2 Make.Money.Fast

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It was the social disruption that really got people mad. The message simply had no relevance to most newsgroups, and the overall effect was as if you were at a party and someone broke in to interrupt each conversation and shout at the participants to buy his used car. You can throw the bozo out, but the party doesn't easily recover afterwards.

The point is not that there's no way to advertise one's services on the Net, even if you're a lawyer. Bearing in mind that it's not so long since lawyers weren't allowed to advertise at all by their bar associations, there are plenty of lawyers online offering information about green cards and how to get them. One immigration specialist has even posted on his Web site the one hundred questions from which citizenship tests are thought to be drawn, along with the correct answers to help would-be immigrants. You can get to know a lot of potential customers in a non-controversial way by being helpful about answering questions on newsgroups like alt.visa.us. Canter and Siegel could easily have adopted this kind of long-term, awareness-building approach and met no resistance. But, to quote their book, "We didn't want to lose a golden opportunity to get rich."[17]

The point is that none of this is what the Net had ever been for. The Net was, the argument ran (conveniently overlooking flaming, the practice of expressing angry hostility that seems to be endemic to electronic communication), a sacred place where minds could meet and merge into a non-corporeal whole. If, as Canter and Siegel said, "Cyberselling is the future of marketing,"[18] the Net was going to fight back. A newsgroup was quickly set up to discuss and coordinate responses to the incident in the alt.current-events hierarchy, a newsgroup classification for short-lived, quick-response newsgroups. For many months alt.current-events.net-abuse seethed with anger, and although it was replaced with the permanent news.admin.net-abuse.misc in early 1995, it has never died. Some discussion focused on whether the commercial biz.* hierarchy was an area advertisers could use and others could access if they were interested. While some older Netheads didn't like the idea of giving advertising a home on the Internet, it was generally seen as a fair compromise, since it worked in the tradition of the Net: user choice and user control. You didn't have to go there if you didn't want to, which most people didn't. However, the biz.* hierarchy, while it allows some types of commercial postings, does not want spam either.

This was the moment when cancelers became a feature of life on Usenet in the form of the Cancelmoose (usually written Cancelmoose[tm] on the Net) and other, less anonymous agents. Most newsreaders have a built-in cancellation facility, as there are many times when someone might need to cancel a message after hitting the send button--second thoughts about an angry flame, a message sent out publicly that should have been private, or accidental duplication. The cancel message the user generates goes into a special newsgroup called control and propagates around Usenet by the same means as any other message. The cancel instructs the system not to distribute the posting, which is identified by the unique ID assigned to every Usenet post when it's written.[19] News servers are constructed so that the cancel message will work whether it arrives before or after the original message.

Canceling spam requires an added twist, because the person doing the canceling is not the person who wrote the original message. This means forgery: the canceler has to fool the news server into thinking the message came from the original poster. It's actually not that hard to do, and instructions are readily available on the Net.[20] It is, however, a controversial practice, and one that gets discussed to death in the relevant newsgroups. Most people generally accept third-party cancels if they are not content-based (that would be censorship) and there are extenuating circumstances: if someone publicly posted your private email; if the message is spam or spew; if it's a binary file[21] posted to a text-based newsgroup; or if it's part of attempted newsgroup voting fraud. [22]


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