Thursday, September 25, 2008

Usenet: The Current State and The Future

Internet communication has come a long way from what it originally started as. Pre-web internet communication was done primarily through text. Most of the time, this communication would be asynchronous, where users can write something and have to wait for a reply. Later internet communication adopted synchronous methods where users could send a message and immediately receive a response (Adams & Clark, 2001). There are multiple locations and programs people can use on the internet as a way to communicate. Some of the places and programs include IRC (Internet Relay Chat), MUDs (Multi-user Dungeons), and Usenet. Here people can search for specific groups conataining discussions related to specific topics. They can choose where they would like to go, how often they participate, what their username will be, and what they will say. This anonymity could be a good thing or a bad thing. If the actual author of a message is unknown will they be more apt to talk off-topic, spam, and take information without participating? If so, how is this currently dealt with and what does the future of internet communication hold?

In hopes of finding answers to these questions I subscribed to a Usenet group. The reason I chose Usenet is because “the Usenet is one of the largest is one of the largest computer-mediated communications systems in existence.” (Kollock and Smith, pg. 111) I figured that there were enough groups to choose from and enough members in these groups that I would really be able to get a grasp on what goes on in the area of internet communication. I decided to join a NY Giants group, which can be found at, and analyze the communication within the group for five days. Joining the group was not hard. I just clicked subscribe and was asked for my email address and to create a username for the group. After that I was asked if I would like to receive emails containing any updates or changes to the group. There were a bunch of options to choose from, but the one that suited me best was to receive one email a day advising me of all the activity that happened for the day. I was now set up and began browsing some of the posts.

Because this was a football group and it was a Friday, I expected to see some talk of the NY Giants past performances and thoughts on how they would fair in Sunday’s game. I noticed a few posts related to this, but I noticed a lot more that did not. According to Kollock and Smith, these posters would be called grandstanders, or people who post without regard to the topic. Two threads posted by grandstanders that caught my eye had the titles “"I am begging everyone, PLEASE vote for the Palin/McCain ticket!" and "OT - Jessica Alba And Her Boobs Again ". This is a football group so what were these doing here? I was also curious as to how other members would respond. The first thread got many responses calling him an “asshole” and “jackass” for posting this. The other thread didn’t receive any responses at all. Looking at the titles of these threads I noticed that the Jessica Alba one had OT in front of it. I assumed that OT was an abbreviation for off-topic, and this is why there were no harsh responses. The second day I saw more off-topic threads, some with OT in the title and some without. I noticed another type of thread that could be considered spam, but also semi-off-topic. It was a thread linking to an online gambling site. The only reason I say it could be considered semi-off-topic is because football is a sport and people do bet on sports, but because they are trying to make money it is probably just spam. I wondered how all this off-topic would affect the group as a whole and if it was just tolerated.

On the third day I found exactly what I was looking for. A new poster with the username tuck91 posted a thread titled "New Member Question". In it he asked, "...if the spam postings bothered anyone else. Or is it just tolerated?" This was exactly what I was wondering. The responses all revealed a similar approach, that they were just ignored. A few people gave specific usernames of posters that were known to spam or create off-topic threads. After this thread was created I began to see a decrease in off-topic posting and was wondering if this had anything to do with it. People were now talking about the Giants, what commentators said about the Giants, where they could watch the game, and how they were playing. On the last day of observing I was sad to see that the off-topic posting had continued.

In the article “Managing the Virtual Commons” by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith, they talk about how there is not enough space on Usenet so it must be conserved for relevant posts in order to assure a future for the group. They note that free-riders and grandstanders are a big part of the problem. Free riders are people that take information from a group without ever contributing to the group and grandstanders, as previously defined, are people that post without regard to the topic. In my five days of observing the NY Giant’s Usenet group, I had noticed that grandstanders are definitely taking up space by creating all types of off-topic threads and spam. I cannot really say how many people are free-riding due to the fact the free-riders never post, but I would assume there is a fair share of them.

