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I got on the net several years ago, when I started as a Computer Science major at CalPoly. That wasn't the beginning of the internet, but as far as I can tell, it was a little before the beginning of the internet's golden age. I feel like someone who got an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury in 1965 because it was cheap and close to school.

But it didn't take long for the Haight to get filled up with tourists, scene groupies, media opportunists, get-rich-quick types, crime and trouble. It looks like the internet is going in the same direction.

Just recently, some lawyer posted an message to every newsgroup on the net (everything from rec.arts.startrek to alt.sex.bondage to sci.chem) advertising their immigration services. This was a major breach of what the online community calls "netiquette." Aside from being a waste of space on those computers which carried the message, and a waste of time for the users who found the same message on every group they read, it was rude and unthinking - akin to launching an enormous billboard into orbit so that everyone would have to read it, or stamping the same advertisement on every envelope to leave the post office.

The internet immune system kicked in, flooding the computers that originated the messages with angry messages, or "flames" as they're called in the lingo. Net detectives contacted the bar association and came up with evidence that the lawyer had been booted from his practice in Florida after ripping off immigrants trying for green cards. That evidence was posted far and wide.

The lawyer was undaunted, vowing to do it again. After all, he reasoned, on the anarchic internet, there's no law against being rude. And outside the net, the general public and the media have viewed the whole fiasco as a case of the free-market finding new and innovative ways to use technology to advertise their products. We're liable to see more of this as time goes on.

If this article you're reading now were a Usenet "post," someone would have posted a follow-up article by now, quoting that last paragraph and adding as a comment the phrase "Imminent Death of the Net Predicted :-)" People have predicted the death of net.culture for as long as there has been a net. It's a little like religious figures saying that the end of the world is around the corner. Every time another on-line service gets hooked to the 'net (as America On-Line and CompuServe recently have), and the 'net is flooded with immigrants untutored in the ways of netiquette, a fresh cry of "there goes the neighborhood" goes up....

It's more likely that the sheer number of people flooding onto the net every day will put a greater strain on the existing informal framework than it can take. Already some once-useful newsgroups have been so overloaded with flames and off-topic traffic that the old-timers have moved on, leaving the carcass to the vultures.

The framework that will take its place will be more efficient, better able to handle the flood and the new demands placed on it for more powerful, more flexible, and more commercial. At the same time, the virtual homes and playgrounds that get torn down so that the information superhighway can be built will contain a great deal of the culture that makes the net what it is today.