one wrote, The talk. groups can be considered to be in a sort of limbo. They (and a few of the soc. groups [singles and women at least]) are essentially on probation. As some of the "backbone" sites have said they would not carry talk after the changeover period is complete, some groups may be considered "killed" if they don't clean up their act. [ 11/8/86 article - "Newsgroup renaming scheme (1 of 2)"]. Moderated groups usually have one or more individuals acting as editors and/or moderators or gatekeepers. Their role is to approve articles before they are published to the net. In general, these groups fall into one of five categories: - Groups with postings of an informative nature not suited to discussion and always originating from a small group of posters. - Groups that have such a high volume that the average reader has a hard time keeping up. The moderated version attempt to provide lower volume and a higher overall quality version. - Groups derived from regular groups that had a variety of netiquette problems. - Groups designed to serve as direct feedback to an off-the-net group. - Groups which are gatewayed into Usenet from an Arpa Internet mailing list. A user writes an article and mails it to the posted submission address which goes directly to the moderator. If the moderator finds the article appropriate it is posted. If the moderator feels that the article is inappropriate it is returned to the user with a suggestion of why it is not appropriate or a suggestion of other newsgroups that might post the article. If the user has a complaint or a question he or she may contact the moderator by mail, or alternatively the user can send mail to a specific mailing list and it is broadcast to all of the current newsgroup moderators. Recently, some USENET participants have expressed a fear that a new software product on the market called UULINK will mean a deluge of new users. UULINK is designed to allow micro-computers with the MS-DOS operating system to connect up to UNIX-based computers, something not previously possible. This means that all IBM and IBM-compatible personal computers will now be able to link up to USENET. Should this fear be realized, the system could be in danger of overloading to the point of collapse. At present, steps are being taken to enable the net to cope with overload, steps which create a great deal of internal conflict among those who are concerned about the character of the net as well as its survival. The issues are not just technical ones, but also centre on politics and power in the USENET community. However, before beginning to discuss the issues, it is important to remember that many of the users of USENET are computing professionals who implicitly reject organizational conventionality. As Sara Kiesler et al. point out: People using electronic mail overstep conventional time boundaries dividing office and home; they mix work and personal communications; they use language appropriate for boardrooms and ball field interchangeably; and they disregard normal convention of privacy (for instance, by posting personal messages to general bulletin boards). This behavior is not counteracted by established conventions or etiquette for computer communication. There are few shared standards for salutations, for structuring formal versus informal message, or for adapting content to achieve both impact and politeness.. From a social psychological perspective, this suggests that computer-mediated communication has at least two interesting characteristics (a) a paucity of social context information and (b) few widely shared norms governing its use (Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire, 1984, p. 1126). The authors then also suggest that in technical problem solving, members of computer-mediated groups might be disorganized, democratically unrestrained, and perhaps more creative than groups who communicate more traditionally, but they might have trouble reaching consensus if there is no clear correct answer and they may not act as cool and fast decision makers. There appears to be quite a bit of truth in that statement in the case of USENET. There is a continuing discussion about politics and power among those who are particularly interested in the evolution of the organization of USENET. Some people on the net believe it should be anarchic, others would like it to be a democracy, and a few pragmatists feel that control should go to those who pay the bills or understand the technology. Judging from the amount of ``flaming'' (net jargon for criticizing in a non-constructive, derogatory manner) against those who are creating changes in the network operation, the debate is heated. Unfortunately, like many discussions of politics, more heat than light is generated. Conflict and confusion have arisen over the lack of any mutually (democratically?) agreed upon procedures for determining policies. Who defines the problems? Who postulates the solutions? Who implements them? Who evaluates the results? These are classic questions that have occupied social philosophers for thousands of years. It is therefore not surprising that they are now posed within USENET, a community struggling to cope with the pressures of rapid growth. The following is not meant to be an in-depth political analysis of the situation but rather an overview of the more salient issues and how they are evolving. While these issues are pertinent to