In closing, I would like to say that my Usenet experience was very educational. I saw and witnessed the daily activities of a Usenet group firsthand. This helped me understand much more about internet communication, how it is managed, and possibilities as to where it is going. On the first day when I saw the spamming and off-topic threads outnumbering the on-topic threads I wondered how this was tolerated by other users. By day three, someone had asked just that. It seems that the grandstanders may never stop spamming and creating off-topic threads as long as the opportunity is there. The only thing to do is ignore these posts and get to what you are looking for. My only suggestion would be that Usenet appoint some type of moderator or program that would not allow for certain subjects to be talked about. Until then I guess it would be best if grandstanders started placing the letters OT in any post that is off-topic this way other members do not waste their time opening these threads. I think that by adapting to the current problems and inconveniences as well as those of the future, Usenet can be around for an extensive period of time and continue its growth.

Adams & Clark. (2001). What is it? Characteristics of the medium.
Kollock, Peter & Smith, Marc. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in the computer communities. In Susan C. Herring (Ed.), Computer-mediated communication: Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 109-128). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Web 2.0: The Difference

Today I read the article “What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software” by Tim O’Reilly. This article was published in 2005 on the website In the article, O’Reilly begins by talking about how the dot-com bubble had seemed to burst. Many websites had taken similar approaches on how the internet works and the way their sites should use it. With many sites using the internet in the same manner, people began to believe that the web was overhyped. What happened from here was the development of new websites used the internet in an entirely different way. A new web was born and given the name “Web 2.0”. O’Reilly goes on to talk about the differences between the old ways companies used the internet with the new, “Web 2.0” approaches.

According to O’Reilly, one of the methods to becoming successful in the “Web 2.0” era is “harnessing collective intelligence”. What he means by this is that companies can use information gathered over time to aid in helping new or returning visitors. With the presence of even more information than before, their experience can be made much easier and more informative than the last. One example that O’Reilly gives in this section is “harnesses collective intelligence” by keeping track of user reviews and using them to rank search results. This is a great example that I feel many internet consumers can relate to. When you are in the process of buying something you usually want something that is not only said to be good, but also tested and verified. The best source for this information is the consumers who have already tried the products. Another way I have seen use previous information to be more helpful to the consumer is recommending other products. They tell you other products people have purchased after buying the product you are looking at. This is helpful to the customer and also to They may be helping you pick a matching pair of pants for your shirt, but if you make the purchase, it also helped them to profit.

The concept of “Web 2.0” is one that is very complex and can be discussed for hours. It is a technology that will continue to advance. “Web 2.0” takes different approaches on how to use the internet than the previous version, and these new approaches are what make “Web 2.0” more useful than its predecessor. The internet will continue to evolve as time goes by and innovations will continue to occur. The important thing is to stay ahead of the game because history repeats itself. When the “Web 2.0” sites become oversaturated it is the “Web 3.0” sites that will rise to the top.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Final Day of Usenet

It has been five days now. I have searched for a Usenet group that interested me, joined, and read it everyday. I have topics that are relevant, topics that are semi-relevant, an topics that are totally off topic. Today I am seeing more off-topic postings. People must get bored off talking football after the games are over :). I am seeing postings of more "naked" celebrities that may be real or fake, and more political spam, which I assume will probably be on the rise with the elections nearing. I don't want to say too much because I will be posting an essay combining all of my findings with a theory about Usenet and its future that I have come to. So if my pasts posts have kept you entertained or enlightened you than stay tuned for my next post, "Usenet Today and Its Future".

Usenet from Yesterday

Hey. Sorry I didn't have time to post yesterday, but I still have all of yesterday's updates thanks to the daily email I receive. I have seen an increase in useful relevant conversation. Some people are still talking off-topic and semi-off-topic posting about gambling pics in the NFL, but for the most part relevant conversation is emerging. Yesterday was Monday so you did have talks about Sunday's game. People talked about how individuals of the team played, how the team as a whole played, and how the referees called the game. The Giants did win, but there was still criticism. I also noticed some older posts that received responses and got bumped up. One that was interesting was about the game being streamed live online. Did not know that the NY Giants games are streamed online for free! That's about it for yesterday. I will be posting today's observations in a few minutes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Usenet Being Questioned?

