Controversial issues

NOTE:

This document is up to date as of 1995. While some of the issues discussed in it did not age, others aged.

  • Nowadays, BBSes are nonexistent. The nearest issue is whether to host your own Web site with your own Webmaster, or use a Web hosting service.
  • Getting an organization to use the Internet is nowadays no-brainer.
  • Junk mailings, known as spam, are nowadays a major problem of the Internet.

Introduction

This document covers some issues, which roused controversy in the ORGANIZE list. For each issue, arguments from both sides to the controversy are listed. In a way, this document can be said to follow the Talmudic convention of listing the arguments given by both sides of an argument, except that the official halachic answer is not always given.


BBS vs. Internet

Considrations:

  1. A BBS requires the following dedicated resources: phone line, a machine, and a sysop to supervise it.

  2. Both Internet connection and BBS have some hidden costs, which are incurred to provide assistance, maintenance, planning and growth.

  3. If no-cost access is desired for members, it is cheaper to subsidize Internet connection than set up your own BBS.

  4. According to Chaim R. Dworkin, to operate a BBS, you will in fact have to hire a part time system administrator who can be available 24 hours per day to watch over and maintain the system in case of problems. If your system crashes you cannot wait until someone has some spare time to repair it. When folks cannot get in they automatically assume your BBS is gone and never call back. There are always problems to deal with and the person who runs the BBS has to be **VERY** knowledgable in all the software and hardware you are using. This represents Achilles' heel of the venture.

  5. The Internet allows distribution of information worldwide (by means of gopher and/or WWW).

  6. The Internet provides, at no extra cost, access to information from all over the world (by means of gopher and/or WWW).

  7. Having one's machine sounds attractive at first but in the end the cost of maintaining it distracts from the serious issues of staffing and providing good information and resources, which is where the real challenge lies.

  8. Setting up information on an Internet host is less work and effort than setting up a BBS.

  9. Man-machine interface: in the past BBS's had better man-machine interfaces but now the Internet has better ones (depending upon Internet provider, whether the Internet connection is shell or SLIP/PPP, and what software is used in the user's PC).

  10. If you use the Internet right from the beginning, you immediately gain access to larger population who can help you further, at no extra effort.

  11. There is a security advantage if an isolated BBS is used rather than an Internet connection. Some organizations may need this security advantage for some projects which they run.

    Such organizations may justify having both Internet connection (for interacting with the world in less secure way) and BBS for use by more sensitive projects.

  12. An organization, which is connected to the Internet, can concentrate upon providing information to the world, and let others worry about accessing the information (via their Internet access providers).

Conclusion:
For most organizations and functions, the Internet is the way to go. Using a BBS may be justified if there are security concerns.

In some places (such as Israel), an account on a commerical BBS connected to the FIDONET is still cheaper than an account with an Internet access provider. In such cases, an organization, which does not need the more advanced capabilities of the Internet, may save some money by using a commercial BBS. However, even in this case, one does not speak about a BBS operated in-house.


Getting an organization to start using the Internet

To get an organization to start using the Internet, it is helpful if it already has someone who has Internet access (from another source, such as regular place of work, individual account or whatever). That initial contact will:

  1. Help train his coworkers.
  2. Discover Internet resources relevant to the organization in question.
  3. Drive the (usually procrastinating) organization to obtain modems, get training and allocate people/time as needed to secure Internet access.

Such a person will shorten significantly the time required until the Internet access begins to pay off.

Mark Katz suggests to start with setting up two groups of people:

  1. Technicians/trainers to understand what its all about and help set up an infra-structure. This together with a mission statement, marketing, publicity etc
  2. Data-gatherers and sales people to build up useful info, local to your area/organization, on a regular basis.

It is advised to be prepared for the following:

  1. Don't rush
  2. Don't think you'll cover your costs or afford to pay a fulltimer support personl.
  3. Be prepared for fall-out of volunteers who get frsutrated by delays and politicking

Who should be online in behalf of an organization?

's opinion:

As few users as possible. The reasons are:

  1. Each department in the organization doesn't need more than one, maybe two people online. This means that one person is working on the department's gopher and/or WWW information. That person is responsible for gathering information from his department and putting it online.

    The more people working on the gopher or WWW information, the bigger the mess, the organization has to worry about this.

  2. Internet is a huge sea. People are drowning daily. People are playing a lot of games. People are talking a lot of politics. People are downloading a lot of shareware. People are reading a lot of Usenet.

    ALL the above should be done, if a person wants to - on his/her *own* personal account at home and outside of the office.

    Those companies who give everyone internet access are *wasting* their resources, losing precious work hours - and getting very little in return. We all know that companies already have a problem with personnel playing computer games during work hours, but internet work cannot be logged.