all 180,000 users of the net, there are only a few hundred at most who are active participants in the continuing dialogue on the politics of USENET. These few post their opinions to six newsgroups contained in the top-level group called news, which is about the network itself. According to the February 1987 readership statistics, the most popular of these newsgroups (news.misc) is read by 7.7\% of the membership, about 12,000 people. Thus, at this point anyway, it is impossible to tell just how indicative are the sentiments of the expressive few to the silent majority who follow the issues. Reorganization Much of the dissatisfaction which arose out of the 1986 reorganization of the newsgroups into seven top-level categories was directed at the system administrators of the backbone nodes. It was alleged that: The backbone `cabal' is behind all this and are making decisions without knowing all the facts. We can't have our opinions heard! [ 18/9/86 article -"Comments on Reorganization"]. This ``flame'' was partially correct insofar as the plan to rename the newsgroups was conceived and carried out by a small, select group including backbone site administrators, newsgroup moderators, and a few users with expertise on the net. Those who conducted the renaming replied: No one can know all the `facts' about USENET! It has gotten too big and too much volume for anyone (or group) to be expert at such things. That is one of the problems. The best we can do is combine the experience of the people who produce and maintain the majority of the software and who maintain some of the biggest and/or most strategic sites on the net... We are working as a group to try to steer things in a direction where growth can continue and the net can survive, but not in such a totally unconstrained and expensive manner... We had to present it all as a fait accompli because otherwise the debate would go on forever and nothing would be decided. We also didn't want to open it up to debate by the netters who view their own words on the printed screen as the ultimate truth and artform -- you know the type: endless chatter and no substance. (ibid.) There was a lively set of postings between those who sought to keep the ``noise'' of complaints about the process of re-organization to a minimum and those who stated that such silencing was ``like Hitler and freedom''. Those who wanted to get on with the job seemed to have little patience for those who ``flamed'' without offering concrete alternatives. In the words of one system administrator, Bitching is easy, constructive criticism isn't. Recently, the turmoil has died down. The net has survived and the re-naming has been pronounced a success by the backbone. UUCP Mapping Project There were other projects initiated and carried out by the backbone administrators (or vertebrae according to one) which elicited flames. One was the UUCP Mapping Project. It was developed to give UUCP sites new absolute names and addresses following the conventional domain naming syntax used by ARPA Internet and other large computer networks. UUCP has been using pathalias software which provides source routing rather than conventional system routing, i.e., the user, not the network software, determines the route. The new syntax is designed to reduce the large amount of disk space (2 megabytes) needed for pathalias. The project entails updating each site's software to the new syntax. One flame declared: It's a sure bet that if we get mail from some self-appointed net administration group saying `update or die, scum!' then we'll more likely than not just flip our middle finger in the air and watch what happens. [news.admin 25/3/87 article - "Worms in the Wood-work: the perversion of USENET"]. To those netters who railed against the undemocratic nature of some of the changes instituted in USENET, one system administrator replied, USENET never was and never will be a democracy. It is an anarchy. A democracy implies that there is a binding responsibility to work with the majority belief. USENET has no binding authority. People do what they want to do, and we end up with a result that is the agglomeration of individual choices. Some individual choices are more powerful than others. The backbone, since they take a large financial hit to support the net, has a lot of say... Others... carry power because when they talk, people listen. They've shown that their opinions carry the weight of experience and reasonableness. [news.groups 25/3/87 article - "Re: Worms in the Woodwork: the perversion of USENET"]. It seems that those who have the initiative and the expertise to create netwide changes have the de facto power to do so. However, the influence of public opinion (i.e. the written comments of users) and the costs in terms of time, energy and resources of taking personal initiative, slow down those who would like to exert power. In addition, the backbone ``cabal'' is not a monolithic group and there are certainly antagonisms among different factions. Stargate is an important issue because the experiment raises issues of moderation of newsgroups, costs of participation, copyright restrictions on redistribution of material, and centralized control. In 1984, Usenix (the UNIX users group) began funding a technical experiment to broadcast USENET information via satellite to reduce the high costs of ground-based telecommunications. Usenix funding for the experiment ended