SURFING THE WILD INTERNET
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This document was installed in the WELL gopher with the permission of the copyright holder. Permissions for further distribution must be obtained from SRI. Contact [email protected] 03/19/93 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- SURFING THE WILD INTERNET Thomas F. Mandel Scan No. 2109 SRI International Business Intelligence Program March, 1993 Copyright 1993 by SRI International Business Intelligence Program. All Right Reserved. Contact the author ([email protected]) for further information or copies. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY SRI International Futurist Tom Mandel describes the history, rapid growth, and varied interactions on internetworked computer systems such as the Internet. Developed from research-related university and government communications systems, the Internet is now doubling in size each year. The entire global electronic information matrix, which includes the Internet, will probably reach more than 500 million users by the end of this century. As a significant part of the infrastructure for the emerging information society, the Internet reveals the major new issues created by a world where copyright replaces property right, theft becomes invasion of privacy, and the realities of social interactions include on-line personas, information addiction, virtual coffee houses, and lovers who tryst without ever meeting through the exchange of e-mail and sexually explicit graphics files. In this electronic community, a "new frontier" ethic among collaborative users motivates continuing user innovation in communications software, information filters, and encryption programs. The first truly wide-membership global community, the Internet has created and will continue to innovate new versions of work and play, love and crime in human society. The major future uncertainty concerns the evolving boundaries of this network, the network's ultimate penetration into corporate and personal spaces, and the dynamic effects of increasing interconnectivity on economies, nations, and values. SURFING THE WILD INTERNET Computerized communications networks such as the Internet create the technical foundation of the information society. Its rapid growth and varied interactions define the norms and aspirations of this new world. One forecast that has proved true about the information society is the rapid emergence of computer/communications networks. Throughout the late 1980s and into the present, no corners of the information infrastructure exist where connectivity (linked computers and communications systems) and internetworking (networks of computer networks) are not growing explosively. The business, social, and political consequences of increasingly dense connectivity will be far reaching, and the patterns of change are visible in the activities already going on. Outside the public switched telephone network-the global computerized telephone systems-the Internet is the world's largest computer internetwork. It developed in the early 1980s, as a restructuring of the U.S. Department of Defense-funded ARPANET computer network, to connect several hundred university and U.S. government mainframe computers (hosts) for the exchange of electronic mail (e-mail), information, and computing resources. Since 1986, the number of computer hosts on the Internet has grown at approximately 100% per year, and by January 1993, the Internet connected more than 1 300 000 hosts in nearly all major countries (see Figure 1). No one knows how many people access Internet computer services, but estimates range from 8 million to 15 million people worldwide-and these estimates exclude users on hosts that, for security reasons, are invisible on the Internet system. Although growth of the Internet in the United States is slowing down (to 80% in the past year), growth elsewhere in the world is just starting to take off. For example, the number of hosts increased 200% in the United Kingdom last year (where Internet hosts now number more than 58 000) and increased some 170% in Japan, with nearly 24 000 hosts (see Items Worth Noting in the February Scan). [Figure 1 deleted from this electronic version. It illustrates the growth of Internet hosts from about 200 in 1981 to roughly 1.3 million as of January, 1993. Source: SRI International.] Growing alongside the Internet are the tens of millions of users of a number of packet data networks such as Sprintnet, BT (British Telecom) Tymnet, and Compuserve Packet Network and the tens of thousands of companies worldwide that link employees with private local- and wide-area networks-many of which connect to an internetwork. According to John Quarterman, publisher of Matrix News, these corporate computer networks are together already at least as large as the Internet itself. Cellular radio networks such as Viking Express and Ardis now provide interconnectivity to notebook computer users, and-in the near future-telephone systems will offer digital information services that will effectively make them large internetworks as well. New internetworking standards that have rapidly evolved during the past five years ensure that the complexity and connectivity of these different networks and internetworks will increase by several orders of magnitude in the 1990s. At the end of this decade, internetworks will link several hundred million computers together, and the total number of users with access to the global electronic information matrix will exceed 500 million. More interesting than the sheer volume of communications are the mostly unpredicted new behavior and social phenomena that the internetworks nurture. An overview of the major developments hints strongly at both the bright and the dark aspects of the emerging information society. People's Need to Talk One of the most rapidly growing categories of exchanged files on the Internet is personal communications. Today e-mail and facsimile mail are the two most rapidly growing new media for