More reasons against giving Internet access to more people from the organization:

  1. People who want to access the Internet for non-job related reasons can obtain personal accounts directly from an Internet access provider.
  2. It is easier to separate private opinions of individuals from the official opinion of an organization if they post their opinions from their personal accounts rather than from their organization's accounts.

The following are reasons in favor of granting more people access to the Internet via the organization:

  1. Some people work in organizations in the capacity of information gathering and contacting people outside of the organization.

    Those people need their own Internet accounts to do their own FTP, gopher and WWW accesses, and they have to be relied upon to be responsible in spending their time to further the organization's goals.

  2. The function of contacting people outside of the organization is not the same and does not have to be carried out by the same people who carry out the function of posting information into the Internet (which is centralized).

  3. In the information age, much of the value added of organizations is due to synergy and to low-level initiatives. An individual conceives a new idea (or an idea comes to him after idle browsing of information available from the Internet), performs some preliminary research to substantiate the idea and then submits it to the organization's leaders for possible implementation.

    Ideas can come to just anyone in the organization. Therefore, it behooves the organization to empower everyone with an Internet account and let everyone have the option of exploring the Internet.

    Universal access to E-mail can also help make an intelligent organization with lots of people in the know. Such organizations have competitive advantage in the information age.

  4. Another considration is that workers from the younger generation may want to include unrestricted Internet access as one of the fringe benefits expected by them, in addition to salary, as condition for employment or volunteer work. Such a perk would help make people feel better about their jobs.

  5. If more people are allowed to access the Internet, the organization will be able to monitor, review and gather relevant information from more lists, Usenet newsgroups, gophers, WWW sites, etc. It will be less difficult to justify and approve the addition of a new Internet resource to the list of Internet resources being watched - it will be sufficient to find someone who can add the extra resource to his workload (usually the one who actually needs the information).

  6. A large organization can use E-mail for internal communications, with or without Internet access.

  7. Professional people must maintain contact with their peers in other organizations in order to keep up to date with their field. Denying them Internet access in the organization will make it more difficult and expensive for them to keep current.

  8. E-mail is analogous to phone use. There are practically no companies which have a significant number of white collar employees who cannot pick up the phone on their desk and make or receive a phone call, although there are often restrictions on long distance phone calls. Eventually similar situation will exist for E-mail and other tools for accessing the Internet.


What can schools benefit from collaborating via the Internet?

Schools may benefit in the following ways from Internet access:

  1. Get better teaching materials.
  2. Provide the teachers with better on-going education for themselves.
  3. Collaborate with other schools on various joint projects.
  4. Students can easily pen-pal with students in other schools everywhere on Earth.
  5. Students can access all sorts of knowledge via the WWW.

One possible project for Jewish schools is an on-line Ask the Rabbi program:
Younger students, with the guidance of their teacher, formulate a question they'd like to ask, write it out in a concise way, and e-mail it to the rabbi. The rabbi responds and they either write a short paper or give a presentation about what the rabbi said.

One of the pedagogical benefits is that the students are forced to articulate their thoughts in clear and concise language. Another benefit is that E-mail usage acquaints students with tools which are going to play larger and larger roles in their lives as they get older.

How to hook a school to the Internet:

  1. Hook up a few schools, in pairs.
  2. Have a teacher from each school who will be responsible for the project.
  3. The two teachers will work out together a plan on what they want to do.
  4. Give the students reading material, and let them discuss the matter in a list, which is actually just like a class-room discussion.
  5. Have the teachers work in a way that they are out of the picture as much as possible.
  6. Have some sort of interaction where the students can also do what they want together, e.g. talk about their favorite pop star, TV program, or how to hack the bank computer. :-)

Using Mailing Lists to Reach Organizations Which Might Help You

Suppose you need to contact several Jewish organizations in a particular geographical region, and request from them assistance in some project in which you are involved; or want to inform them about some product or service which you have and is useful to them.

The question is how to actually do so with the least amount of nuisance and the best chance of actually reaching those people who can and are willing to help you.

When this question was debated in the ORGANIZE list, the WWW approach for disseminating information was not as widespread as it is now. With the WWW approach, it is not a problem to disseminate information: you put it in your WWW site and post (or E-mail) its URL in few mailing lists. The message bearing the URL is short so it is not much of nuisance.

