1981 - NewsPeek
   1983 - GIN
   1989 - SmarTV
   1992 - GenMagic
   1994 - CDML
   1994 - Social Ads
   1996 - Venue OS
   1999 - Lumeria
   2001 - OpenPrivacy

* The History Behind Broadcatch

GIN - The Guerilla Information Network (1983)

From a paper delivered by Fen Labalme
first at the Anarchist Non-vention, San Francisco, July 1983,
and later at the Hackers Conference, October 1989.

There's a lot of weird shit going down in the world.

Terrorism. War. Poverty. Hunger. Homelessness. Beverly Hills. The systematic decimation of the South American Rainforests. Ozone depletion. Acid rain. SDI. A $2 trillion plus national debt.

To top it off, the federal government spends more money on the production and dissemination of disinformation than they spend on education.

In times gone by, people used to believe what they read in the paper. It's where they got the news and people like William Randolf Hearst was providing an eager public with "all the news fit to print." It was assumed (perhaps somewhat naively) that what was 'fit' for Mr. Hearst was surely good enough for everyone else. After all, Mr. Hearst was a rich and well-respected man! However, one can safely say that Mr. Hearst's paper prints exactly that which will ensure the sale of more newspapers. Yes, we're truly in the glory days of capitalism. And, of course, whatever is printed will carry the personal biases of the editors.

Recently the public has begun to wake up from its media naivete, and now much of the population has become aware that not all that one reads is necessarily true, and those more cynical among us question the veracity of nearly any news story, unless witnessed themselves. (Some may even question that!) This is a pretty powerless position from which to try to take a stand, because it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to trustworthy information (or, at the least, the public has become more suspicious of the media.)

This has proven to be a formidable form of propaganda: Give the people everything, but add enough disinformation to keep the people confused and unsure of themselves. Note that the disinformation (a term that gained public use during the Nixon presidency) can come from many sources, ranging from CIA-run government bureaus to a simple (and offtimes well-intentioned!) personal bias on the part of the writer who transcribes a story onto a wire service, or from a wire service into an article for publication. This form of propaganda, Give the people everything but trust in what they read, could be argued to be one of the most powerful tools available to politicians currently in office. Please note that I am making no judgement about the politician's intent - he (masculine pronoun intended) may have the country's best interest at heart, but does everyone agree with where his heart is at? He sees that the best way to effect his idea of goodness is for him to remain in power. With the people confused and almost unable to mount any clear offensive, this arrangement will work to increase his salary and investments and otherwise to maintain the status quo.

GIN, an acronym for the Guerilla Information Network, is a free, personalized and inherently uncontrollable news and information access service with clear and concise methods for helping to increase the trust in what you read. In a nutshell, GIN is an electronic, multi-media newspaper which provides precisely the news and other information that the user, given enough resources and time to make use of them, would want to read. It's sort of like having a personal literature review staff working 24 hours a day. Additionally, it has the benefit that it cannot be controlled by any central source, and thus cannot be censored! Originally the system will cost a fair amount of initial investment in the form of a computer and communication links, but its use is free. As there are other plans for the generation of revenue, we will soon be able to gain access to the system for free, which is certainly a step towards information liberation!

The basic concept of a personal information service was first proposed by Vannevar Bush in 1945 and later put to practice at the MIT Media Lab in an electronic personal newspaper called NewsPeek which has recently been discussed in The Media Lab by Stewart Brand. Since then, several systems have been built which work to embody these concepts, but few if any have met with public or corporate acceptance. (Note: SmarTV may soon be an exception)

These systems all rely on a form of media known as hypertext. Associative links can be made from one concept to another, so that when one is reading one article which reminds one of another, they can be "connected" so that the path may be followed more easily again. Links may have names and owners, and in fact links can be made to links. Names, such as "definitional", or "fun" provide some description of what one may find at the other end, and ownership (such as "private" or "Greenpeace") provide authentication.

An example will help to make the concept and use of personal hyper-media more clear.

One who regularly reads the movie reviews, especially if employing more than one source (say, a daily paper, the Sunday review section, and a weekly news magazine) soon learns which reviewers to trust and which to ignore. Some reviewers may even be so out of line with one's personal tastes that what the reviewer suggests is reversed as part of the decision making process. Imagine that every time you viewed an article, your computer kept track of who wrote it, what the subject matter was, how it meshed with your beliefs, and perhaps even how accurate you believed it to be (given cross references from sources already considered trustworthy).

Imagine Fred, who has worked with Greenpeace and likes what they do and generally agrees with their policies. Yet Fred has never heard of the off-shore oil drilling issue until he reads a letter sent him prior to an election by the California Utilities in cooperation with Exxon (this collaboration somehow escaping mention in the letter). Fred is impressed by the letter which holds that the development of these resources is essential to prevent Communist takeover of the U.S.

