Your signature can be a TrueType font! Make $50,000 at home in just two weeks
auditing Web sites! FREE Internet access by calling THIS 1-800 Number!!! You
MUST read this message all the way to the end and send 200 copies to all your
--Personal email, 1996
Once upon a time the Internet had no advertising....
The Internet's origins as a largely academic research network included prohibitions
against its use for private or personal business, much like ham radio still does. (In
fact, a lot of the technology underpinning the Internet was invented by radio hams,
and those who have been part of both say the two cultures are extremely similar.)
These restrictions began to lift in 1992, opening the way for all kinds of commercial
traffic, from businesses exchanging email and other data to Web-based retailing
and advertising-sponsored content.
This is not to say there was no commerce in cyberspace before the liberalization of
the Internet: commerce happens wherever humans gather. On closed systems
such as CompuServe and the WELL and even on some smaller BBSs, special
sections were set aside for classified ads so members could buy or sell new or
secondhand equipment. On London's electronic conferencing system CIX, small
online vendors have been operating almost since the system's founding in 1987,
selling modems, hard drives, computers, and peripherals. In general, it's not an
easy way to make a living: online users tend to expect sharply cut prices and
responsive service. The feeling of daily close community on such systems meant
that these trades seemed--and in general were--less risky than dealing by mail
order with strangers. After all, buyers who didn't pay up or sellers who supplied
faulty goods risked being outed in front of people they argued with every day and
having their reputations ruined in front of several thousand computer buyers, some
of them from major companies.
The one thing you didn't do was march into any old forum or conference and set up
shop by posting advertisements. If you did want to market yourself or your services
online, you did it subtly, by getting to know people and letting them know what you
did when asked, or offering help or information when they needed it in the hope
that you would stick in their minds as a knowledgeable source. Computer
networking, like real-life networking, was all about making contacts, not about
barraging people with pitches. On Usenet in the early 1990s the same culture
prevailed. Call it snobbish if you will, but there were and are practical reasons for
keeping newsgroups and other online forums streamlined and free of off-topic
material; those strictures are what make those areas useful as resources.
If you're paying money to check into a Novell forum to pick up the latest technical
tips, arguably what you get should have some relation to what you think you're
paying for, just as you'd be annoyed if you paid to take a class in psychology at a
nearby university and the instructor decided instead to teach you math or spend all
the lecture sessions reading you advertisements for his radio show. Similarly, if
you're looking online for help with your Macintosh computer you don't want to read
some guy's comments on Pete Sampras's backhand, and if you're looking for
information on Pete Sampras's backhand you don't want to read an ad for a Web
site full of "Chewbacca ate my balls" cartoons. This notion that the Net should be
structured so that users have maximum control over what material they choose to
look at is the bedrock on which all online culture has been built.
According to their own testimony, the two people who brought this consensually
organized culture to an abrupt halt must have known this. Arizona-based Laurence
Canter and Martha Siegel say in their book How to Make a Fortune on the
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