the last day of february, 1987. Usenix does not have any current relation with the Stargate experiment. Stargate information Systems (), was formed to manage the undertaking separate from USENET and Usenix. Though originally designed as a non-profit consortium, the five member Stargate team (all volunteers), later decided to consider making it a for-profit venture. The idea was to make use of part of the WBTS (television) vertical blanking interval to transmit USENET newsgroups simultaneously throughout North America. Both Wbts and Startgate buy satellite time from Southern Satellite Services of Douglasville, Georgia. By using the WTBS vertical blanking interval, data becomes available in the vast majority of locations where WTBS can be received, without any special actions or special headend equipment normally being required of the local cable companies. Since the data is in the vertical interval it was normally expected to pass through most cable companies' systems directly to USENET subscribers. People who are not able to get the data from WBTS on cable could buy relative inexpensive home dish satellite equipment. Since the costs of the data broadcast operations are fixed the goal is to be able to lower the per-subscriber rates as the number of subscribers grows. Most other technologies require the addition of substantially more and more equipment (modems, ports, CPU cycles, etc.) as the number of subscribers rise. Stargate does not face this kind of scenario. The experiment was declared a technical success in January 1987 by the Usenix Board of Directors and an experiment subscription phase lasting six months began on June 1, 1987. Moderation of Newsgroups Stargate intends to carry only moderated newsgroups. This is to assure that the most abrasive and obvious of the USENET abuses (both purposeful and accidental) do not occur... In a large and growing network, even if only 1% of the postings are `inappropriate' (misplaced, duplicated content, harassment articles, etc.) it can still add up to a tremendous amount of material. [ 8/9/85 article - "Stargate"]. Moderation is seen by some (especially those who pay the phone bills) as a way to get more bang for the buck, to get higher quality information, particularly technical, without having to wade through a lot of ``noise and chatter''. There is also the advantage of timely discussion without the delays associated with relayed deliveries in a distributed system. Others, however, feel differently about the matter. To one, USENET is like a technical conference. If all that was going on were technical sessions, there would be no point to going (you would just stay home and read the proceedings). However, people go to socialize with colleagues and exchange gossip - companies even pay people to do this. A network of only moderated groups would be akin to a trade show in Albania. [news.stargate 2/5/87 article - "USENET is a paid in full Conference"]. An interesting idea was raised as a way of reducing information overload without resorting to moderation. It was to set a monthly limit to the number of postings allowed each user. These posting credits would be transferable. The controversy elicited by this idea centered around the perceived differences in quality between posters. Equal limits to everyone would be unjust to the ``high-quality'' posters, while setting unequal limits would be ``fascist censorship''. Since this idea is clearly problematic, it is not likely to be implemented in the near future. The judgement of the moderator is presently the only means of screening out postings of poor quality. Another user criticized Stargate as the 15% solution, since only about 15% of the total volume of news on USENET is moderated. There is a general feeling that moderated USENET material alone will not be enough to recover costs and that want ads, part numbers, stock market quotations or some other commercial service must be carried as well. While it depends on the types of services and how they are implemented, it is quite possible that these services could be of an entirely different character from that of USENET. High Participation Costs Since many sites currently access USENET with a local telephone call for free, they may not wish to pay the monthly access fees charged by Stargate. One USENET participant has estimated that less than 50% would be willing to afford the initial costs which he estimates at $2,400/year. [ 10/7/86 article - ``Again ... what is it going to COST?????'']. He also suggests the moderators would want to be paid if others are making a profit from their labour, thus increasing participation costs. He doesn't see Stargate as being viable, especially since they will be competing against the ``old'' ground-based USENET, as well as large centralized bulletin board systems such as Compuserve and The Source. The Stargate Team has not yet come up with a working budget for operations, perhaps preferring to wait until the experimental subscription gives them a better idea of what the costs will be. During the six-month subscription phase the costs would include between $500 and $1000 for a subscription fee as well as $800 for a demodulator and data decoder. A ``buffer box'' to offload most data collection functions from host CPUs may be available at a later date for $400. Another potential problem is defining what constitutes a ``site'' for the purposes of billing. Many companies/universities