All network software is social software.

by Charles Miller on September 1, 2013

Back in 1998, network news administrator Russ Allbery wrote an inspiring rant in reply to a spammer who was invoking “free speech” to defend his dumping of thousands of job advertisements on local newsgroups.

I still go back to it on occasion to remind myself that when you’re writing network software, even when on the surface that software is about sharing code, or tracking bug reports, or answering support queries, or publishing blogs, or producing documentation… you’re writing software about people.

…because the thing that Usenet did, the important thing that Usenet did that put everything else to shame, was that it provided a way for all of the cool people in the world to actually meet each other.

Sure, I've been involved in Usenet politics for years now, involved in newsgroup creation, and I enjoy that sort of thing. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing it. But I've walked through the countryside of Maine in the snow and seen branches bent to the ground under the weight of it because of Usenet, I've been in a room with fifty people screaming the chorus of "March of Cambreadth" at a Heather Alexander concert in Seattle because of Usenet, I've written some of the best damn stuff I've ever written in my life because of Usenet, I started writing because of Usenet, I understand my life and my purpose and my center because of Usenet, and you know 80% of what Usenet has given me has fuck all to do with computers and everything to do with people. Because none of that was in a post. I didn't read any of that in a newsgroup. And yet it all came out of posts, and the people behind them, and the interaction with them, and the conversations that came later, and the plane trips across the country to meet people I otherwise never would have known existed.

That's what this is all about. That's why I do what I do.


[a few paragraphs…]

And you can talk to me about free speech and applications and the future of communication and the use to which people put such things until you're blue in the face, and when you ask me if there's really such a thing as good speech and bad speech, I'll still say yes. Because there are people talking to other people and there are machines talking to no one as loud as they can to try to make people listen, and damn it, there is a difference, and the first one does deserve to be here more than the second one. And I don't know how to tell the difference reliably either, but that has jack to do with the way I feel about it.

And to all of the spammers and database dumpers and multiposters out there, I say this: You want to read that stuff, fine. You want to create a network for such things, fine. You want to explore the theoretical boundaries of free speech, fine. But when it starts impacting people trying to communicate, then that is where I draw the line. This is not a negotiation and this is not a threat; this is simply a fact. I've been through pain and joy with this network, I've seen communities form and wither and reform, I've met friends and lost friends here, I've learned things and discovered things and created things. I've seen people make a home here when they didn't have any other, not on a newsgroup, not with a bunch of electrons, but with people that they've met and communities that they've found and support that they've received from people who had just the words they needed to hear and would never have known they existed, and by God I KNOW what this network is for, and you can't have it.

Previously: Bundled Out

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