Going the wrong way

In 1993 or there abouts a couple of us met over pizza and beers and talked about ways to bring public computer networks to Chattanooga. Weaned on bulletin boards and FidoNet technology networks, we'd come together because we'd found some unlikely friends, had some incredible dialogues, shared technologies and ideas, and wanted to bring the best of these experiences to the population at large, as our contribution to the growth of the community.

The Internet still seemed a long way off, there was some very slow local college access, but we wanted better ways to talk with our neighbors, to facilitate commerce between local industries, to provide more interesting alternatives to the local media outlets.

Although initially we tried store and forward terminals in coffee shops and such, eventually we realized that the only way to pay for the network was to take the plunge, pay the thousands of dollars a month for less bandwidth than a bonded dual-channel ISDN line, and start a full-fledged ISP. Out of this effort came Chattanooga On-Line and several other ventures.

The net has grown immensely, and with the net growth has come scarcity. The number of providers has risen fractionally, the number of spectators geometrically, and the expectations have also gone up. Where once net users were happy with one or two mail connections to the outside world per day, users of mailing lists on the Flutterby domain complain about the 1 to 4 hours (depending on time of day) delay between seeing their messages echoed back on their mailing list.

And given that we now need to do more processing on each e-mail message (to prevent spamming, keep mailing list traffic to moderate levels, things like that), resources to keep net communities alive are fading.

Because this affects some net communities important to me, and because I feel more comfortable administrating machines I can physically get my hands on, I've been looking for a little more bandwidth and a fixed IP address at home. I'm a little out of the total techie part of the Bay Area, but within the next few months I can expect to get DSL, TCI/@Home cable modems, and probably a couple of wireless options.

But as I look at all of these options, something strikes me: They're all set up to give higher bandwidth to me than away from me.

That's not the usage pattern of the Flutterby network, and the consumer model is not what I devoted several years of my life to making come true. What happened to those days when we wanted to get connected because we had something to say? When sharing information was the goal?

I shouldn't be whining about this because it is fairly obvious that most humans want to be sinks, to be entertained and have advertising pay for it.

Back in the days of Fido technology networks when this happened to a network it fractured, and a couple of sysops would go off and create their own net, bound by their own mores and cultures. But the Internet is all engulfing, and the noise of every commercial venture trying to find its demographic is drowning out attempts to find real connection.

I don't have an answer. I'm trying to find information on the computer power necessary to handle a few thousand subscribers on assorted mailing lists, and the peak bandwidth necessary to handle this. I'm trying to find technologys for bandwidth tunneling that would allow sub networks of people on the cultural fringes who'd rather not participate in the mainstream. I'm trying to build exclusionary layers over existing protocols to keep out the masses.

Once again a plea with out answers. I've come full circle, in the early part of this decade I was looking for ways to be inclusive, to bring this radical communication to the world around me in the hopes that they'd become enlightened. Now I've realized that it works the other way and I'm looking for ways to implement secret handshakes and passwords for speakeasys that aren't illegal, but impractical because the sheer numbers of the hangers-on overwhelms the more diligent.

Wednesday, March 31st, 1999 danlyke@flutterby.com