have one main news machine that fetches the news on behalf of the whole organization, minimizing the cost... Can different campuses of the same company/university redistribute Stargate materials over their tie-lines? How about different divisions of the same campus? How about different machines? How about clusters of workstations and their server?... Where do you draw the line? There had better be one! If you make it very restrictive, Stargate will be out of the question for organizations with many machines; if you make it very permissive, sales will be limited... [news.stargate 20/3/87 article "Stargate, local feeds, and nntp"]. These considerations show that the economic issues are at least as complex as the technical. The control over the development process may go to the creators of a product, but the ultimate power to maintain the existence of the product is in the hands of the consumers who pay for it. Copyright Restrictions on Redistribution If Stargate is to be a viable commercial enterprise, it must have a large subscriber base. This means many more sites than just the backbone nodes. The problem, though, is that if the backbone nodes continue to freely provide their local feeds with the information received, the fees they would be willing to pay Stargate would not be sufficient to maintain the satellite service. This means that the information passing through Stargate has to be proprietary, i.e., copyrighted. Copyrights impose legal restrictions on redistribution of the material without the consent of the owner, in this case Stargate Information Systems. The threat of Stargate imposing such restrictions on material taken from ``public-domain'' USENET, has incensed many USENET participants. Several of them now mark their postings with copyright notices prohibiting any restrictions on redistribution. For example: Copyright 1987 Zhahai Stewart; this article may not be included in any compilation or formulation which restricts further distribution; otherwise it may be freely distributed and quoted. [news.stargate 17/3/87 article - "Re: Restrictions on Stargate"]. Copyright 1987 Kent Paul Dolan. All Rights Reserved. Incorporation of this material in a collective retransmission constitutes permission from the intermediary to all recipients to freely retransmit the entire collection. Use on any other basis is prohibited by the author. [news.stargate 28/3/87 article - "Re: A modest proposal"]. (C) Copyr 1987 John Gilmore; you can redistribute only if your recipients can. [news.stargate 21/3/87 article - "Stargate bullshit]. Stargate does not intend to copyright anything that is in the public domain since this is illegal, it seems. What they will probably do is write into the contract they make with their recipients an agreement not to exercise their right to redistribute any information they get via Stargate. Whether the above examples of copyrights will deter this has not yet been tested in court. Stargate will, however, be able to copyright any information it specifically creates or derives from the public domain. This derivation may take the form of an edited compilation or digest of USENET newsgroups. How much change is necessary to assume ownership is legally moot. One concerned netter wrote: I personally do not want to have the content and expression which I have created and freely given `usurped' by the mere duplication of my title (on someone else's title) at the front of a `digest'. You might or might not succeed in legally defending such a ploy, but it is morally reprehensible... If you are going to try to `steal' my efforts by imposing commercial restrictions, then my check will be in the mail to the first group willing to take you to court. [news.stargate 18/3/87 article - "Re: Restrictions on Stargate"]. A related issue is the confusion over whether Stargate will be a broadcaster or a common carrier. This is a legally ``grey'' area which has yet to be clarified by governmental decree. Since common carriers must not tamper with the material transmitted, many USENETters are advocating that Stargate declare itself a common carrier and carry all net traffic. The feeling, though, is that Stargate must assume, if it is to avoid expensive lawsuits, that it is a broadcaster and is therefore responsible for the contents of its transmissions. Unmoderated newsgroups with their penchant for obscenities and semi-libelous flames, would be too risky for inclusion in this service. Copyrights would also be enforceable in this case. Central Control The main difference, perhaps, between USENET and Stargate is that the former is decentralized while the latter is not. This has great implications for many ``grass-roots'' members of USENET who may not be able to afford membership in the Stargate ``club''. There is a spectre of elitism inherent in the siphoning off of many of the valued, technical, moderated newsgroups from the freely accessible USENET to a forum that is controlled by a small number of people who are making a profit from their power to restrict redistribution. To today's `The Stargate Project', users are both a source of free information as well as a seller's market. We all happily create information, send it to them, they sell it to their subscribers (us) and coerce us into not passing it on for free like we've been doing for years. This is all great except they are charging us both ways - for phone calls to the stargate hub to post