KEMP, Will. The Anarchist Computer Network - A Year Later

anarchist movement: historycommunication: Internet

The Anarchist Computer Network - A Year Later -by Will Kemp

A year ago, i wrote an article called "A Proposal To Set Up An Anarchist
Computer Network", which was originally published in the australian paper
"The Anarchist". I’ve recently discovered it was also reprinted by the
british paper "Freedom", the italian "Umanita Nova" and the french "Monde
Libertaire". As the net has now become a reality in Australia and my ideas
and knowledge have developed a long way beyond the point they were at a year
ago, i feel it’s time to write a follow-up.
The @NET really began in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city, with an
anarchist BBS called "The Xchange". This started in early 1993 as a dial-in
bulletin board system (BBS), which allowed people with their own computers
and modems to call in via the telephone system to swap messages and read text
files. For a couple of years, it ran this way, with no network connections -
and not very many users. Late in 1994, we connected it up the to Internet,
giving the users access to international email which allows them to send and
receive electronic mail to and from other Internet users all round the world.
At this point, the number of users grew dramatically.
A couple of months before The Xchange was connected to Internet, in about
November 1994, "Byteback" BBS began in Brisbane, two thousand kilometres to
the north of Melbourne, operating from Holus Bolus Anarchist Bookshop. It had
an Internet connection from the beginning and provided the same service as The
Xchange, allowing people to dial in from home with their own computers.
However, this bulletin board could also be used by coming into the shop and
this allowed people who didn’t have computers to get access to the network.
Sadly, Holus Bolus closed down at the end of July this year, leaving Byteback
homeless and without its dial-in line. However, it’s still running and is
available to the anarchist movement in Brisbane and hopefully one day it will
be fully operational again.
During this period, things were happening in Sydney too. "The Media Room"
was established by an anarchist collective who were working towards setting
up an open access multi-media resource centre. They established Internet
links around the end of 1994 and by mid 1995 had their own BBS running,
called "Catalyst". Originally the Media Room was based at Jura Books,
but is now operating from Black Rose bookshop. Jura are now working on
setting up their own media group.
In February 1995 an anarchist bookshop opened up in Melbourne, called
Barricade. Soon after opening, there was a public access computer terminal
in the shop, which was connected to Internet via The Xchange BBS. For the
few months between Barricade opening, and Holus Bolus closing, three of
the four anarchist bookshops in Australia had public access, internet-linked
However, although the anarchist communities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne
all have the possibility of constant cheap communication with each other,
this network doesn’t seem to be used very much in that way yet. It’s early
days in the development of such a resource and it obviously takes time for
people to find out how they can use it, as they’ve been so isolated from
each other for so long. But i feel sure that if i write a follow-up again
in another year, this situation will have changed completely.
Strangely enough, access to this network seems to have developed and improved
international links much more rapidly than domestic ones. The most notable
example of this is the link between European Counter Network (ECN) in Italy
and The Xchange BBS in Melbourne. The Xchange now receives a constant flow
of news from the ECN BBS in Padova. The two BBSs also jointly produce a
regular English-language electronic newsletter which summarises these
postings, along with a full translation of one or two longer documents from
Italy’s ’self-organised’ left.
There have also been links built with La Linea Lliure BBS in Barcelona in
Catalunya, Spunk Press - an international collective which maintains an
archive of anarchist literature on Internet - and several other anarchist
groups and individuals around the world.
* * *
At the time of the original article, i’d had no contact with Internet and
knew virtually nothing about it. Because of this, i made no mention of it
in that article. However, thanks to the guidance of a few anarchist friends
who knew more about these things than i did, i quickly came to realise that
the job of setting up an anarchist network would be made much easier and
cheaper - and more effective - if we used Internet as our means of
communication. Since that time too, general public knowledge and use of
Internet has grown at a fantastic pace.
The original technology (known as Fidonet Protocol) which we’d envisoned
using for the net would have limited us in a lot of ways, due to the
fact that it would have been more expensive to operate and we wouldn’t
have had the instant international access we now have with Internet. However,
it would have given us some short term advantages that we didn’t get from
Internet. Firstly, it would have restricted our internal network
communication to other BBSs on our own network, which would probably have
meant there would by now be a lot more communication between the australian
cities. It would also have meant we could have had closer links with ECN in
Italy, as this is the type of network they have. La Linea Lliure in Barcelona
also operates this system and ECN in Germany have a similar network.
However, Fido Protocol is not compatible with Internet and i believe that in
the long run, all these networks and BBSs will gradually change over to using
Internet as their communication medium. The reason for using Internet is
that it’s become so much cheaper to operate than Fido (which has to be done
with long-distance phone calls) and that it gives you access to a vastly
wider network and one that’s expanding at such a pace that the anarchist
movement can’t afford not to have a voice there. Internet is undoubtedly
going to become one of the most important forms of media within a very short
time and i’d say it will eventually overtake television as the main form
of mass media in the world. Unlike television, however, we’ve got a chance
to have a significant voice in this medium, but we must get in there now
if we’re going to get the chance to develop this influence.
I’d like to see more anarchist groups around the world setting up their
own network links, as this will certainly help us communicate with each
other more easily and effectively. And with better communication, we can
only build a bigger and stronger global anarchist movement. The groups
with existing network links can provide help and advice for people and
collectives who want to set up their own computer systems. I’ve written
a book called: "Message Sticks In Cyberspace - an anarchist guide to
computer communication" ("message sticks" are traditional communication
mediums used by australian aboriginal people.) This book aims to take
people who know virtually nothing about computers and, with simple
explanations, get them to the point where they can set up a Bulletin Board
and run a network. So far this book is only available from Australia, but
hopefully there will soon be copies for sale in Europe.
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