Review of 'Rules of the NET'

Rules of the NET by Thomas Mandel, and Gerard Van der Leun

rules_of_the_net.jpg I remember buying this book and thinking it was rather funny that there would be any “Rules of the NET” but the authors here are at pains to point out that these are “rules” or guides to behaviour that they have gleamed in their experience using the Internet. Chapters are devoted to different aspects of the Internet and containing specific rules/advice that are then explained. Often the tone is quite tongue-in-cheek, mind you, fairly technical tongue-in-cheek at that. Humour throughout it ends with an amusing article on the replacement of the Internet with something called “HappyNet”.

Looking back on this book at 20 years after it was written is quite interesting. The Internet of 1996 was still one occupied by many techies and the proliferation of newsgroups that have largely now been conspired to the dust bin of history. Newsgroup etiquette is the subject of a number of chapters here which is now fairly obsolete but it does offer insight into how to behave in any on-line public discussion boards.

In the mid 1990s the Internet was still populated by those technically literate and those who could either afford to pay for it or those who were given access for free, often working for universities. It was a world largely comprised of text-based interfaces to the various Internet services - Remembering here “gopher”, “WAIS” and other applications now seen only read of in old reference manuals. Where “flame wars” and spam were rife and threatening to bring the whole thing down to it's knees…Now things are so much different - No one would dream of a group of people in heated debate would cause the Internet to fair nor any amount of spam.

I think back to these times where everyone did seem to have their voice on the vast proliferation of newsgroups on various different topics. Anyone in the world could reply to anyone else on any of the topics being discussed…or even on those topics not being discussed! Today this communication method is gone replaced generally by niche social media conversations and the creation of personal sites for specific interests. But is this the same type of discourse and does it have the same scope of readership? Likely not. I think something here has been lost and I wonder if it is for the best despite the many pitfalls mentioned here in this book.

In “Rules of the NET” the authors often repeat themselves and whole sections seem to composed of random collections of trite sayings and other items borrowed from the very medium they are discussing. It is often like reading a shopping list so my mind tended to often wander…

“The Net is not the major growth industry of the future.”

In this the writers of the book got it wrong but to a large part they really draw a good picture of how the social structure of the Internet can be maintained by following some, often common-sense, rules to recognize the need for fair discourse. It is interesting to read back on this emphasis on individual expression which seems to be largely lost in the Internet of today.

“…on-line is not about selling something to someone or bringing information to the starving masses. What it is about is people wanting to connect, in a real and genuine way, to other people free of the filters of older media; to establish, no matter how ephemerally, communities of like-minded souls who are separated only by the accidents of geography; to create a place where it really is the content of one's character that is the first and foremost thing people see.”

Is this sentiment merely nostalgic or is this also true today? You have to wonder.

“Rules of the NET” contains information that is still relevant in this day of the Internet that the authors could only ever dream of in their wildest imagination.

An interesting if slightly boring read. Perhaps one more for veterans of the Internet such as myself.

Rating: “A bit better than average”

Review Date: 2016-05-01

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hyperion

Publication Date: 1996

ISBN: 0786881356