I was down at the DMV recently, and this came to mind as I renewed my license:
If AOL - and let me not imply that other commercial services are excluded
here - expects to make it easy for members to "take advantage" of the Net
without regard to, or sensitivity to, how net.citizens might react to that,
then perhaps part of the answer is for AOL et alia to require a sort of
"licensing" procedure that will result in a higher-than-nothing level of
education about the net - higher than is provided for by the option of
reading a few text files.
When AOL members enter the "Internet Center" area on AOL, they can (but are
not required to) read files like the one appended below to get oriented.
It's all very voluntary, and it's apparently not completely effective,
according to what I'm experiencing and reading on this list.
I'm proposing that AOL should not just offer the option of reading this
file, but that they should _require_ members to both read it and also to
send in a response form to the AOL sysops specifying that they have read
and understood the material and promise to abide by universally recognized
principles of netiquette (AOL's take on proper netiquette would be pretty
entertaining). AOL requires that its own members complete a similar
agreement to their own Terms Of Service, so why not something for the rest
of the net? Even a multiple choice questionnaire wouldn't be going to far:
after all, when I first got my domain and Internet connection, I had to
fill out _lots_ of forms, and I had to do a lot of reading of material to
even get those forms.
IMHO, we'd not be asking too much for AOL members to show some evidence
that they intend to treat the Net seriously - not just as a new plaything.
When you buy your kids a pet, you expect them to be responsible, right?
When you drive a car, you're expected to take a simple test, right?
"When thou enter a city abide by its customs." -The Talmud
For those of you who haven't got AOL accounts but are interested:
Welcome to America Online's Internet Center!
The Internet Center is designed to give you fast and easy access to the
Internet through America Online.
In the past year, popular newspapers, magazines, and televisions shows have
fueled national excitement and expectations about the vast "information
superhighway" -- known as the Internet -- that connects computer owners
across the globe to information, resources, and other people. You've
probably wondered how you can "get connected."
As an America Online member, you are already a part of this exciting global
connection. The Internet Center on America Online is designed to help you
understand what is available on the Internet, and to show you how to take
advantage of its resources.
Today, America Online's Internet Center is your headquarters for
information about the Internet, and for access to two of the Internet's
most popular features -- electronic mail and "mailing lists." Over the
coming months, America Online will expand the Internet Center to provide
you access to even more features -- all using the easy America Online look
and feel that you already know.
To find out more about what's available in The Internet Center, select
ABOUT THE INTERNET CENTER from the previous menu.
WHAT IS THE INTERNET?
The Internet is the world's largest computer network. Although it was
founded over 20 years ago as a US military research network, and was
expanded to connect mostly academic institutions, an estimated 10-20
million people from all over the world now use the Internet. All kinds of
people -- businesspeople, researchers, educators, consumers, activists,
students, military personnel -- use the Internet to exchange electronic
mail, pursue special interests, search databases, and do business.
The notion of a global information highway is an exciting one; however,
there are some barriers that stand in the way of making the Internet widely
accessible for us "non-techies." The Internet is not centrally owned and
operated, and it's constantly changing, so it can be hard to figure out
what resources it has, and how to get to them. Since the Internet was not
developed for consumer use, it can be very hard to use -- especially for
the majority of us who have been "spoiled" by the simple point and click
graphics of Windows and Macintosh. Furthermore, unless you are associated
with an academic or research institution, it can be hard to get a
America Online's Internet Center is designed to overcome these obstacles.
As an America Online member, you are already a "member" of the Internet.
You can navigate the resources of the Internet just like you use any other
part of America Online. And, your use of the Internet Center is included
at no extra charge in your America Online membership fee.
WHAT DOES THE INTERNET HAVE TO OFFER?
The Internet offers the following basic resources: electronic mail,
"mailing lists," newsgroups, databases, and file transfer. Some of these
are available to you through America Online's Internet Center today. Others
will follow in the coming months.
ELECTRONIC MAIL: Electronic mail ("e-mail") is one of the most popular
uses of America Online. It's also one of the most popular uses of the
Internet. Today, you can use America Online to send electronic mail to
anyone who is connected to the Internet -- whether they are an America
Online member or not. If you have friends or associates who use any of the
popular online networks -- Compuserve, Prodigy, MCI Mail, AT&T mail,
AppleLink and many others -- you can send them mail through America Online.
To find out how, click on the USING THE MAIL GATEWAY icon. It's easy,
because it works just like the America Online mail system you already use.
America Online handles tens of thousands of pieces of Internet mail every
day, and there are no extra charges for America Online members who use this
MAILING LISTS: Mailing Lists are electronic mail "discussion groups" that
are exchanged through the Internet among groups of people who share similar
interests. You can exchange in an ongoing, interactive discussion with
people from all around the world using America Online electronic mail.
Hundreds of these Mailing Lists cover almost every imaginable topic:
technology, American literature, philosophy, cooking, chess, motorcycling,
sports, environmentalism, rock music, lifestyles -- you name it!
Click on the MAILING LISTS icon to find out how to find a Mailing List that
appeals to your interests, and how to join in today.
NEWSGROUPS: Also known as "USENET Newsgroups," these lively exchanges are
the 'Net equivalent of message boards on America Online. Like Mailing
Lists, there is a Newsgroup for just about any topic you can imagine (and
This January, America Online's Internet Center will allow you to browse a
list of all the Newsgroups available through the Internet, and place the
ones that interest you in your own customized message board. Using this
message board, you will be able to discuss your special interests with
people from all over the world.
DATABASES: The Internet contains hundreds of free databases of information
on many topics. These libraries, or archives, of information are devoted
to topics as diverse as home brewing, NASA news, recipes, Congressional
contact information, and the works of Shakespeare. These databases are
"indexed," meaning that they can be searched for information using key
words and phrases. (If you've been following news about the Internet, you
may have heard these databases referred to as "WAIS" -- pronounced "wayz"
-- databases. WAIS stands for "wide area information server," and is a
tool used on the Internet used for searching databases.)
Since most of the databases are run by volunteers, the quality and
reliability can vary from excellent to inconsistent. And figuring out how
to search the databases can get complicated. America Online's Internet
Center will make it easy to find and use Internet databases.
In February, America Online's Internet Center will include a selection of
some of the best databases available on the Internet. Each will have an
easy to use "front end" just like those used on databases throughout
America Online. (The encylopedia in America Online's Learning and
Reference Department is a good example.) As the number of databases
available on the Internet grows, we'll add to the list. And for "Internet
Experts," we'll provide a way to use a tool called "GOPHER" to search all
the databases out there.
FILE TRANSFER: America Online's software libraries are filled with
thousand of files -- graphics, music, spreadsheets and more -- that you can
download, or transfer, from the America Online "host" computers to your
personal computer. Scattered thoughout the Internet are many thousands of
such files and programs -- Internet users use a process called "ftp" (file
transfer protocol) to access them.
America Online's Internet Center will bring FTP online in the coming year.
Watch the Internet Center for news and details.
Today, you can use America Online's Internet Center to learn more about the
global Internet, and to participate in two of the Internet's most popular
features -- Mail and Mailing Lists. In January and February, we'll add
Newsgroups and Databases. Use the message boards in the Internet Center to
discuss your Interent discoveries with other America Online members, and to
let us know what you would like to see next.
Welcome to the Information Superhighway!