direct connection between individuals, businesses, and other organizations. Experimental network connections for e-mail between politicians and the public have existed for many years, started by telecommunications visionaries such as Dave Hughes in Colorado, but now these experiments are spreading rapidly. During the 1992 election campaign, President Clinton's campaign staff publicized an e-mail address through which the public could ask questions, express opinions, and provide or receive information. Compuserve still maintains an e-mail connection to Clinton's staff, and reports suggest that members of Congress will soon be addressable via Internet e-mail. Because these channels can support the same question-and-answer format that President Clinton has popularized through televised town-hall meetings, internetworking will likely accelerate the change in the power relations of public political dialog. Prodigy, the largest (in number of users) U.S. interactive consumer information service, recently announced that it would offer e-mail services to and from the Internet. Because e-mail addresses are usually on password-secure personal computers, e-mail can exceed the postal service as a private, secure communications channel. As a result, even love and sex occur through electronic messages. Some users get to know each other in newsgroups (see below) and Internet Relay Channel (IRC), start flirting, and carry on long-distance electronic relationships without ever meeting. Occasionally one even runs into the network equivalent of obscene phone calls. And some user groups create text and digital graphic files of erotica, then swap these files electronically with other Internet users. These examples are also the first public efforts to use the Internet for primitive multimedia communications. Real-time conferencing channels are much smaller than e-mail services, which can exchange mail with almost all major private and public networks through the Internet. The first computer businesses to offer real-time computer conferencing services quickly discovered that their customers liked to banter in real time about life-style and personal interests. The Internet developed "chat" features as a result. One of these features-IRC-provides real-time communications to thousands of users worldwide at hundreds of different sites. IRC's structure has different "channels," not unlike conference telephone calls, that may address any topic, from research to postadolescent prattle. Some channels are completely private. Most, but not all, IRC participants are college students using university Internet hosts around the world. Within an IRC channel, it is not unusual to banter simultaneously with users in Taiwan, Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Time-zone differences matter little to the night-owl habitues of the IRC "virtual cafe." And English is the language making global chat possible (much as English created a global rock music culture). Other, better-designed real-time conferencing systems, such as Scott Chasin's 4m (for forum), are emerging to meet the growing demand for conferencing that is less chaotic and spirited than often prevails in IRC. Global Computer Conferencing When the ARPANET started, a number of users developed programs so that they could discuss subjects of interest to them in text versions of round-table discussions. A system of "newsgroups" and later "mailgroups" emerged that users can enter through the Internet, USENET (a network of Unix and other systems), BITNET (a network of college systems), and other networks. Users "subscribe" to the newsgroups of their choice, which are available to their host computer systems; they read and respond to text messages within directories that define specific topics of interest. The more private mailgroups go to individual subscribers rather than hosts, and membership in some (such as mailgroups discussing computer security) is restricted to qualified people. Early newsgroups focused on computer use-an early group addressing "computer risks" still thrives today-and science fiction. By the mid-1980s, just before the Internet started growing rapidly, perhaps 300 different newsgroups were available over thousands of computer systems. Today, more than 3000 such newsgroups are available to more than 1 million hosts and perhaps ten times as many individual users. The public electronic file listing all known mailgroups is some 300 printed pages long. Though many newsgroups are technical, the most active address social, political, recreational, and other special interests. The technical information frontiers have rapidly transformed into habitats for personal and everyday use, and on a global scale. Freedom of Information The Internet is awash with information, both useful and banal. In a very real sense, the entire Internet (and other internetworks) is becoming one extremely large, globally distributed, and mostly public electronic library, post office, and discussion forum. The Internet evolved with a strong and explicit philosophy of sharing information (mail, documents, programs, data, and graphics), and that perspective has dominated how the system works today. The internetwork has evolved into a web of public and private channels bounded by explicit security barriers. Occasional network horror stories-such as the 1989 computer "worm" originated by a Cornell University graduate student, which incapacitated hundreds of public and private computers on the Internet system-have actually improved the overall reliability and security of internetworking. In this context, a distinctive new-frontier ethos has developed among Internet users, championing the free exchange of information and the intricate new issues of on-line etiquette, expression, and user protections against vandalism, harassment, invasions of privacy, and commercial solicitations. These users' credo is "Information wants to be free." Texts from the Internet Library The originating purpose of the Internet was the exchange of computer files, and this