things, and for receiving the info coming back down. And they sit in the middle and control it. [news.stargate 21/3/87 article - "Stargate bullshit"]. For many of the people on the system the exchange of ideas, programs, etc. was and still is shareware. To them information on the system is perceived as a resource and they are incensed that some people would change the resource into a commodity. Summary of Stargate Stargate will not mean the end of USENET. As long as there are sites willing to pay for ground-based transmission, USENET will survive. It will not escape unchanged, however. Undoubtedly, many of the moderated newsgroups that remain will be lacking the intellectual expertise of those who choose, for reasons monetary or otherwise, to participate in Stargate-moderated forums. Technology and economics are the two key factors in the development of a computer network. If the product in demand can be delivered more cheaply due to an advance in the technology, the new technology will supercede the old. This was the original aim of Stargate and, for many who are tired of the volume of poor quality postings on USENET, it will be a blessing. The power of the system administrators, especially those of the backbone sites, is absolute. They are able to impose their will over the users of the sites they serve simply because they are the ones paying the telephone bills for the transmission of information. If they decide to cut costs by eliminating newsgroups, they can do so. Net.rec.drugs In June 1986 a user attempted to create a newsgroup called net.rec.drugs. This was not a network ``High Times'' but a serious discussion about the social effects of recreational drugs. Many sites, including backbone sites, refused to carry it. They were perhaps fearful that it would invite trafficking and other illegalities. The response was to flame against this censorship and to create an alternative backbone for the controversial groups that the whole USENET wouldn't carry. This sub-network was termed the Funny Bone. [news.groups 3/4/87 article - ``Ineffectiveness of censorship on an anarchic net'']. It died a quiet death during the Re-organization, but was revived and is carried under alt. now. Only a relatively few sites get it because it is carried on a choice basis. It shows that truly determined users can sometimes succeed in overcoming local control. Newsgroup Cuts In Toronto When the administrator of a backbone node decides that the node can no longer carry certain newsgroups, mainly because of costs or information overload, two things usually happen. First, there are a number of flames about censorship. However, it is hard to argue that ceasing to pay money to support a service donated to other people who do not contribute to its major cost is censorship. Second, if other nodes want to continue to receive the newsgroups that have been dropped they scramble and find an alternate way. In October 1985 the system administrator at utzoo (the backbone node feeding most of Eastern Canada at the time), posted: Effective one week from today...utzoo will cease to accept or forward... net./philosophy, politics, religion, bizarre, flame... The reason for all this is simple: our phone bills are reaching the danger point. That list of newsgroups, with their subgroups, constitutes 25% of recent traffic... Our expenditures on the network are justified in terms of the technical information flow. None of the above groups can be defended in this way. [ 11/10/85 article- "Impending newsgroup cuts"]. One system adminstrator suggests that that this is a perfect example of how anarchy should work: personal initiative and emphasis on personal responsibility. When the inevitable flames appeared he replied, he who pays the piper calls the tune. The cuts were made. Many system administrators have done the same thing in other regions. In this situation as in many others, however, members of local nodes got together and figured out a way to continue carrying the information. USENET is a world wide, cooperative computer communications network distinguished by both its rapid rate of growth and its lack of centralized control. This paper has attempted to descibe this network and point out some of the major issues including its attempts to deal with information overload. While previous literature on the topic of computer networks has not directly addressed the political ramification of information overload, our research on USENET has shown that control on an anarchic network goes to those with the technical expertise to maintain and upgrade the system and those with the money to pay for the transmission of information. Such control is not absolute, however. Censorship on the net can be overcome, given the will, and threats of lawsuits by only a few discontented people can deter the most promising technical innovations. All the indicators in North America and across the world (especially in France) make it clear that USENET will be under considerable pressure to continue its rapid rate of growth not only in the number of users and nodes but also in terms of the volume and variety of information. It does allow people to interact with a great variety of information, permits feedback and in most situations allows a great deal of conversational permissiveness. It is a hybrid network that has many of the elements of a citizen managed utility/network that Masuda envisions, but it is also having