When the organizers of ROFLcon decided to go another round with a multi-day presentation of internet-related memes, celebrities and issues, I had an opportunity to assemble a panel on a subject I thought worth covering. I chose USENET. Months later, my panel plans came to fruition, and I think came out pretty well.
Naturally, when your subject matter is a network of machines spanning roughly 30 years and constituting many thousands of participants and dozens of movers and shakers, the choices in assembling a good panel are legion and ways it can go south are also legion. Every choice made will be decried by others for not choosing a dozen similar figures, and so on. In my original lineup, I had the following:
My first big problem, and if you know your history, the most ironic one, was that Kibo could not be located. In the old days, if you said his name in any newsgroup, he’d appear. It was kind of his thing, and part of his legend. That a number of years later, he was unfindable, even with a team of people assisting me, was just a sad irony. So Kibo never happened, although we had hopes up to the day of the event. (This is also why the Kibo is on the chalkboard behind us in the photo.)
Dr. Gene Spafford got sick and couldn’t make it to the event. Get well soon, Gene!
Richard Sexton had a family emergency and couldn’t make it either.
After a bunch of flailing and last-minute mailings, we ended up adding Tim Pierce to the panel, and Tim has to get thanked for being told of this whole event on a Thursday and showing up on a Saturday. All told, then, we had Jay, Tim, Larry, Brad, and myself on the panel.
The idea was to have several decades of USENET history on the panel and try to cover things the audience might have missed or not known about. In this way, it was wildly successful – we covered a number of topics that apparently the audience didn’t hear of previously. We got some laughs, got some fun moments, and nailed out a few good thoughts the audience enjoyed.
I hadn’t known one of the panelists had tried to sue another at one point, or that there was more than a little crankiness about past events still extant. The type of people who enjoy tenseness got something to enjoy, but luckily it didn’t consume things.
Bringing in the creator of the “Green Card Spam” may have seemed odd, but I wanted to bring in an interesting perspective on USENET, and the thoughts that were behind this utilization of USENET in the way that Canter chose to use it. During the panel I made a big deal of thanking Mr. Canter for coming to the panel, and flying across the country to do so. He didn’t have to, not at all, and he did. For that I am very grateful. In the spirit of ROFLcon, I hope he enjoyed his trip out and found an audience willing to hear his side, even if they didn’t agree with it.
I got dinged in a few places for being a panelist more than a moderator, but that’s because I was a panelist – ROFLcon had me listed as a moderator but I was one of the people trying to bring in the history, so I guess some folks got more of me than they expected. Oh well!
The largest surprise for me was that in the realm of all this Anonymous vs. Scientology lore and hobbyist protesting that has gone on, basically the entire audience was unaware of the early 1990s Scientology Usenet Fight. Totally unaware. We did our best to backfill the history, but if you really didn’t know about the first time Scientology took on the internet, I’d at least read this article.
ROFLcon recorded the panel, and I hope to see the resulting footage and resulting output sometime in the coming weeks/months, and will alert you all when it’s available.
An hour and a half of almost randomly assembled panelists discussing decades of events could never, in a million years, scratch the surface of this fascinating and deep history. If you have an interest in looking at the history of USENET and want some pointers, here’s some for you:
- The Giganews History of Usenet
- The Net.Legends FAQ
- The Spam that Started It All
- Some Posts by Kibo
- The MAKE.MONEY.FAST letter
Categorised as: computer history
Comments are disabled on this post