exchange remains a primary activity on the network. A basic Internet tool is FTP, a program that enables users to move files from one Internet computer to another. Some large corporate and university systems maintain large public FTP directories-"anonymous FTP sites"-listing all the files available to public access. But as the Internet grows, simply finding where programs are located becomes increasingly difficult, so easy-to-use search tools make this task easier. Archie, one of the most widely used programs, can locate the more than 2.1 million computer programs in the Internet public FTP directories, according to Ed Krol, author of The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. An Archie search is usually straightforward and simple; it can take as little as a minute to identify specific programs worldwide that are publicly available via FTP. Archie is relatively crude compared to newer programs to search for information on the Internet. Gopher burrows through indexes of files; presents the contents much like a multiwindow, interactive card catalog in a library does; and lets the user browse the contents of selected documents. Different Gopher servers provide access to different kinds of information on different parts of the Internet-from UPI press feeds as an indexed resource to entire libraries of books. WAIS (Wide Area Information Service) is a newer and more sophisticated Internet information searching program (see D92-1612, Wide-Area Information Servers: An Executive Information System for Unstructured Files). WAIS lets users ask simple questions, essentially searching WAIS-directoried files available on the Internet for particular words and phrases, and refining keywords until they locate desired files. Some 250 WAIS libraries are currently available free on the Internet, maintained by volunteer effort and donated computer time. Commercial services such as Dow Jones Information Service also use the WAIS interface to provide searchable information on a for-fee basis. Computer Fun and Games Internet users were quick to use internetworking for recreation. Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand (in "Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums," Rolling Stone, December 1972) first described the tendency of mainframe-computer programmers to create and play new computer games for hours on end. This phenomenon is repeating on the Internet but with a new twist: During the past several years, several hundred interactive, multiuser simulation games (or environments)-MUDs and MUSEs-have popped up on Internet hosts. MUD stands for Multiuser Dungeons and Dragons and MUSE, which is more generic, means Multiuser Simulation Environment: computer versions of board adventure games. Several hundred MUDs and MUSEs are now running on mostly university-based Internet systems, and many are accessible from elsewhere on the network. MUSE users take advantage of special computer languages to create in-text fantasy environments that can interact with each other as if their individual MUSE were a real world. Most MUSEs are wild, chaotic science fiction or fantasy worlds, but some are very serious experiments. Cyberion City, a MUSE that "lives" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a multilevel "spaceship" being designed, built, and constantly modified by elementary, high school, and college students (and a few adults). Several computer research companies are exploring the MUSE medium, and at least one graphical MUSE interface is under development in Europe. Many of these simulations are available on the Internet. Semi-Intelligent Bots Finally, semismart software programs-bots (for robots) are appearing in certain parts of the Internet. These programs reside in various applications and perform tasks tailored to an individual user's needs. Some IRC users program bots to record conversation, note the arrival of and send messages to special friends, and provide information on request to other users. In the MUSE world, bots can be programmed with distinct personalities; in Cyberion City, the fashion is to create a personal bot that will greet visitors to the user's simulated world when the creator is not logged on. Bots represent the first user-programmed steps toward true network agents-programs that will perform specific services for individual users anywhere on the network. Besides performing these explicit communications functions, the Internet is effectively an experimental social system, inhabited by computer-literate people and shaped by the infrastructures, standards, protocols, expertise, and values that enable communications through the internetwork system. The major implications of this new system emerge from the patterns of interaction already visible within it: o An information community. Internetworkers share only information, and this focus profoundly redefines the basic issues of human community. Copyright replaces property right, computer security replaces home security, file erasure replaces arson, freedom from harassment replaces invasion of privacy. The materialistic, racial, gender, and occupational stratification of society is superseded on the Internet by a new class structure based on expertise, connectivity, access, and "on-line persona." This change redefines the power and privacy assumptions that developed around other communications: The techniques of mass-media advertising and personal solicitation are widely scorned by the internetworking population. Politics, work, and recreation are undergoing redefinition as well. o Information junkies, information overload, and hypersegmentation of interest. The new information world has revealed human psychological tendencies and limitations unknown a decade before and is penetrating and opening individual lives in unexpected ways. Curiosity and facility with network tools are creating a growing number of people extremely adept at gathering information off the Internet and connected systems. Some of them have become information junkies, avidly collecting trivia