So today I took a look at the daily email and found another interesting post. A new member, by the name of tuck91, posted a thread titled "New Member Question". In this thread he asks, "...if the spam postings bothered anyone else. Or is it just tolerated?" A bunch of people responded telling him that they usually ignored them. On a better note, I also saw a thread with relevant information. The thread was titled "Eddie George calls Giants a fraud", and talks about how Eddie George said that a present 2-0 team he thought was a fraud was the NY Giants. The responses to this thread were a bunch of hating on Eddie George. Apparently the college team he played football on was caught cheating so he has no credibility. I have to say I am starting to like this Usenet. You learn something new everyday! Until next time...

The Creation of New Media

Today I read Chapter 3 of the book The Internet: The Basics entitled “New Media and Web Production”. This book was published in 2002 and written by Jason Whitaker. In this chapter, Whitaker does a good job of explaining the new media made available through the creation of the computer, and how they differ from media of the past. The main media that Whitaker focuses on in this chapter are text, hypertext, digital images, audio and video. Later in the chapter he discusses the basics of HTML, how the language has improved, and other languages and scripts that have stemmed from HTML.

According to Whitaker, the internet started text-based and has evolved through time as technology has improved. Hypertext was originally used to link text-based documents with other text-based documents, but as access to high speed internet has become more available, hypertext can now link images, videos, and audio. Another reason these types of media can be linked through hypertext is the ability to compress data. According to Whitaker, because there are certain colors we cannot distinguish, certain sound frequencies we cannot hear, and certain parts of videos that we do not need to see, they can ultimately be eliminated, compressing the file to reduce its size. As a frequent internet audio and video listener and watcher, I find this very interesting. It does make complete sense though. If we can’t see or hear certain things, why do they need to be there? Plus, by being able to eliminate these certain aspects and reduce the file sizes, it makes downloading these files a more enjoyable experience due to the decreased wait time.

Another part of the reading I found interesting was the section where Whitaker talked about digital imaging. Whitaker says, “There was a time, until very recently, a photograph was the touchstone for the truth of an event.” According to Whitaker, before images became digital, the process to edit a photograph was long, hard work, which is why people could usually used pictures to determine the accuracy of an event. However, today editing a picture has become a lot easier to do with the access to digital cameras and photo editing software. Take for instance the picture of Sarah Palin. She is seen holding a rifle in a bikini, but is that her? When I first saw this picture I was sure it was, but later the original picture was found. Somebody replaced the other person’s head with Palin’s, making it seem like it was actually her, when it actually wasn’t. This just goes to show you that you cannot always believe what you see.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Usenet Experience Continues...

Just got my first email today from the NY Giants Usenet group. I expected to see more talk of tomorrows games, but I have actually encountered something totally different. It seems that there are a bunch of off-topic threads that have been started. One thread is a spam thread about online gambling. I kind of expected this, because a lot of people do bet on football or are a part of fantasy leagues so this would be a "good" place to post. The other threads I found amusing such as "I am begging everyone, PLEASE vote for the Palin/McCain ticket!" and "OT - Jessica Alba And Her Boobs Again ". The first guy gets flamed by other members of the group, and the second has yet to receive any response. I am guessing the poster didn't get flamed because they included OT in the title, which I am guessing stands for off-topic. That's what I've got for now; I'll be posting again tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let the Usenet Experience Begin!

In class, I was assigned to find and analyze a communication medium on the internet. Some of the choices included examining IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Usenet, andMUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). These are all used to communicate over the internet, but all use different methods. The medium I chose to analyze was Usenet, as it is easier than the others and does not require any program to operate other than an internet browser. On the Usenet server I decided to join the NY Giants group. I subscribed at, and elected to receive one email a day with a summary of what happened on a particular day. For the next five days I will be checking the group and reporting what I see. I saw a lot of posting about the game coming up this week, but I am sure there is much more to come. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few days (ie. if people stay on topic, change their views if they win/lose the game, etc.). Until tomorrow, see ya!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Managing the Virtual Commons

Today I read an article by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith. The article entitled Managing the Virtual Commons was published in 1996 in the book Computer-mediated Communication. The article talked about the way online communities are managed so they survive, inparticularly Usenet. According to Kollock and Smith, “the Usenet is one of the largest is one of the largest computer-mediated communications systems in existence.” The Usenet is divided into newsgroups where people can post their though on specific topics. The problem is that there is only so much space to post, and for the group to survive this space must not be wasted. To properly manage these groups, both the problems and solutions must be analyzed.

