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Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet

Author: Michael Hauben, Ronda Hauben
Publisher: Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1997
Review Published: October 1999

 REVIEW 1: Benjamin J. Bates
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Ronda Hauben

I want to welcome Benjamin Bates' review of our book Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. It is an honor to an author to read such a review as it helps to understand what the reviewer found of value in the book and what he proposes needed further work or discussion. His focus on the social forces shaping Internet development that we tried to document in "Netizens" is an important focus. Also, his review recognizes the promise of the new form of interactive communication medium envisioned by J.C.R. Licklider and realized through developments like time-sharing and Usenet. Not only does his review describe the social nature of these important scientific and technological developments documented in Section I and II, but his review recognizes the contest over the future of the Internet, described in Section III.

There are several chapters of Netizens which the reviewer describes as being not helpful and in general he questions the inclusion of these chapters.

Perhaps it will be helpful toward this issue if I say a bit about the construction of the book.

The title includes the words "On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet." Just as individual Unix tools don't try to do everything that a user might want to do, so each chapter is included to make its contribution to the volume. Several of the chapters were circulated on Usenet and the comments received helped us to revise them or to develop them further. In a similar way we welcome reviewers' comments toward recognizing what could be improved or would benefit from further development.

For example the reviewer comments about chapter 17, on "arte." This chapter was originally part of a presentation about why the Internet is important in the same tradition of "arte" which stretches from Greek times to the present. The chapter was in part a response to articles circulating when it was written (See pgs 306, 313) which condemned technology and science. The chapter is a beginning of an effort to make the case for the importance of applying science to the problems of our times, like to software production as in creating Unix tools, or in networking development as in creating an internetworking protocol like TCP/IP. In this process society will be able to provide not only for the well being of its population, but also will begin to be able to design the new kinds of institutions or policies needed to support the more democratic processes that the new science and technology require in the world.

Chapter 12 in a similar way explores the need for both the wider communication among citizens that is needed for better government, and the need for increased means for citizens to be able to provide input and oversight for good government. The new means of communication that are described in our book require not only increased participation of users online so that the Net can continue to grow and flourish, but they also require that there be increased attention to designing the policies or government institutions needed to support these new scientific and technological developments.

I recognize, however, that this aspect of the book is only toward suggesting such a framework and doesn't yet develop it. However, it is hoped that comments such as those in the review and my response will help to broaden the discussion over what the nature and impact are of these important new developments.

Ronda Hauben


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