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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 friends!

--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.[1]

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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