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                         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.