The main reasons this space is wasted is because of free-riders and grandstanders. According to Kollock and Smith, free-riders are people that take information without posting any of their own knowledge, and grandstanders are people that post without regard to the topic. For instance, if the newsgroup is about Macintosh computers a grandstander may talk about PCs or anything else that may have nothing to do with the topic. A free-rider would basically ask a question and receive an answer, but never give answers to anyone else. I agree that this could totally lead to wasted space. Imagine going to looking for tour times at the White House and getting a website with quotes on auto insurance. This could lead to the fall of the community because you may not be able to trust that you will find legitimate information any more.

Later in the reading, Kollock and Smith go on to talk about some possible solutions that have worked in face to face communities. These solutions include aspects such as group size and boundaries, rules and institutions, and monitoring and sanctioning. Kollock and Smith suggest that by decreasing group size, making it harder to join, creating a list of rules, and moderating posts the Usenet community could survive. The most interesting point Kollock and Smith made in this section was about group size. According to Kollock and Smith, in a face to face community the bigger the group, the more free-riding there will be because these free-riders will be hard to notice, but in a newsgroup everybody can see who is free-riding because the post are seen by the thousands of members of the newsgroup. This is very interesting and very true. If you take a small college class and compare it to a bigger college class I bet you will find more students free-riding in the larger class than the small because in the larger class there is a less likely chance that you will be called on than in the smaller one.

I would like to conclude by saying that there still may be free-riding and grandstanding going on, but steps are being taken to keep this to a minimum. Newsgroups and forums alike are being monitored, and off topic threads are being moved to their proper place or deleted. I think that if we all stay conscious of what we are writing and where we are writing it that our internet communities will forever flourish.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Internet as We Know It

The internet experience that we encounter today is very different from the experience one would have in the 60s or 70s. Today we point and click, we type to one another instantly, we can see and hear what our fellow internet have to say. Technology is changing, and with this change the internet has evolved. What was once thought improbably is becoming a reality. There have been many advances that have aided in the creation and evolution of the internet as we know it today, but there are a few that stand out more than others. They are packet-switching, email, hypertext, and graphical web browsers. I would say that without these four innovations the internet would not be the same as it is today. Before we get into further detail about these innovations, it is important to understand a little background on the internet itself.

According to Adams and Clark (2001), in the late fifties and early sixties, the creation of nuclear weapons lead to a fear of losing communication. The reason for this was that that when a nuclear bomb detonated it would send electromagnetic pulses that would knock out electronics, including means of communication, in a 250 mile radius. If one of these bombs was to hit how would the military communicate? This led to the idea of a galactic network, where there would be many different routes for a message to get through. This way if one route was destroyed there would always be another route to take so the message would get through. Fast forward a little bit to the 1970s when ARPANET is created. ARPANET was the developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which had been doing this research on how to keep communication alive if the electronics needed to communicate were knocked out. ARPANET becomes the first internet, where computers can send data to one another, and later evolves into the internet as we know it today. Now that you have a brief understanding of how and why the internet was created, we can get into the innovations that make the internet what it is today.

The first important development to the internet was packet-switching. Packet-switching involves the path in which packets travel. Packets, as defined by Adams and Clark (2001), are small bundles of data that made traffic more manageable across the internet. Basically, large amounts of data were broken down into smaller files, packets, that could be sent quicker do to their smaller size. As another way to speed up the transmission time, packet-switching was developed. Now that we had smaller packets and a bunch of routes to go down, there was no reason to send all the packets down the same one. The large file once sent, could now be broken down into smaller packets and each packet could go down the quickest path, where they would meet and form the original large file. This was a great development because it made sending data and messages quicker and more effective than ever before. The internet was going to be big, but not how ARPA originally thought.

