It would be an understatement to say that communication on the internet has come a long way in that last 30 years. Going back to the early days of the Usenet, internet communication has gone from a privilege to some, to a norm for all. With that inevitable change of guard due to digital convergence and massive technological expansion over the last 2 decades, there is no doubt that as internet communication expands and changes, so do the actions, values, and tendencies of the net users. MUD’s IRC’s Usenet Emails and other forms of pre-web internet communication faced problematic endeavors for the users often when some of them would engage in their own personal geared discussions. However, today, with the limitless amount of volume that’s persistent on the web, and the freedom to surf it so widely on almost any topic imaginable, it is my belief that the Free Rider issue is no longer the problem it was for Pre Web users.
The Usenet, born in 1979, is one of the original communication systems mediated through the internet. The Usenet was an online bulletin board consisting of a few hundred discussion groups, or newsgroups. A few hundred groups would become a few thousand. Today, it’s hard to monitor how many discussion groups available not only through the Usenet, but all across the web. The Free riding issue faced by early Usenet users was much more of an inconvenience to the internet community. Kullock and Smith(1996) explain in their article ‘Managing the virtual commons’ that Boundary and bandwidth restrictions would have a direct effect on each user of the group, by the Free Riders of the group (Pg. 116). Meaning they would be argumentative and opinionated in their retorts, ask unrelated questions or post unrelated news and information, and pretty much have a problem staying on the topics of conversation. Today, although the ever growing population of web users and web pages creates more nonsensical material on the net, it also becomes easier to ignore and neglect all the bull.
Taking for instance the Usenet group I monitored and observed this past week, Alt.movies.Kubrick, part of the Google groups chat forum, available through Usenet. A discussion group dedicated to the fans of film director Stanley Kubrick. I chose this thinking it would be hard to be off topic in this group. I mean it’s one man, his life, and the movies he made. As it turns out people can get way off topic with just about anything anywhere. About 50 percent of the messages that had been posted within the last 2 months dealt mainly with the political campaigns going on at this time. For every Kubrick based discussion post that was put up, there were 2 or 3 posts that were nothing more than links to news clips about Barrack Obama with a heading saying, “Check this out”, or “Obama for President”. Some take the Free Riding a step further from non-related political posts to straight spam. One that sticks out is a string of Photo-shopped pictures of John McCain. One with a funny mustache, one with lipstick and mascara, and my personal favorite, a monkey standing on his shoulders excreting onto the presidential candidates bald head.
The reoccurring messages of nonrelated topics were inconveniencing, sometimes ridiculous, but most of all, made the group seem non-legitamate and unprofessional. The catch to all of this is that all of the posts that aren’t related were ignored by all other consistent users. Nobody commented on the John McCain photos, or on ‘Bill Reid’ and his biweekly broker’s column he leaves, or on the rest of the non-Kubrick related conversation. Then, you can look and see a string of 14 messages on the post about a possible Spartacus remake, or a string of 10 messages on the discussion post about the death of film-maker, Michelangelo Antonioni.
One Free Rider, aka ‘StalePie’ proved my theory just this evening. StalePie has been leaving garbage on this site for over a month. The earliest I found was an uncommented on August 29 post ripping on Colonel Pat White. Another was a September 2nd message where he or she wrote a big paragraph consisting of one sentence, “The body of your message must contain some text”, over and over again. Trying to make a humorous reference to The Shining’s “All work and no play makes Jack a full boy”, which nobody else found funny either. Another September 18th post has the message heading, “Bad time to fart”, with a You-tube link underneath, which got no responses. Finally today, the 23rd, StalePie left a post saying “Don’t want to post here anymore..Bye..”
Even with the persisting junk that this Free Rider, and others will leave on the site, this didn’t stop ‘DC’, ‘Harry Bailey’, ‘Ichorwhip’, ‘Wordsmith’, and others from engaging in educated message strings that were informative on the topic of Stanley Kubrick and other events going on in the world of cinema. Sometimes the junk just can’t be avoided but it can always be discarded. A Free Rider is easy to spot and easily ignorable. It says a lot about somebody’s personality to be so off base all the time. A free rider by being so rebellious is to me, trying to show their versatility and their ability to be resourceful in multiple fields of discussion, when in truth it has the opposite effect of seeming lazy, uneducated, and unwilling to participate and coordinate with the community at hand. Internet is supposed to be, a cyber community where those who wish to participate accordingly and properly can and will. If you don’t wish to do so, talk to the mouse.
Kullock and Smith (1996) Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities pg. 109-128