My vision of the net:
I believe that if this vision, or something like it, fails, the net
as we know it will be replaced by something like cable TV. Lots
of channels, filled with full color graphics, stereo sound, and
impressive special effects, but (with very few exceptions) very
little actual content. And all which you have to pay for. And all
with ads, too, all the time. Ordinary people will have little ability
to produce content for others to see. E-mail and newsgroups will be
extinct, but there will be vast numbers of incompatible proprietary
pay-per-post web-based conferencing systems. ANSI and RFC standards
will be defunct, replaced by a flurry of incompatible and inefficient
closed undocumented proprietary protocols with planned obsolesense.
Last year's computer, or the wrong brand of computer, won't be able
to view this year's web pages. Nor will users be allowed to program
their own computers, as they might be attempting to break security, or
to view web pages without seeing the ads, or without paying for it.
- Large numbers of newsgroups, all containing little except thoughful
on-topic posts by people who have read the newsgroup charter and FAQ,
and who intend to read any e-mail that's in reply to their post, and
who intend to also watch the newsgroup for followup postings. If they
asked a question, and it's answered in e-mail, they will summarize
the answers in a later posting onto the same newsgroup. If they are
answering a question, they will check to see if someone else has
answered it in the newsgroup, and if not they will answer by e-mail.
- Everyone should take the time to occasionally answer questions on
topics they're familiar with. These answers should be sent via e-mail
to the asker, unless the sender is sure the answer will be of general
interest to the newsgroup, and that nobody else has already posted an
- All newsgroup posts would be signed with the sender's real e-mail
address, as senders would have no fear that spammers would harvest
their address and fill their mailbox with tons of spam.
- Nobody would use X-no-archive headers, as nobody would mind their
posts being archived so that they can be searched for and viewed
months or years later.
- Few newsgroup postings would be more than 10k in length. And they
would not contain any MIME, 8-bit codes, embedded HTML, base64
encoding, VCARD trailers, proprietary file formats, or other non-ASCII
material (except on newsgroups especially set up for that purpose).
Lines would be between 60 and 75 columns long, and would not alternate
between very short and very long. Nor would lines be preceeded or
followed by large numbers of blanks or tabs. The entire posting being
replied to would not be quoted in its entirety, just enough of it to
establish context. The message would contain reasonably literate
grammar and spelling.
- Signatures would be no more than four lines long.
- Jargon and acronyms should be kept to a minimum.
- E-mail would be sent only to people one knows, or in direct reply to
something the recipient had written. Or to opt-in e-mail lists (for
which everything I said about newsgroups apply). E-mail would not
contain any MIME, 8-bit codes, embedded HTML, base64 encoding, VCARD
trailers, proprietary file formats, or other non-ASCII material except
by pre-arrangement with the recipient. Nor would messages more than
about 10k long be sent except by pre-arrangement with the recipient.
- There would be no commerce in lists of e-mail addresses.
- E-mail lists:
- Lists should confirm subscription requests by requiring the subscriber
to promptly reply to the confirmation request. This is to prevent
"subscription bombing" in which someone signs up someone else for
large numbers of lists without the victim's permission in order to
flood the victim's mailbox.
- Lists should send a brief message once a month to all recipients
reminding them that of what the list is, and that they are signed
up, where the FAQ and/or charter are, and how to unsubscribe.
- It should be possible to unsubscribe even if one can't send from the
address the subscription is going to, using the same mechanism as is
used to confirm subscriptions.
- Subscription and (especially) un-subscription requests should be dealt
- Users should not post unsubscribe requests to the whole list. Nor
should they reply on-list to anyone who does. Nor should they reply
on-list to anyone who does reply on-list to someone who posts an
unsubscribe request to the whole list.
- On any "open list" (one to which anyone may subscribe)
it should be allowed to forward list messages to others not on the
list, and to maintain an archive of the list, without anyone's
permission. Any list for which this is NOT allowed should make this
very clear to all recipients.
- People should be encouraged to maintain world-readable archives of
open lists, newsgroups, and other material. It's not reasonable for
anyone to demand to have their posting altered or removed from such
- Web pages:
- Web pages should not rely on graphics, sounds, special fonts, color
codes, or anything requiring special plug-ins, add-ons, cookies,
is being conveyed, it should be readable by anyone with any browser.
(That's not to say graphics shouldn't be used, just that the graphics
should not be essential to readers, unless the intended content consists
primarily of the graphics rather than the text.)
- HTML should conform to HTML standards, and never include any
proprietary extensions, as those cause the web page to be unreadable
by most browswers.
