Today in 1971, 48 years ago RFC-287 was published revising the Mail Box Protocol so that you can send messages to a mailbox at a different institution.

The potential utility for the mechanism was confirmed

Basically we’ve been struggling to get to inbox zero ever since. Of those 48 years, I’ve been using mail 30 years almost to the day. The RFC talks about sending messages directly to a printer, as well as to a computer to store. In the early days I would print messages that were sent to me (also so you could delete them from computer storage and especially from the shared mailbox I had on a system), and kept a binder with them. When that binder was full, and I realised what it would mean going forward, I stopped printing mail. It bemuses me how regularly corporate e-mail signatures still ask me to reconsider before printing an e-mail. Over a quarter century later!

I know about this and other RFCs (Request For Comments) because Darius Kazemi has a wonderful project this year, where he reads one RFC per day in chronological order and writes about it. It is an early internet archeology project slowly unfolding in my feed reader day by day, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the very first RFC on April 7th 1969. In these RFCs the early protocols are discussed and born that formed the internet. It is fascinating how some of the names of people coming up still are remembered, and others aren’t. And it has paths that lead to nowhere. It makes clear how so much of human achievement is iterative and incremental steps in the dark with people doing what seems plausible from their current standpoint.

Darius read this particular RFC on October 5th, and I wrote this posting October 8th, setting it to publish today November 17th at its 48th anniversary, with the same timestamp as the original from 1971.

Ja, een tilde account, dat is een blast from the past. Bij mijn oude studievereniging hadden we de utelscin server staan (Universiteit Twente, ELektrotechniek SCINtilla). Op die utelscin hadden we ook ~ accounts om spullen van actieve leden te delen. Kwam het ook altijd tegen op de servers van andere universiteiten waar je via telnet verbinding mee maakte. Naast de utelscin doos (de servers stonden op de kast in de verenigingskamer) hadden we ook mailserver Betty, een afkorting van Betty Serveert e-mail.

Replied to Tilde.club by Frank Meeuwsen

Een paar jaar geleden was het een snelle hype, de tilde-pagina’s, gestart door Paul Ford. Als een grap. Maar al snel werd het meer. Ik wilde graag toegang tot die tildeclub, maar de inschrijvingen waren dicht. Tot een paar dagen terug. Een oude fan van tilde wilde het weer nieuw leven inblazen, hi…

Very unsure what to think about Tim Berners Lee’s latest attempt to, let’s say, re-civilize the web. A web that was lost somewhere along the way.

Now there’s a draft ‘contract for the web‘, with 9 principles, 3 each for governments, companies and citizens.

It’s premise and content aren’t the issue. It reads The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available. Everyone has a role to play to ensure the web serves humanity. By committing to this Contract, governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone., and then goes on to call upon governments to see internet access as a core necessity and a human right that shouldn’t be censored, upon companies to not abuse personal data, and on citizens to actively defend their rights, also by exercising them continuously.

There’s nothing wrong with those principles, I try to adhere to a number of them myself, and have been conveying others to my clients for years.

I do wonder however what this Contract for the Web is for, and what it is intended to achieve.

At the Contract for the Web site it says
Given this document is still in the process of negotiation, at this stage participants have not been asked to formally support or oppose the document in its current form.

Negotiation? What’s there to negotiate? Citizens will promise not to troll online if governments promise not to censor? If a company can’t use your personal data, it will no longer be an internet service provider? Who is negotiating, and on behalf of whom?
Formally support the contract? What does that mean? ‘Formal’ implies some sort of legal status?

There are of course all kinds of other initiatives that have voluntary commitments by various stakeholders. But usually it clearly has a purpose. The Open Government Partnership for instance collects voluntary open government commitments by national governments. Countries you’d wish would actually embark on open government however have left the initiative or never joined, those that are active are a group, (not all), of the willing for whom OGP is a self-provided badge of good behaviour. It provides them an instrument to show their citizens they are trying and doing so in ways that allows citizens to benchmark their governments efforts. Shields them against the notion they’re not doing anything. It does not increase open government above what governments were willing to do anyway, it does provide a clear process to help build continuity, and to build upon other member’s experience and good practices reducing the overall effort needed to attain certain impacts.

Other initiatives of this type are more self-regulatory in a sector, with the purpose of preventing actual regulation by governments. The purpose is to prevent exposing oneself to new legal liabilities.

But what does the Contract for the Web aim for? How is it an instrument with a chance of having impact?
It says “this effort is guided by others’ past work on digital and human rights” such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the EU GDPR. What does it bring beyond such heavy lifting instruments and how? The EU charter is backed up by the courts, so as a citizen I have a redress mechanism. The GDPR is backed up by fines up to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover or 20 million whichever is bigger.

