Thursday, April 12, 2012

This Day in History - the Bastids!

Listen my children and you will hear of the internet we hold so dear....

Once upon a time, there was an information superhighway. It was called the internet. Back then, the internet consisted of discussion groups - mostly text messages organized around subjects of interest. You might have posted to a group from your home in Wisconsin asking if anyone had a recipe for lemon butter. The person who posted one might have been from Australia. This was heady stuff back in the day. There were groups based on all kinds of subjects, form food to graphic arts, scientific subjects, and etc. As the early 1990's gave way to the middle of that decade, a new kid on the block showed up. It was called "the World Wide Web". The more technically minded and the more adventurous were going crazy over it.

At the time, I was living in Boston and I subscribed to an internet provider from Cambridge, MA known as Channel One. In the general discussion area, there were daily reports on this "web" thing. Someone had put the text of the Bible online - and it was searchable. Someone had put a site up devoted to a singer - it had a biography, a list of best known songs - and pictures of the artist! And so on. It was an exciting time, full of promise.

It happened without warning on April the 12, 1994. The main international discussion forum and file sharing service was called Usenet. The people who oversaw this internet thing (the National Science Foundation) had decided to end the unofficial ban on using it for commercial purposes. Suddenly, a message appeared in just about every single forum on Usenet. And it didn't just appear once. It was cross posted to many groups at a time - and you would see the message that many times in each group. This broke all the rules of common Usenet form, mores, and civility to only post your message once in each group.

The message was sent by two lawyers in Texa$ (if memory serves). There was to be a United States lottery for "green cards", which allowed folks from other countries to legally live and work in the United States. For a fee, these lawyers would fill out the paperwork for you, their message read. Their names were Laurence Carter and  Martha Siegel. Their internet service provider received so many complaints over the next two days that their mail servers crashed repeatedly, and the lawyers' internet account was terminated.

The lawyers (who were a couple, I think) then started an internet advertising company and wrote a book called "How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway : Everyone's Guerrilla Guide to Marketing on the Internet and Other On-line Services". 

Before one knew what was happening, there were many such messages hitting the discussion groups, so many in fact, that the groups started becoming useless unless they were moderated. In discussing these unwanted messages, someone quoted Monty Python, "but I don't like Spam". The name stuck.

Over the next few years, "spam" infiltrated our email (I get over 300 unwanted messages a day), and commercial sites pushed out the many little web sites individuals had created, and took over the internet. Now, companies like the New York Times, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and even the site of our own small town newspaper, charge subscription fees to read what they consider "their" information whikle they advertise to you. Free sites are also full of advertisements. The blogoshpere became the home to the little, interesting, funky websites by everyday people. The rest of the web now seems to be commercially oriented. Even once great search engines like Google have changed - if you search for a video, Google no longer sees services like "Daily Motion", it only sees "You Tube" - which it owns.

All that was, sadly, inevitable.
And it all got started on this date in 1994 with what became known as the first spam message.
By lawyers, don't'cha know.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

4 comments:

Austan said...

I didn't know most of the above. But I see the parallel to cable tv immediately.

I wish there was a "commercial programming fee" we could charge all these bastids for having to be subjected to their very existence. I rarely get spam, but if one were to add up all the time lost to ads and spam in a lifetime, it's significant.

sdt said...

After I had my phone/internet/tv bundle shut off by Comcast,I got one of those cell phones wihtout a monthly plan - payment is made by buying cards of "minutes". I get charged everytime some freakin' spam bot sends my phone a text message - which costs more than regular phone use. In short, I have to pay for the unwanted ads I am sent!

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

Thanks for that.
I didn't know about those two lawyers.
Not surprising somehow.

I can remember discovering email about 15 years ago and being so excited.

Thank goodness for good spam filters.

Austan said...

I had one of those phones. Hated it with all my heart. They rip you off in the littlest ways. They themselves send you BS, changing the ringtone costs 20 minutes, etc.