- Web pages should be kept as simple and as small as possible.
Not everyone has lightning-fast modems, or the latest version of
- People should volunteer to help make the net a better place.
Volunteering includes running opt-in e-mail discussion lists,
submitting updates to FAQs on subjects about which one is
knowledgable, answering questions seen on newsgroups or via e-mail
discussion lists, promptly reporting spams to the sender's ISP and
to the appropriate authorities, maintaining archives, assisting new
users, and (if one has the skills) writing and maintaining open-source
- ISPs should maintain a diversity of account types. PPP accounts
aren't for everyone. Nor are shell accounts. Nor advertising-
supported free web-based accounts. There's room for all of these,
and much more.
- ISPs should continue to support established network utilities such as
archie, bootp, finger, ftp, gopher, imap, irc, listserv, majordomo,
netnews, nntp, nslookup, ping, pop, rarp, rlogin, smtp, ssh, talk,
telnet, tftp, traceroute, uucp, veronica, and whois. Both incoming
and outgoing. The net consists of much more than web pages and
- Each ISP should have someone watching the abuse mailbox 24 hours
a day, 7 days a week. Someone empowered to take immediate action
against spammers, mailbombers, crackers, and other abusers.
- Spammers' accounts should be deleted immediately, and the spammers
billed for the cleanup costs. Spammers include not just people who
spam from the ISP, but also those who have drop-boxes there, and those
who have web pages there, while spamming from elsewhere. However,
careful precautions should be taken against false accusations and
- New users should be warned never to spam, and never to do business
- New users should be warned never to give their password to anyone,
including people who claim to work for the ISP.
- New users should be warned that lists of e-mail addreses claimed to be
for people who are interested in receiving advertisements via e-mail
are invariably fraudulent.
- New users should be warned not to forward chain letters, whether
they're intended to make money, to warn about viruses, or to solicit
greeting cards for a poor dying boy. Not even if they claim to have
been started by Bill Gates or by Walt Disney Jr.
- Every ISP should accept abuse reports at abuse@ and at postmaster@
- Every ISP should keep its Internic and Arin records up to date.
And its web page.
- When replying to a spam report, an ISP should not include the entire
spam in the reply.
- When replying to a spam report, general information on how to report
spams should not be included more than once per month per user.
(Someone who reports ten unrelated spams from the same site in the
same day doesn't need to see the same text ten times.)
- ISPs should confirm that a caller is who they claim to be, before
deleting an account or changing its password.
- Governments should enforce existing laws against fraud,
harassment, and theft of services. It should treat the net just like
anything else. Actions don't become illegal on the net that aren't
illegal elsewhere. Conversely, actions don't become legal on the net
that aren't legal elsewhere. Neither does the net require any new laws.
- Recognize that spammers are criminals, not businessmen, and that spam
recipients are crime victims, not consumers.
- Every commercial transaction that's possible on the net should also be
possible off the net.
- Anything that's possible with a credit card should also be possible
- There should be no commerce in lists of e-mail addresses. At
least not without the persmission of the owners of those addresses.
And since it's extremely unlikely that anyone would knowingly offer
their address as an unlimited garbage bin, any such list of addresses
claimed to be of people who WANT spam should be treated with extreme
- Everyone should avoid proprietary standards. Everyone should avoid
undocumented standards. People (and programs) should conform as
closely as possible to as early and as general a set of open standards
as possible when sending (e.g. plain ASCII, the RFCs, ANSI standards),
and be as tolerant as possible when receiving.
- News media:
- Recognize that the net wasn't invented yesterday.
- Recognize that the net is part of the real world, not something
separate from it.
- Recognize that the net consists of much more than the web.
- Recognize that spammers are criminals.
- Recognize that global or universal spam remove lists have been tried
many times before, have never worked, and never can work.
- Recognize that pornography is a very small proportion of the material
available on the net.
- Recognize that many capabilities reported as having been newly
invented (e.g. "instant messaging") have actually been in widespread
use for years, often decades.
- Recognize that someone doesn't need the latest model computer to get
on the net. Or any computer at all. It's perfectly possible to use the
net via a cheap used ten year old terminal and a cheap used ten year old
2400 bps modem. One doesn't need more computer power than it took to
put a man on the moon to send and receive e-mail, or to find out what's
playing at one's local movie theater and whether one should bring an
- Be skeptical of hype. Ask exactly what benefit there is to placing
every office worker's desk and every schoolchild's desk on the net.
Last updated February 17th, 2002.