Lo, when the \"info superhighway\" was but a one lane country road...

Julian Sanchez has delved into the prehistory of teh intarweb in an interesting review of BBS: The Documentary.

Though I'm admittedly a bit biased, being an old sysop of a BBS (The Collegium, Richmond, VA; WWIV represent!), I believe that it is important that this history not drop down the memory hole, as it is a useful corrective to the (false) narrative that the wonders of the internet could not have possibly happened without massive governmental work. Yes, ARPAnet came up with the protocols that make the internet possible, and yes, the old networking protocols cobbled together back in the day ('89-'91) could not duplicate what we have today, yada yada yada. But the fact is that with the equivalent of bearskins and stone knives, a national email & message board network was created and existed without any subsidy or direction from government. Before the advent of web browers and the popularization of the internet in the early 90s, the direction for BBSes was already to multi-line boards running 9600 baud or better, linked up to other multiline BBSes in the region or around the country; even if the internet never happened, we'd have some form of a national network with modern technology, simply because a grass roots one existed already.

As always, its a case of "what is seen and what is unseen", and of course internet protocol is vastly superior to what WWIVnet had, and thus the old BBSes went by the wayside. Creative destruction and all that. But it is frankly impossible to suggest that the internet (as a concept & general implementation) could only happen due to Uncle Sam's beneficence...

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I recently noted that if the

I recently noted that if the UN took over and the internet went all to hell, something would arise to make up for it, even if it looked more like Fidonet than what we are used to using.

In fact, the other networks

In fact, the other networks were available to businesses long before the Internet ever was, and they were worldwide. The Internet came along and basically put them out of business due to the fact that people were basically being forced to pay for it at gunpoint. ARPA basically built on what people had learned from the other protocols, and they did it with government funding. It's not like private industry wasn't already in the process of doing that on their own.

People who claim that we would have ended up with just a bunch of proprietary unconnected networks would do well to remember UUCP, X.25, and FidoNet. We were well on our way to the Internet already, and who knows if we would have ended up with something more scalable than what we have now if the free market were allowed to take its course instead of being forced into a particular solution at gunpoint.

However much I favor open

However much I favor open markets, I do not agree, and I have been on BBSs since 1985.

The "old" networks were throttled by long distance charges, and expensive data charges, and non-interoperability. I remember, in the early 90's, paying 5 cents per kilobyte for data transfer - $50/megabyte, plus the long distance call to the provider (access points to commercial services were only available in large cities, and BBSs vould be anywhere).

As late as '95 or '96 Microsoft was ignoring the internet, thinking that MSN was the wave of the future. If not for the advent of the internet gaining popularity, we would be in a world were the "net" was 90% MSN, and 10% AOL, AppleLink, etc. There would be minimal incentive to offfer interoperability between networks, especially for the holder of the majority of the market. The protocols would be proprietary and inflexible. Terms of service would be limited by the very small number of providers: no dirty pictures, nothing about guns, nothing "controversial".

What do you think Catallarchy would look like in that world?

Perhaps the free market would have eventually come up with an open system comparable to what we have today, I think this is one of the (few) example of how government planted the seeds for something wonderful (many of such instances percolate down from military research projects.)

In the early 1990's, I went to great lengths petitioning the state government where I lived (Vermont) of the value of getting the phone company to provide better data services as part of renewing their tariff. The leftists there would have nothing to do with it. I choked on my coffee when I heard one of them say on the radio that such things would only "benefit telemarketers", and that we should instead demand subsidized telephone service for the poor. Now the same clowns are demanding that internet access is a human right that should be provided by the state.

I think that for things of this scale, the only role of government is to incubate them - often for other immediate purposes (ie, resilient military communications) - and then GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY.

There would be minimal

There would be minimal incentive to offfer interoperability between networks, especially for the holder of the majority of the market.

This immediately made me think of: "There would be minimal incentive to offer interoperability between mainframes, especially for the holder of the majority of the market." Don't you think that as the majority holder pressed his advantage, it would be more profitable for the suppliers with minority market share to pool resources and come up with an open alternative? Isn't this what happened with Unix and workstations?

Driving ‘Round the

Driving ‘Round the Blogosphere


Most BBS had tons of dirty

Most BBS had tons of dirty pictures. Even the 'big' vendors had some porn.

It's possible what you're

It's possible what you're saying is correct, but remember that the free market is always limited by government action; we simply don't know whether Fidonet, etc would have developed at least as well as the current internet had we been living in ancapistan, but given how well the government does at other things I'd be willing to bet it would.

Most BBS had tons of dirty

Most BBS had tons of dirty pictures. Even the ‘big’ vendors had some porn.

Speaking of that, can anyone explain things like
this? I can't believe there are some people about there so obsessed with sex that they'll dig into even the most trivial minutiae of an innocent story in order to find it.