Pit Schultz on Tue, 13 Oct 1998 18:30:27 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> a brief piece on nettime free

From: Tilman Baumgaertel 

> Hi!

> "Spiegel-Online" asked me to write a brief piece on nettime free. A few
> questions:

making a brief report about a complex situation is the task for a journalist.
hope i can leave that to you to make a cut-up version ;)

i think it wouldn't be very smart to write only about this 'event' without
putting into a proper context. the atmosphere of 'electronic disturbance' is
growing on several mailinglists at the moment, but it is yet not clear if it is
just a temporary phase, and what it has to do with what happens outside of the
net, particulary the situation at the stock markets and various conflicts
around ethnic and religious faultlines. some are calling it a millenial

another context is clearly the name.space project paul garrin started, and
which went into a final crisis. the demand of paul garrin to send out promotion
material about his own project is not new, and it was a flame war he was mainly
involved in which led into moderation of the nettime mailinglist in autumn
1997. the so called nettime-free is based on Paul Garrin's server.

there were several trials to start up with unmoderated channels on nettime
before. from a certain number of subscribers on, it is almost imminent that
noise goes up, and quality goes down. any mailinglist will have to find its own
specific model of ballancing the signal/noise ratio. it is a net-myth that
mailinglists are just regulating themselves, it needs a proper moderation and
list maintenance to build up a commited user basis and substantial flow of
content. moderation here means the real work of inviting people, encouraging
contributions, solving conflicts, editing and cleaning texts, and filtering so
called spam messages.

nettime exists now since 1995 and grew only very slowly to the current 850
subscribers from about 20 countries sharing certain interests in a critical
discourse around the internet. 

since the beginning of this mailinglist there were always artists participating
in the discourse on a formal level experimenting with e-mail communication.
since late summer, a new breed of self-promiting digital artists emerged
flooding several mailinglists with cut-up replies of earlier messages. it
started mainly on the infowar mailinglist at ars electronica. (ironically at
almost the same moment clinton send the cruise missiles to so called terrorist
camps around the world) the goal is both disrupting the discourse and gaining
attention through this disturbance, leading the reader to the own homepages
which contain some dada-data-art. interesting is the mix of a radical
democratic critique, with a shameless advertisments of own CDs and artworks
under the legitimation of art. 

the arguments usually claim a position against human identity vs. the machines
but then again paradoxically recall the anonymous authorship and human identity
of the heroic disturber. the provocation usually ends in repetive replies,
calling the moderator fascists etc. so partly this leads to the situation we
have now. many other mailinglists have to deal with this in a similar way
(syndicate, infowar, xchange, rhizome). 

in an interesting way most of these provocateurs came from a experimental art
list called 7-11, which was also called the 'ascii-terrorist' camp where a
certain kind of info-dada rituals were exercised, an affirmation of spam was
celebrated and some subscribers started to feed a certain hatred on discourse
based lists. the actions are centered around a radical paradoxical
individuality using cut-up techniques and noisy ascii-art. the messages seem to
fight against the ideology of clean digital environments, and aims first at the
neigbhoring mailinglists adressing moderation as a repressive control system to
limit self expression. This strategy of gaining recognition in the end turns
out to be another kind of advertisment of (the artists as) art products,
symbolizing the sacred identity of the individual. in my own interpretation it
is a not only a reactionary fight for identity, but an impulsive manoevre
against the potentials of the worst kinds of political order which is inh!
erent in the digital media, and a rather desperate mode of self-expression as a
negative appropriation of the economy of attention. 

it would be logical as a radical art strategy that the yet anonymous artist
soon will convert the attention they got with their interventions later on into
a career in the art system. the lack of any particular political messages makes
it easy to identify with the actions as a general revolt against oppression,
within a simplified world model of masters and slaves, freeing the cultural
codes against a society of control. the ironic effect is that it is not
corporations or banks, nor political insitutions but the self organised
cultural mailinglists having to deal with these phenomena themselves. 

in the beginning nettime covered a good part of these retro-avantgardistic
postings, but after the messages got more and more similar the current
moderator, Ted Byfield, decided to take the usual action in these cases. first
filtering messages, then after the spamming continues, unsubscribing the
'spammer'. as always some subscribers begin to sympathize and see it as an
undemocratic action of censorship. while there are possibly no other media
which are giving such possibilty for free speech, ironically it is the exessive
testing of the limits what makes many usenet newsgroups already unreadable.
bigger mailinglists are usually moderated but not as open as some people dream

all this is particulary sad for nettime as it tries to cover issues of cultural
resistance and the critique of the political economy of cyberspace but still
propagates a working model of textual criticism and dialogue. so instead of
taking real action, symbolic action is taken within the 'virtual neighborhood'
in place of a power structure which is unreacheable and remains untouched. in
its performative hate speak it is some kind of unarticulated vandalism and
marks a possible breakdown of textual communication. (similar to what El Laden
calls 'messages without words'. )

> 1. Any idea whose behind it? Does it smell like Paul Garrin?

sure. smells like spam spirit.  paul garrin is, in a very bad sitution since
the decision made with network solution and the reorganisation of the top level
domains getting postponed again to 2003. it is a sad moment for his project and
the concept of 'tactical media' in general. he invested a lot of money in
lawsuits against Network Solutions and the US Administration itself. maintaing
the technical infrastructure needed for name.space and his employees is
expensive too. yet his last possibilty is to sue Network Solutions who is
actually having a monopoly on the admistration on the biggest top level domains
and access to the root files (".") of the DNS system, to pay him back his
investments. His aim was a non-regulated model of DNS where thousands of top
level domains would be possible. Clearly he is fighting against the big guys
here, and there is little chance he can win this Don Quichote fight. In this
moment of extreme frustration nettime-free appears.