adolescent growth pains responding to an external environment that no one foresaw. Some might say there is a generation gap. That is, USENET was originally designed as a task oriented network, but since 1983 the expanding number of users have perceived the social creativity interests to be as useful, if not more useful, than the original tasks. So the ``founding fathers'' who are footing the bill and and spending a great deal of volunteer time keeping the system up and running are saying, we must not forget what the system was originally designed to accomplish. The ``teen age children'', on the other hand, are spending a great deal of time tying up the ``telephone'' and speaking about things which are important to them. The really interesting part is that both groups are technically literate and imaginative and both groups are beginning to tinker with the plumbing of the system/network as well as its architecture. The real question, then, revolves around Dunn's ideas as to how many resources should be allocated to corporate functions and how many to social development functions. A network such as USENET is a wholly new type of community, one with a potential to become uniquely citizen-oriented. As such it can provide a fertile ground for much further research into the nature of human socio-political communication. Stargate, UULINK and UUNET The researchers are continuing to monitor the interaction among Stargate, the UULINK software and UUNET, an alternate transmission system. As of May 1, 1987, the Usenix Association was proud to announce the startup of UUNET, a non-profit, common-carrier, communications service designed to provide access to USENET news, UUCP mail, ARPAnet mail, and various source archives at low-cost by obtaining volume discounts from Tymnet. [news.admin 11/4/87 article - ``UUNET Communications Service Available'']. All of these technologies will continue to bring about important changes in the overall system. Backbone Administrators Currently the researchers are designing an on-line questionnaire directed at the backbone site administrators to gain insights into the problems and rewards of being a backbone site. We are also trying to communicate with other nodes in the system to find out if and how they are able to keep the newsflow going when backbone sites decide to cut off certain newsgroups. Forming New Newsgroups Another area of active concern is the development of new newsgroups. How much difficulty is there is getting a newsgroup off the ground? What is the average lifespan of a newsgroup? Why do certain newsgroups have difficulty getting the proper approvals? What happens when apparently popular newsgroups cannot get approval? In this vein we are also pursuing several projects directed at extending user communities by connecting existing and as yet unconstructed networks into metanetworks. Netiquette How does netiquette change over time? That is, how do people attempt to personalize the medium by simulating visual and verbal cues on the net, using different presentation and writing styles, and individualizing their signatures? There are several other areas that we are currently gathering information on, but it is too early too tell where these trails will lead us. One of our current problems is trying to find appropriate theoretical models that would aid us in understanding the politics of the net. If anyone has a good idea we will be sure to listen. Further Reading: Dordick, Herbert S., Helen Bradley and Burt Nanus, The Emerging Network Marketplace, Ablex, 1981. Dunn, Edgar S., The Information Utility and the Idea of the Public Data Bank, in The Information Utility and Social Choice, AFIPS Press, 1970, pp. 103-122.. Emerson, Sandra L., USENET:A Bulletin Board for UNIX Users, Byte, October 1983, Vol. 8, No. 10, p. 219. Hiltz, Roxanne Starr Roxanne and Murray Turoff, The Network Nation, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1978. Hiltz, Rxanne Starr, Online Communities: A Case Study of the Office of the Future, Ablex, Norwood, New Jersey, 1984. Hiltz, Starr Roxanne and Murray Turoff \tructuring Computer-Mediated Communication Systems to Avoid Information Overload, in Communications of the ACM, July 1985;Vol. 28, No. 7, pp. 680-689. Johansen, Robert, Teleconferencing and Beyond, McGraw Hill, 1984. Katz, Daniel and Robert Kahn, The Social Psychology of Organizations, 2nd ed., Wiley, 1978. Kiesler, Sara, Jane Seigel and Timothy W. McGuire, \ocial Psychological Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication, in American Psychologist, October 1984, Vol. 39, No. 10, pp. 1123-1134. Licklider, J. C. R., \ocial Prospects of Information Utilities, in The Information Utility and Social Choice, AFIPS Press, 1970, pp. 3-24. Masuda, Yoneji, The Information Society, Institute for the Information Society, Tokyo, Japan, 1980. Mosco, Vincent, Pushbutton Fantasies, Ablex, Norwood, New Jersey, 1984. Parker, Edwin, Information Utilities and Mass Communication, in The Information Utility and Social Choice, AFIPS Press, 1970, pp. 51-72. Quarterman, John S. and Josiah C. Hoskins, Notable Computer Networks, in Communications of the ACM, October 1986, Vol. 29, No. 10, pp. 932-971. Rice, Ronald, The New Media, Sage, Beverley Hills, 1984, Taylor,Dave, Personalizing the Impersonal, ;login:, November/December 1986, Vol. 11, No. 6, pp. 5-12. Vallee, Jacques, The Network Revolution, And/Or Press, Berkeley California, 1982