It is important to remember, that the original purpose of the internet was to send data from one computer to another. Originally from military base to military base, but later colleges were added to ARPANET. These colleges had used the internet just as the military, to send and receive data, but something began to happen and the data they began to send was different. According to Adams and Clark (2001), the data began to become more and more personal. Professors began sending electronic message, or email, to one another about their personal lives. This was not what the original intention of the internet, but this became one of the biggest advancements and reasons why we have the internet we have today. When the general public heard that it was possible to send messages to people around the world quickly and effectively it made them want to do it too. I believe this is one the major reasons that the internet is what it is today. Think about it, if you have an email account, chances are that you check it daily. The development of email has made the use of the internet a daily activity in millions of people’s lives. In recent times this technology has become even more widely used because now you can send messages instantly or synchronously (Adams and Clark, 2001.). Instead of having to wait a few hours for someone to respond, you can get an immediate response within seconds.

The last two advancements can pretty much be put together because one cannot run without the other. The development of these two technologies, however, would not have happened without the creation of the mouse. The mouse was originally invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1963 at the Stanford Research institution ( The creation of the mouse is important because it enabled users to point and click. Now windows could be open and the computer could be navigated by hand, alleviating the pressure of needing to know codes and commands to use computers. This made the development of hypertext and graphical web browsers, usable and user friendly. Hypertext, as defined by Adams and Clark (2001), was a technology that allowed documents, such as images, videos, and text, to be linked together. This was usually done in the form of HTML, or hypertext markup language, but without the creation of the mouse or the next technology HTML could not be used. The web browser is a program that translates HTML and displays it. This is how we see many websites today. The web browser and the mouse allow us to point and click to navigate not only our personal computers, but now the World Wide Web.

In conclusion, the internet that we use today looks, feels, and is even used differently than it was originally intended. However, without the creation of new technologies the internet may never have grown into what it is today. In my opinion, the most important innovations that lead the internet to evolve were packet-switching, email, hypertext, and web browsers. Without these the internet would not work as fast or be as interactive as it is now. Now we have the ability to chat instantly using any combination of text, audio, and video. The internet as we know it has grown quickly and taken turns that were never expected. This only leaves us with one question; What’s next?

Adams & Clark. How did we get here? The development of a new medium.
Adams & Clarke. What is it? Characteristics of the medium.
STIM - MouseSite. Retrieved September 8,2008, from

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Advancement of Communication Through the Internet

In today’s society the internet is used daily by millions of households across the world, and the number of users continues to grow. The fact the internet is changing and improving everyday makes it more and more desirable. You can now have conversations with other people around the world instantly, using text, audio, and even video. In terms of communication, how is this medium described, and what category would internet communication fit into?

The fact is that internet communication can fit into all communication categories. With the ability to communicate interpersonally or to an entire group, internet communication is in a class of its own. The information and material that is communicated can be sent to one person or millions across the world. Setting up a website, creates the ability to communicate with the world, as well as giving people the opportunity to respond with their opinions either to a whole group or to you personally. What makes this technology so advanced is the ability to communicate far distances with little or no problems at all.

In previous attempts at distant communication and even in current attempts, there are problems that can be analyzed and improved on. The major problems occur in the form of reliability, speed and distribution. From previous means of communicating to the ability we now have with internet communication, these problems are becoming less apparent. Internet communication over the past couple of years has become quicker, more reliable, and easier to distribute than ever before. With internet transmission speeds increasing daily and the number of paths packets can go down, your message is sure to get where it’s going and quick.

In recent times, many blogging sites have been created where your message can be distributed quickly and efficiently to an audience around the world. They are not hard to set up and within minutes you can commence communication. The ability to hyperlink is an innovative technology that allows you to link to other websites, pictures and videos. This improves the reliability of communication greatly. There is no longer the fear that you will be misunderstood when you say, “the house is awesome”. In the past people had to think of an awesome house. Today, you can show them the house.