However, when you want to request assistance from people in specific organizations, E-mail is better than WWW in getting response from them. Here we run into two problems:

  1. Someone needs to contact several Jewish organizations in other regions of planet earth, to carry out a worthwhile goal.
    How can this be done?
    (This someone is referred to below as Reuven, in the best Talmudic tradition.)
  2. E-mail liaisons in the Jewish organizations all around planet earth are very busy people and their E-mailboxes overflow with E-mail.
    How can they keep control of their incoming E-mail?
    (Those people are referred to below as Shimons.)
  3. A more serious problem is when someone makes a private list and makes mass mailing to that list (if his organization has periodic need for assistance from those people). If the list is managed by a listserver, from which people can easily unsubscribe themselves, there is no problem. But if the list is not managed by a list server, then the list owner must manually unsubscribe them and it may take some time. During this time, the E-mail inbox of those persons is at mercy of the list owner.

The dilemma is:

  • If every Reuven wants to contact several Jewish organizations to further his cause, then all Shimons who receive E-mail messages in behalf of those Jewish organizations would drown under the deluge of E-mail.
  • On the other hand, if the Shimons refuse to receive and deal with E-mail from the Reuvens, then the Jews won't be served by the Internet as well as they could be - because the Reuvens (who may sometimes be Shimons) won't get as much benefit from the Internet as they'd otherwise receive.

Several approaches were suggested for dealing with the problem.

  1. Get a list of E-mail addresses for contacting several Jewish organizations and filter it to remove the addresses of organizations, which are obviously irrelevant for your purposes. Then E-mail your request for help to the remaining addresses.

    This approach would overload some of the Shimons, especially by those who are the most diligent in following discussions in the Internet. In the hands of novice or malicious users, this can cause spam E-mails to jam several E-mailboxes all around the world.

  2. Post your request for help to one or few lists or Usenet newsgroups which, discuss subjects (or share similar political goals) similar to what you have in mind.

    This approach has the advantage that those who receive your message are the ones who are willing to devote few moments to read it, otherwise they'd not bother at all to follow the list where you posted your message.

    Several people and organizations "listen" for Internet messages on several channels (several discussion groups, personal E-mail etc). They often object strongly to E-mail which arrived in a certain channel whereas if it were to arrive in another channel, it would have been welcome (the channels being differentiated according to their topics and charters).

    Several people who receive E-mail have set up their software to automatically route incoming E-mail to different folders depending upon its sender. Private messages get routed to one folder, while messages from mailing lists are routed to other folders. Sending requests for help to lists rather than individually causes those requests to be filed in the appropriate folders, saving bother from the receipients.

  3. Shimons may want to follow a list, yet not be bothered by private E-mail from people, who got the list of subscribers to that list. They may (depending upon the listserver) issue a 'conceal' (or 'hide') command, which prevents unwanted people from getting their addresses.

    The problem is that some people prefer *not* to have to hide their addresses because there may be legitimate (in terms of why they subscribed to the list in the first place) reason as to why someone might want to get in touch with them as individuals. For example, there may be someone in another part of Canada who might have a question about organizing a network and feels there may be some issues unique to Canada or the Canadian Jewish community so that she may want to contact only those members of the list with Canadian addresses. This would be a legitimate and useful use of the REVIEW function.

  4. It may be a good idea to form regional mailing lists, to which every organization in a region is subscribed. Such lists can be used for posting announcements, requests for help, and the like - without cluttering other lists with this kind of irrelevant information.

  5. Reuven could send to the various people his E-mail message BUT make it very short and invite them to contact him (or visit his WWW site, if he has one) for more information.

  6. Another tactic, which Shimon might adopt to make his incoming E-mail more manageable, is to request the listservers to turn on DIGEST mode when sending him E-mail. This way Shimon receives his E-mail in digest form, which makes it easier to skip unwanted messages.


Junk mailings to reviewed lists of subscribers

Some listserver-managed mailing lists make the list of their subscribers available to people who request to review the list of subscribers. Such lists contain the names of everyone on the list, except for those who explicitly requested that their addresses be hidden.

This raised the issue of people who grab a mailing list and use it to send junk mail to the people listed in it (or part of them). Reasons why this could be a problem are:

  1. Internet could become a nightmare if junk mail is to be tolerated.
  2. Junk mail costs the receipient: transfer time, temporary storage, the time it takes to review the header and maybe the beginning of the message.
  3. Spamming is not done by knowledgeable&responsible users, but by novice users and malicious users.

Reasons why this should not be considered as a problem:

  1. Junk mail represents at worst a minimal imposition. It is just so easy to delete it unread. That's one of the reasons why we have subject headers.

  2. Second reason is what one person considers junk mail may be interesting or useful to some one else.

  3. Third reason is that people who have a product, a service or a body of information may have no easy way to identify likely users and they may have little alternative to mass mailing.

    They should make an effort to pinpoint a likely market, and avoid "spamming" (posting messages to irrelevant mailing lists or newsgroups); but even then they may still have no choice but to send their message to groups that include some people who will not welcome it.