It also maybe typical for these 'independent' structures, that in the moment of
severe crisis of one of their nodes, these informal structures turn against
themselves. Especially name.space which is run as a rather autocratic system
without any development of open standards or discussion boards of it's
technical structures. So you have a paradoxical fight for the public domain of
quasi anarchistic structures which are not build as democratically legitimized
institutions. it is an important marker in the history of 'independent media'
which is model which still survives from the 80ies in some parts of the net.
nettime has a different position here which is rather based on a economic model
of 'free content' comparable to the open source movement of the linux
community. this case raises questions which are discussed aready for a while,
and are adressing a new architecture for mailinglist based discussions.
functions like moderation, closed and open subscription and even the title
'list-owner' are inbuilt features of a given software. 

Also for mailinglists counts that democratic legitimation is yet not
implemented technically or on the level of corporate organisation nor the
development of technical standards. the question who governs the net is
extremely unclear, and the 'board' lately introduced by John Postel shows new
forms of oligarchic power structure governing the key technologies of the
internet. it is obvious that the demand for more democratic legitmation of
larger technical structures is first appearing on the bottom, in smaller
enviroments which are traditionally sensitive for these issues. 

> 2. How do you think they got the nettime-email-adresses? How many people are
> on the list at this point?

anyone could, it's a standard majordomo function.  in the moment you might
publish this it will likely be switched off.  the nettime moderators discussed
this a while ago and thought it would be better if subscibers would be able to
know who else is on the list. (you can easily make a search for email adresses
and find out more) funny thing is that the 'who command' is switched off on
this 'free' list.

it is a known spammer practise collecting e-mail adresses from several
mailinglists or the usenet. the fact that 'political' activists are using such
lists is not new, but gets quite problematic when the messages are not at all
wanted by the receivers and there is no way to get removed from such lists.

more strange is that until now i know noone who managed it to unsubscribe from
it. according to all known nettiquette this is the best way to lose your
reputation online. i hope we'll get over this in a way, but it marks a deep
decline in the open mailinglist culture, after it many of neighboring lists
will look different, install more security and control schemes.

> 3. Any plans to do anything against it? do you feel this infringes your right
> on the name "nettime"?

there is no trademark, it was never an issue. there are several other nettime's
(one in sweden, one in canada) on the net and the list never had problems with
them, which shows the sphere of splendid naivity this list is existing in.
there have been several attempts to make open discussion channels (nettime-d,
alt.nettime, bbs.thing.net) generally most people on nettime support an open
channel - if it would just work.  the major problem, regarding net-ethics, i
can see here is hijacking the list forcing people into subscription. this is
clearly an abusive action which puts 'freedom' in a fairly ideosyncratic
context. i expect the most of the subscribers are getting upset about the fact
that they can't unsubscribe from this list they're put onto without asking.

it puts the model of 'free media' into a more questiable light. nettime is not
a corporation, there is no official body, to have an official reaction. you
might grab different opinions about the internal structure of nettime, and also
different answers to your questions. without a small group of people doing the
basic work of maintaining nettime, it wouldn't exist. the main force of nettime
are it's people, the subscriber-authors who are sharing a certain culture of
exchange, such a positive potential has its own life and logic. you cannot
simply collect all the adresses and names to symbolically own or control the

on the side of social knowledge all this buzz is not new at all, compared to
the history of much older 'virtual communities' like the well, or the
cypherpunks lists. the known social dynamics of online communities were one
cause that nettime was more aiming at offline socialising then the simulation
of some kind of hippie jakuzie. the desires projected onto the idea of digital
socialty are often a waste of time, which is better invested in meeting some
friends next door.

> 4. What do you say about the concrete accusations voiced in the first
> nettime free mail (censorship, nettime being about publication and
> self-promotion?)

i don't know, i didn't read it ;) i would also not call it a free mail. such
accusations are not new, and not particular for online media. sure you can
call it all these things, but then you should be very careful how you
legitimate your own activities. so i think it sounds like hypocrisy and has not
much to do with the real world. what nettime offers is a rather open enviroment
for the exchange of high quality content about internet culture on a complete
non-commercial basis. the quality of textes delivered through this channel as
compared to other professionally organised online magazines, is obscenely high.
Especially for a highly informed user base, it is much more useful then
channels which are aimed at a more general public. at least some journalists
are using this list as basic source for their articles. 

that certain people who are contributing a lot of appreciated material get a
certain reputation out of this activity is the basis of its economy. we would
be hopeless idealists to believe that the gift economy would not pay back in a
way. you should know it yourself. there are certainly negative factors, the
list is surely not set in stone as it functions, started by Geert Lovink and
me, the moderation is now in a rotating mode, it means that the moderator is
changing every half a year. the idea of a text not getting published on nettime
is in 98% cases a fiction based on the fear of moderation. in fact, it would be
good to give users the access to the moderators mailbox to see what kind of
messages get filtered out. you can accuse nettime of promoting a political
bias, or being too intellectual or critical in certain moments, but i think
that is rather a strength than a weakness. 

viel spass
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