Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Net 0.9 is relevant to Web 2.0

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-07-24


It’s easy to be cynical about prognostications about "Web 2.0", social networking, and the impact on society.  Therefore, it’s worthwhile dragging out some bits of ancient history that I was involved in, when we were busy inventing proto-LoL over "talk(1)" because bandwidth was slower than typing, creating social networks and proto-blogging.

So here’s a bit of history for web newbies who want to think about where we might be going.

First, the web has been a bit of a disappointment to us old idealistic types from usenet, with commercialization running rampant, yet still, the social activism we’d exhibited and hoped for has continued.  Why will Web 2.0 be any different?

Later, I’ll show examples of proto-blogging when I maintained the unofficial Oracle FAQ (before companies started having parts of their web devoted to user fora), but now, I’ll copy and paste from a relatively well-known 1992 post that has been kept by a number of archives (including here and here) and referenced as an important historical document in a book section devoted to commercialization of the internet (see extract here)

You see me in this piece, and I’m still going on about karma and giving back… as well as the old "oz" email address.  Remember, this is before adoption of HTML and HTTP.

Newsgroups: news.misc
From: cheekai@ncb.gov.sg (Chin Chee-Kai)
Subject: Why are Internet Resources free?
Message-ID: <1992Dec22.134514.19139@iti.gov.sg>
Organization: National Computer Board, Singapore
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1992 13:45:14 GMT
Lines: 178

About three weeks back in early Dec 1992, I posted the following question:
+++++ Why Are Resources Free On The Internet? +++++

I am pleased to have received many generous comments and ideas from interested netters out there. It’s been very enlightening reading your responses to the question. Many thanks to the following people (in order of date of receival):

  Edward Vielmetti (emv@msen.com)
  Karleen S. Davis (ksdavis@silver.ucs.indiana.edu)
  Chris Fedde (chris@engineer.mrg.uswest.com)
  David Datta (datta@cs.uwp.edu)
  Tom Fitzgerald (fitz@wang.com)
  S. Spencer Sun (spencer@phoenix.princeton.edu)
  Jon Alperin (jona@iscp.bellcore.com)
  Joshua Yeidel (yeidel@tomar.accs.wsu.edu)
  Paul E. Hoffman (phoffman@holonet.net)
  Paul Terray (popaul@binkley.cs.mcgill.ca)
  Klaus Dimmler (klaus@cscns.com)
  Chris Siebenmann (cks@hawkwind.utcs.toronto.edu)
  Stavros Macrakis (macrakis@osf.org)
  Eric Hammond (Eric.Hammond@sdrc.com)
  David T. Bath (dtb@otto.bf.rmit.oz.au)
  Ray Harwood (RHARWOOD@east.pima.edu)

Below is the full text of my review paper on my posted question. I am leaving a copy of this posting in the gopher tunnel at ncb.gov.sg (port 70) under “The Internet and Beyond/Why are Internet resources free?”. As our site does not support anonymous-ftp, I apologize to those who cannot reach this document through such means.
Chin Chee-Kai
Dec 22, 1992


Why Are Resources Free On The Internet?
Chin Chee-Kai IT Architect
National Computer Board, Singapore
Dec 1992

The Internet resources are, of course, never quite “free” in the sense of absence of cost of investment, as was quickly pointed out by Chris Fedde (chris@engineer.mrg.uswest.com) from USWEST Marketing Resources, Klaus Dimmler (klaus@cscns.com), and Eric Hammond (Eric.Hammond@sdrc.com). The machines, storage devices, network equipments, software, services, and maintenance are all heavily or completely subsidized by national, state, organization funds, and personal time or money. However, many resources are publicly accessible without charge, regardless of the expenses incurred in setting up and maintaining the services. Information and services are offered in forms of anonymous-ftp, menu-driven telnet sessions, gopher accesses, WAIS information searches, and archives of enormous suites of softwares, library catalogs, documentations, books, technical reports, and discussions. These represent only part of what the entire Internet has to provide for free as long as one has full Internet accesses. This paper attempts to collate views on the phenomena of such free service provisions to the Internet. The resulting collection of views reflect that reasons for providing free Internet services go beyond just administrative policies and decisions, and extend to such social etiquette of doing good for the public.