just for the sake of the search. Addiction to network personal communications and discussion groups is a problem for others. The Internet defines new kinds of addiction, abuse, and "cyberpathological behavior." Users less avid for information sometimes complain of information overload-a rare complaint just a few years ago but one that is common today. One result is that new kinds of message-handling and filtering programs are emerging, creating personal windows of interest through which unwanted information may not pass. Individual "bozofilters" allow newsgroup users to avoid seeing postings by irritating cosubscribers, and "killfile" commands let wire-service subscribers exclude news on particular topics. With 3500 newsgroups and a third as many mailgroups, users must focus quickly on what matters most, creating a hypersegmentation of interest areas. Specific newsgroups exist on a broad range of social, legal, and business issues (in the United States, Germany, Australia, and other countries); on software; on computer hardware; and on nearly every sport and hobby imaginable. These tools will accelerate a trend toward narrow but intensive information and communications that enhance personal identity and overlapping, highly collaborative communities of interest. The diversity of Internet microsegments will undoubtedly increase as more users come on-line, but frontier innovation may become a fringe user activity as more conventional, middle-class user groups emerge. o Collapse of boundaries and codes of privacy. The Internet and other parts of what John Quarterman calls "the information matrix" are timeless and placeless. A message sent by a student in Melbourne in the evening is read immediately in the morning by another in Ohio; conversations go on continually in IRC; information searches and transfers keep the network alive 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. National boundaries are essentially meaningless on the network: Interaction, trade, crime, and surveillance occur continually and in a global context. Although many countries' laws restrict the movement of many kinds of information without special permission, no real physical or electronic barriers exist to distributing information from one country to another in seconds. The most important boundary issues concern personal privacy and information security. The early Internet and many of the computer systems on it were vulnerable to snoopers and computer crackers, and the growth of the network has complicated security concerns enormously. But the network was designed to be relatively open, and many underbudgeted systems administrators are lax about security. As a result, users seeking privacy have designed their own encryption programs for personal communications and files. Despite threats by U.S. and other government agencies to control encryption resources legally because encryption software may facilitate computer-related crime, the genie of personal encryption is already out of the bag. Internet-based programs to encrypt host-to-host communications are also emerging. o Collaborative work and grass-roots community ethics. Government intrusion on the encryption issue rubs raw against the new-frontier standards of the Internet community. The Internet is itself the outstanding achievement of collaborative computer work among a large number of computer and communications professionals working together on a wide range of specific projects over a long period-a model for high-technology work of the future. Newsgroups and mailgroups and the programs to read and post to them were all the result of small groups of people thinking up new and better ways to exchange information, an impetus that has doubled the number of newsgroup reader interfaces in the past two years. These activities also reflect the new-frontier camaraderie among users. Some of the best e-mail interfaces on the network were created by Internet users, then became available to everyone for free. The Internet's rapid growth and permissive management are creating new ethical issues-copyright infringement, false identities, shared pornography, on-line harassment, and the uses of advertising-that are discussed widely and seriously by the user community. o Heterarchical management. Overall, the Internet has no central controller, and network governance is coevolved across many different sites rather than handed down from a central location. This paradigm makes the Internet a model for flat, decentralized organizations and management systems of the future. The U.S. federal government, regional public and private institutions, telephone companies, and several large corporations all participate in managing the network's backbone (the network of information superhighways) and setting a few general rules. Business, universities, and other owners of systems add their own local rules. But different clusters of users create and self-police standards of conduct for activities in which they engage. o The dynamics of interconnectivity. Finally, connectivity is a property of complex systems that can profoundly affect system behavior, yet the dynamic consequences of increasing connectivity are simply unknown. The shutdown of computer systems by the Cornell computer "worm" and the 1987 crash of the U.S. stock market (driven largely by highly interconnected and computerized trading programs shifting the resources of huge mutual and pension fund accounts) show the negative potential impact. In the longer term, the emergence of a collective mind-millions of individuals connected interactively to the same sources of imagery, information, and rhetoric-is likely to create entirely new social, political, and market dynamics. The preceding examples represent a very selective slice of what is going on the information matrix. In the midst of it all, a truly new electronic culture is being invented on-line by the computer expertise and communicative behavior of tens of millions of users of the Internet and its interconnected public and private hosts.