Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

Jeff Pack '99, Brown University (English 112, 1996)


Nowhere is Sturgeon's Law (Theodore Sturgeon's curmudgeonly proposition that ninety percent of everything is crap) more true than on the Internet. Anything one can imagine is likely stored somewhere, on some machine in the world. Unfortunately for the seeker of knowledge, finding the information one wants is akin to sifting through millions of haystacks in search of the one containing a needle (and, to make the metaphor even more accurate, picture the other haystacks as filled with broken needles and pins that look alike but are unusable). The Net would be unusable were it not for the sorting mechanisms available. Usenet is divided into hierarchical newsgroups with titles like "alt.hypertext" and "", so that the messages about a given subject are more easily found. Search engines abound on the Web, so that one can find a specific page without sifting through enough home pages to populate a medium-sized nation.

Of course, some netizens create information objects with the express purpose of defeating the searching mechanisms. Though all spaces on the web are intended for use, some (most notably advertising), rely on size of reach, rather than efficiency; that is, they aspire to reach as many possible interested users, regardless of how many disinterested users they also reach. Needless to say, this often causes animosity between advertiser and potential customer. For a long time, advertising on the Net was taboo. This has changed somewhat, but an advertiser who "spams", that is, who sends his/her material to every group on the net (actually, just to twenty or more) can expect to have his posts cancelled.

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