Green card lawyers, my naked wife, and the too-open web

Remember Usenet? I was very excited by it… people were talking directly together, without barriers or intermediaries… incredibly democratizing, open to all. But, suddenly, that same uncritical openness was used to sell citizenship lotteries and atomic plans.

We were all quite shocked. But Usenet’s architecture naively trusted all inputs. Bound to happen.

Email surprised us with the same problem. It was very useful, particularly after Usenet started to get noisy. But then Email clients tried to compete with the colored fonts of HTML, and let anybody send a file to you, then executed JavaScript when an email was opened, and there were plenty of marketers urging them along on this road to perdition. The first big Flash security problem was My Naked Wife, a file-deleting .EXE which called itself a SWF… not all that much different than the latest issue, in wanting to trust any odd file which came along.

Email’s architecture also believed anything any stranger said, and so had an initial boom, before becoming parasitized. Like Usenet.

The World Wide Web is also very lauded, very useful. But we’ve got that same Usenet dynamic of wanting to listen to any speech or visit any site, while following the email-client dynamic of adding all types of extraneous features in hopes of becoming the universal client. The result is that more people are now asking “Can we trust the Web?”, not even knowing whose content they’re serving up.

“Green Card Lawyers” and “My Naked Wife” arose because they could, once Usenet or Email became attractive enough. Both Usenet and email were successful among early adopters, but neither system could really adapt to their eventual parasites. The Web has become popular too, and also has issues with accepting candy from strangers.

Fortunately, The Internet — the network of all networks — is bigger than The World Wide Web and its hyperlinks. Our connectivity is expanding from the desktop to the pocket and the wall. It’s time to change again.

Usenet may be moribund, and 90% of email may be spam, and the web’s search engines may be full of plagiarized or infected sites, but our networking strength has only increased. I suspect the next architectural design should offer more control over how strangers might gain our attention.