Information Superhighway that they were among the earliest users of CompuServe
and had been online for more than ten years. However infectious
Barlow believes net.culture to be, they apparently didn't catch the bug. On April 12,
1994, they posted a message about the so-called "Green Card Lottery" to every
newsgroup they could find. This posting coupled a threat--that the
1994 lottery would be the last ever (it wasn't)--with an offer of their services (for a
fee, of course).
The green card lottery is a U.S. government effort to bring an element of hope to
the miserable, bureaucratic, and lengthy process of applying for U.S. residence
visas. Essentially, would-be immigrants from most foreign countries are eligible to
fill out a form and enter; lucky winners, chosen according to quotas, by-pass the
normal procedures and get green cards. When I lived in Ireland, I knew quite a few
people who had entered just on the off-chance of winning, even if they weren't sure
they'd ever want to live in the United States. A few had won. The service is free,
wherein lay the first objection to Canter and Siegel's message: they were proposing
to charge people.
A couple of technical points may help make sense of the fury that followed Canter
and Siegel's mass posting. One is that when they posted their "Green Card"
message to every newsgroup they did it in such a way as to cause the maximum
disruption: they ran a computer program that posted it separately to each
newsgroup rather than using a method known as cross-posting. Cross-posting
would have treated the message as a single news article while making it available
to all the newsgroups in Canter and Siegel's very long list. Instead, their method
created 10,000 copies of the message, one per newsgroup.
First, this meant that each news-storing computer (technically, a news server)
 around the world had to find space for 10,000 copies of the message
instead of just one. Second, it disabled the facility within most newsreader
software to mark a post as read if it's been seen in one newsgroup,
so that you don't have to keep rereading the same post in newsgroup after
newsgroup. Most users probably didn't notice the first point until they did some
math, but they sure noticed the second one when the message kept popping up.
The "Green Card" posting was not the only mass-posted message of the period,
but it was the first advertising an off-Net commercial service so widely.
It vied for
attention with "MAKE.MONEY.FAST" postings (usually abbreviated MMF), which go
back some months before Canter and Siegel and still (unfortunately) circulate
widely. These postings, and the thousands of imitations that have
followed since, are variations on the chain letters most people remember from high
school. They all claim there are huge sums of money to be made legally from
following the instructions to repost or email them to 200 more users and send one
dollar or five dollars (depending on the version you get) to the five or ten names
and addresses listed at the end. In fact, as many on the Net have pointed out, this
kind of pyramid, or "Ponzi," scheme is illegal and something the Post Office has
been stomping on in court for years.
Not much is known about the original MMF
poster, Dave Rhodes; according to the "Net.Legends FAQ,"
he was a
student at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland, when he sent out
the first ones and has been "voted number one on list of people *every* UseNetter
would like to see die an excruciatingly slow and painful death."
as late-night comedians pick up oft-repeated TV ads (like the Energizer bunny),
anything that circulates widely enough on the Internet becomes part of the shared
culture and therefore fodder for in-jokes. A number of MMF parodies have
circulated, such as one detailing the miserable jail time served by the poster after
his arrest for circulating illegal pyramid schemes.
The "Green Card" message was quickly followed by a posting known as "Skinny
Dip," which advertised a thigh cream by that name that was supposed to have
slimming properties and that interested readers could order from a Miami address.
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