How is it envisioned the Contract for the Web will attract more than those stakeholders already doing what the contract asks?
How is it envisioned it can be a practical instrument for change?

I don’t get a sense of clear purpose from the website. In the section on ‘how will this lead to change’ first much is made of voluntary commitments by governments and companies (i.e. a gathering of the willing, that likely would adhere to the principles anyway), which then ends with “Ultimately it is about making the case for open, universal web that works for everyone“. I have difficulty seeing how a ‘contract’ is an instrument in ‘making a case’.

Why a contract? Declaration, compact, movement, convention, manifesto, agenda all come to mind, but I can’t really place Contract.

What am I missing?

Untitled Forms / 20090924.SD850IS.3202.P1.SQ / SML
Please sign at the dotted line, before you go online?.
Image ‘untitled forms’ by See-ming Lee, license CC BY SA

Bruikbare samenvatting Frank, vanmiddag kunnen we meteen de diepte in dan. Die koffie met Geert-Jan had ik ook op mijn lijstje, wat mij betreft gaan we samen. Ik mis zelf in PublicSpaces nog de erkenning/omarming van netwerkdenken, zichtbaar ook in de gecentraliseerde technologiekeuzes. Afijn, zoals je zegt ondertussen bouwen we ook voort aan het eigen moederschip.

Replied to PublicSpaces en de weeffouten van het internet by Frank Meeuwsen

…gewoon stug door te gaan met wat ik hier doe. Mijn eigen moederschip vorm geven. Niet meer primair van me te laten horen op Twitter of een ander netwerk. Mijn eigen posse om me heen te verzamelen en het verschil gaan maken. Door dingen te doen. Door de verbinding te zoeken bij allerlei initiatieven die er al zijn.

Geert-Jan, zie dit als een open uitnodiging om eens verder te praten hoe ik jullie kan helpen. Want ik wil helpen. En ik kan helpen. Tijd voor koffie?….

Mozilla fellow, artist and distributed web promoting coder Darius Kazemi has launched the 365 RFCs project. For each day of 2019 he will post and discuss a RFC, request for comment, of the Network Working Group. Starting with the very first RFC that was published in April 1969, 50 years ago, and continuing to RFC 365 (published in July 1972).

Darius writes “In honor of [the 50th] anniversary [of RFC1], I figured I would read one RFC each day of 2019, starting with RFC 1 and ending with RFC 365. I’ll offer brief commentary on each RFC. I’m interested in computer history and how organizations communicate so I think this should prove pretty interesting even though RFCs themselves can be legendarily dry reading (the occasional engineering humor RFC notwithstanding).

I think it’s good to bring the early internet (or arpanet) history to attention. This because I think having a basic understanding of how the internet works is a civic requirement for the 21st century. So add Kazemi’s project to your RSS reader (here’s the feed), and follow 3 years of internet history in 2019. (found via Frank Meeuwsen and Jeremy Keith)

Some of the things I found worth reading in the past few days:

  • Although this article seems to confuse regulatory separation with technological separation, it does give a try in formulating the geopolitical aspects of internet and data: There May Soon Be Three Internets. America’s Won’t Necessarily Be the Best
  • Interesting, yet basically boils down to actively exercising your ‘free will’. It assumes a blank slate for the hacking, where I haven’t deliberately set out for information/contacts on certain topics. And then it suggests doing precisely that as remedy. The key quote for me here is “Humans are hacked through pre-existing fears, hatreds, biases and cravings. Hackers cannot create fear or hatred out of nothing. But when they discover what people already fear and hate it is easy to push the relevant emotional buttons and provoke even greater fury. If people cannot get to know themselves by their own efforts, perhaps the same technology the hackers use can be turned around and serve to protect us. Just as your computer has an antivirus program that screens for malware, maybe we need an antivirus for the brain. Your AI sidekick will learn by experience that you have a particular weakness – whether for funny cat videos or for infuriating Trump stories – and would block them on your behalf.“: Yuval Noah Harari on the myth of freedom
  • This is an important issue, always. I recognise it from my work for the World Bank and UN agencies. Is what you’re doing actually helping, or is it shoring up authorities that don’t match with your values? And are you able to recognise it and withdraw when you cross the line from the former to the latter? I’ve known entrepreneurs who kept a client blacklist of sectors, governments and companies, but often it isn’t that clear cut. I’ve avoided engagements in various countries over the years, but every client engagement can be rationalised: How McKinsey Has Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments, and when the consequences come back to bite, Malaysia files charges against Goldman-Sachs
  • This seems like a useful list to check for next books to read. I’ve definitely enjoyed reading the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nnedi Okorafor last year: My year of reading African women, by Gary Younge