The Internet has an origin from the universities and academic institutions where most information is freely and publicly shared. Paul E. Hoffman (phoffman@holonet.net) pointed out that because of this, majority of the users who are either academics, recent graduates, or people who would love to be back at college where information is by-and-large free are perfectly at ease with providing information and services free-of-charge over the Internet. Some even think that restricting or charging for access to frequently required information is unreasonable, intellectually stiffling, and immoral. This opinion is joined by Chris Siebenmann of University of Toronto, Canada (cks@hawkwind.utcs.toronto.edu). On a slightly different tone, Paul Terray from Canada (popaul@binkley.cs.mcgill.ca) thinks that the universities are not run for commercial business and therefore think more in terms of possibilities than money. This could possibly explain why most archiving sites for information, sharewares and freewares are found in universities and academic institutions, where knowledge dissemination is the chief activity.

People who maintain certain services contribute their times with various reasons. Joshua Yeidel (yeidel@tomar.accs.wsu.edu) who services NetNews by responding to postings at Washington State University does it with a personal belief that “what goes around, comes around”. There are some who, after benefiting from the use of the Internet, decide that they should in turn provide their contributions to better the collection of Internet services. For instance, David T. Bath (dtb@otto.bf.rmit.oz.au), Senior Technical Programmer of Global Technology Corporation in Australia, provides free service of posting answers to questions and some program codes so as to “balance the karma” — in other words to take and to give. There are also some who feel that it is being fair that they should also provide some kind of services to the Internet public when they have been enjoying the services provided by others. David Datta from University of Wisconsin – Parkside runs a music archive at ftp.uwp.edu, and is using his (unpaid) personal time to maintain the site because it makes him feel good about providing a service to the Internet public, and at the same time gives him a means of learning the various human and machine aspects of keeping a public domain archive alive and useful.

People who believe that no-cost (or low-cost) computing should be available to one-and-all demonstrate it by providing exactly such kind of services. An example pointed out by Karleen S. Davis (ksdavis@silver.ucs.indiana.edu) is the Nyx free Internet site at nyx.cs.du.edu where Internet accounts are allocated to applicants free-of-charge. The ‘Philosophy of Nyx’ column explains their proof-of-concept approach to the setup of Nyx. Things are run on donated hardware, and personnel times involved in maintaining the system are contributed by a number of those who hold the Nyx spirit. On the other hand, Tom Grundner’s Freenet is perhaps a notable largescale manifestation of free computing concept. In this case, Case Western Reserve University provided some seed resources (such as hardware and Tom Grundner himself) to initiate a ‘big bang’ which eventually grows by community effort to its current size. The ‘Concept’ section of Freenet says it all:

“Everything … is there because there are individuals or organizations in the community who are prepared to contribute their time, effort, and expertise to place it there and operate it over time. This, of course, is in contrast to the commercial services which have very high personnel and information acquisition costs and must pass those costs on to the consumer.”

On the commercial side, Edward Vielmetti (emv@garnet.msen.com), Vice President for research in Msen Inc., highlighted that the technology to bill for network services is still immature. His company has thus decided to provide some services for free. Tom Fitzgerald (fitz@wang.com) from Wang Labs likewise thinks that the cost of tracking authorized users and billing for them for using certain services will end up more than doubling the required investments in resources and personnel. Both James Deibele (jamesd@techbook.com) and Stavros Macrakis (macrakis@osf.org) also remarked that there has not been much in the Internet establishment to support a rational chargeback scheme. The lack of provably cost-effective means of charging for network services has prompted certain vendors and companies to offer some useful services for free. Besides, Edward Vielmetti added, free services might get his company’s name sufficiently well-known to sell things for money. They also help in attracting contracts and consulting for the company. David T. Bath concurs that free services enhance the reputation of his company, and place his company in a more advantageous position than those who don’t provide similar services. This way of attracting business is also noted by Jon Alperin (jona@iscp.bellcore.com) from Bellcore.