Fred is, however, an experienced GIN user and decides to see how Greenpeace reacted to this letter. He is quickly informed of other issues at stake (such as the millions of tons of toxic mud released at the drilling site) and even that Exxon had a hand in its publication. Outraged, he calls up an on-line version of the letter, annotates it with text from the Greenpeace report, and sends it to some of his friends. He also learns of two other groups tracking this issue, namely Save Our Shores and Citizens for a Better Environment, which he highlights as new reliable sources.

Over time, this personal news/media scorecard would grow into a fairly substantial database, a database that would come more and more to reflect the views of the user. To prevent tunnel vision from befalling the user, effectively defeating the purpose of GIN, heuristics within the interface would help one to pick major (largely read) stories for viewing, and to keep informed of alternate, possibly opposing viewpoints.

Privacy, verification of sources and authentication of authorship. Three forms of signature:

  • Anonymous
    Can be replicated but cannot not traced
  • Signed Anonymous, or pseudonymous
    Cannot be replicated and cannot be traced
  • Signed
    Cannot be replicated and can be traced
  • Future directions of such a system include an ultimate Swiss Bank, in that all transactions and account balances would be known only to the account executor.

    I suggest that such a system can be built today.

    Well, almost. The problem lies in that before it will really work well, we've got to get a substantial portion of the population connected to it, and this will take years. A few hundred thousand installations would be a good start, anyway. In the mean time, there are numerous benefits that can be realized for anyone who wishes to remain well informed on a set of topics. Companies can watch for potential competitors and/or new technologies that may have an effect upon their product. In general, any special interest group could keep tabs on their particular field(s) of interest.

    This paper is in progress. For more information, or for a copy of the finished paper, please send a self addressed stamped envelope to:

    Fen Labalme
    Anarchist Information, Inc.
    1899 California Street #9
    San Francisco CA 941o9


    suspicious vs. critical
    Note that suspicious is very different from critical . Suspicion is inherently bad, in that it only serves to slow the progress of one's development and learning. However, one needs to be able to digest new information in a rationally intelligent manner, if only to keep from being unnecessarily naive. To accomplish this, people need new skills to cope with the information revolution. New course work in the schools is a possible and straightforward solution. For example, a basic and continuing course in Media Criticism, taught from the elementary grades on through college, will help each person to better evaluate ones sources of information. A course on Ethics in the Workplace should be a requirement for any high school and any college diploma, and will serve to give the student a more thorough understanding of the consequences of ones actions, and of the actions of others.
    wire service(s?)
    In 1979, 95% of all news (excepting sports, weather, and editorials), could trace their source to either AP, UPI, or Reuters. Note that the wire services most probably have similar interests, and where there is only three of them, it may be considered but a single information source. So much for variety!
    a general information service
    GIN can be generalized to include television, video disks, music, and more - see appendix. For the sake of brevity, I will use the verb "to read" to connote the access of any form of information in any manner.
    Vannevar Bush
    As We May Think by Vannevar Bush, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, pp. 101-108
    The Design and Implementation of NewsPeek: A Knowledge-Based Open Access News and Information Retrieval System by Fen Labalme, MIT S.B. Thesis, August 1981
    One new personal media system, an intelligent television set called SmarTV by Metaview Corp., embraces similar concepts and will hit the market later this year. Using a central computer cum electronic "TV Guide" and a local PC that records your interests, SmarTV -- a combined VCR, robot tape changer, PC and modem -- knows when a program you're interested in is on and automagically records it. Whenever you please, you can pick interesting shows from a juke box-like menu, zipping forward at high speed to bypass the boring stuff and commercials. (Metaview, 2269 Chesnut St., S,F., CA 94123, 415-441-6962).
    The term hypertext was coined by Ted Nelson, a computer visionary in the early 1970's. See Computer Lib / Dream Machines, Personal Publications, 1974. Note also that Doug Englebart had essentially developed a hypertext system around 1960.
    keeping informed
    My personal philosophy is that humans are intelligent and seek the best and the good in the world around them. With an interface to the world similar to that which GIN or NewsPeek proposes, effectively providing an eye to the world with intelligent filtering (where the intelligence is provided by the user as she manipulates her interface) the level of consumption of correct information will dramatically increase. GIN, in effect, becomes a truth engine, in that a user can begin searching for answers to a new (to this particular user) story, follow the path most widely accepted (or, perhaps, as accepted by some trust worthy group), and arrive at a satisfying answer straightaway.
    anyone can
    Anyone with a lot of money, that is.
    Page Created: Wednesday, February 9, 1994
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