Furthermore, Jon Alperin feels that not all can afford or are interested in bearing the overheads incurred in selling, supporting, maintaining and protecting softwares. This is particularly true for amateur and part-time programmers, although they are not necessarily the only group of people who may possibly bear these overheads. He offers this as a possible reason for the freewares and softwares found on most anonymous FTP sites. On the other hand, one’s ego sometimes prompts one to offer something for free in the hope of being praised or given encouraging feedbacks. Eric Hammond (Eric.Hammond@sdrc.com) likewise feels that the satisfaction of seeing others run his software and services gives him further inspiration to provide public domain services.

In conclusion, the reasons for the free-service phenomenon found on the Internet appears to be related to the following (presented in no particular order):

  1. The Internet’s orgin is a non-profit network.
  2. Most academic nodes on the Internet has an obligation to disseminate knowledge.
  3. Smaller nodes owned by academic-related people (eg recent graduates) tend to continue the tradition of (2).
  4. “Balance the karma (or zen)” theory — one should inject information and services into the net when one is using information and services provided by others.
  5. Doing something good for the network public.
  6. Proof of ideas that dictate free-computing and free information for everybody.
  7. Technology to charge for information services is still immature and large overheads are incurred if charging is imposed.
  8. Free services help in promoting commercial companies’ reputation, and put them in a more competitive position than those who don’t.
  9. Amateurs and part-timers cannot bear the costs involved in marketting, supporting, and maintaining their services (or programs). So providing things for free or charge-by-trust become the alternatives.
  10. Boost of ego and personal satisfaction to see others use one’s services.


End of Usenet Paper


I’ll draw your attention to the issue of charging model difficulties as an enabler of free services by default – and the practice of WordPress for example to give free hosting until you want to use your own CSS.  The development of easier micropayments (if security issues ever get accepted by enough of the population) will further tend to make more of the net work on a user-pays basis.  That said, services for advertising were only hinted at in the above paper.

Now, for some vintage Dave Bath style from a series of technical articles issued monthly that later became merged into web-pages still available here about database design.  The smart-arse tone is not dissimilar to the tone of a lot of blogs today. First, on the need to get suits to get their ideas right before wanting the techies to start working:

Get the business model and requirements done first. This should not involve ANY data modelling.

Here is the difficult part: getting the business types to agree on what they want, and stick to it. Given that most of the droids who want new systems have a cargo-cult mentality to software, believing that somehow software (and analysts) are psychic and will magically do what they want, they have no idea how much effort it takes to develop an accurate business model/spec – and sure as hell they don’t want to pay for it. (At least not now. They much prefer the expense to show up as bug reports and fixes – it looks like you caused the problem not them. But the company will pay in the long run.)

People forget the basic rule of computers: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out. And most business requirements reflect this amnesia. Just because a spec weighs in at 50 kilgrams does not mean it is any good.

Here’s another bit about normalizing databases.

If you must denormalize your data, do so AFTER normalizing and have damn good reasons for doing it.

To normalize, or not to normalize; that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in design to suffer the slings and
arrows of waiting project leaders, or use packages against a sea
of redundancies, and by encapsulation, control them.
To hang, to crash — No more, and by a crash I say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural locks that databases are
heir to, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

The wheel turns, but it’s the same wheel.  The more things change the more they stay the same.

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3 Responses to “Net 0.9 is relevant to Web 2.0”

  1. […] Advocacy/Information Exchange/Social Change:  I’ve actually been "blogging" since the usenet days before the web was invented, contributing to moderated newsgroups such as comp.sources.unix, regularly answering ad hoc questions on languages such as C and sh, and maintaining a personalized FAQ-with-attitude for Oracle database (comp.databases.oracle) issues (since webbified and archived here with a typical page (on database design hints and diatribes) here  Such information sharing with a wide audience (although back in the old days it was predominantly among mil, edu, gov and large com types) was important then, helping foster openness and exerting pressure that is leading to the possibility of greater citizen engagement via eDemocracy.  A moderately influential article on this was written by Chin Chee Kai of the National Computer Board of Singapore in 1992 Why Are Resources Free On The Internet? which explores the motivations of people like myself (you’ll see me mentioned a couple of times), and my notes about this paper here. […]

  2. hey dave, good to see this post again.

    Ed (formerly emv@msen.com)

  3. Dave Bath said

    Edward Vielmetti:

    My! But you got in fast to the request for info, didn’t you!

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