A Less-Brief History of ClariNet

[cobbled together from various sources from Brad Templeton's site and discussions with some of the past ClariNet community. Please check Brad's site for additional information about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, rec.humor.funny]

ClariNet Communications Corporation is the world's first ever ".com" company. ClariNet was also the Internet's first, and for a long time, the largest, electronic newspaper.

To understand the history of ClariNet, we need to go back to Internet's "dark ages".

Brad Templeton joined his first ARPAnet mailing list in 1979. The ARPAnet, predecessor to the Internet, was very explicitly developed for research. For the first time, people over broad areas could easily ask questions and get answers. Initially, the "acceptable use policy" restricted it, but pretty soon there was no shortage of folks offering opinions on a variety of subjects, sharing jokes, asking for help, ...

USENET is an electronic conferencing network, and is actually something distinct from the Internet. USENET was the free software that allowed people to quickly share their email on a large (and rapidly growing) number of platforms. Electronic conferencing (or what some call "bulletin boards" or "groupware") has become the public lifeblood of the online world.

USENET is, and was, a cooperative project. People built it piece by piece, carrying along everybody else's information so that all that was said would make it everywhere. These origins led to a non-commercial spirit on USENET. USENET, however, is actually an anarchy with no controlling body, and no rules. There are only conventions and practices there, and the only true principle of what's allowed is what people will tolerate.

Not too long after USENET was created, software was put in place to allow what are called moderated groups. These newsgroups were set up so that ordinary users couldn't post to them. The moderator's often thankless job was simply to weed out the inappropriate or off-topic postings, duplicates and other bits of "noise."

In 1986, Brad Templeton pushed for the creation of a heavily-edited moderated newsgroup. Postings would be chosen on subjective grounds for quality (or at least Brad's sense of humor).

There already was a newsgroup devoted to comedy named ``net.jokes'' but it tended to have more comments, complaints and discussion than it did jokes. When "net.jokes" was renamed "rec.humor" in an attempt to organize the newsgroup nomenclature, the edited group's name became "rec.humor.funny;" a satirical comment on the nature of the original unmoderated group.

The edited group was a significant success. Within a year it had shot to the top of USENET's popularity charts.

This was all free in the early spirit of USENET, and done as a labor of love. Brad began to wonder if anybody make money doing something like this?

The first commercial effort Brad took on was to publish a jokebook based on the best comedy of the year from the newsgroup. That sold mostly to people who had already read the jokes but wanted copies to give as gifts. Sales were good enough to make a profit and there are now four volumes in the series.

In 1988 Brad decided that there was a potential market here. He initially approached Tribune Media Services about distributing an online version of Dave Barry's column. Tribune Media decided that it couldn't work -- and passed on the opportunity.

Undeterred, Brad looked into more ambitious sources of information; ones with a value beyond entertainment that would be useful for real business. Brad noticed that few news products were available from wire services and after negotiations with various providers decided to go with United Press International (UPI). Prior to that point, electronic services bought news and allowed readers to browse and search it -- but for an astronomical hourly rate.

Pricing was important, but what Brad felt could make this work was the data links of the UUCP net and Internet operating in the background, without human intervention. Data just flowed, and the Internet gave the illusion of a permanent high speed connection.

By moving the news directly into people's computers, and then letting them read it there, with no meter running, with their own software, ClariNet could offer a news service that people actually could read on a regular basis. ClariNet delivered news so fast that you could often view the news the day before it appeared in your local papers. To do this, ClariNet took the UPI feed and converted it to USENET format. This required extensive software and still a fair amount of human supervision.

At the time of ClariNet's beginnings, the commercial status of the net was very uncertain. A preliminary acceptable-use policy (AUP) for most of the net had been sketched out, but the culture of non-commercialism was still rampant. Most people were frightened of the idea of doing business over such a network.

Brad felt that what many people overlooked was that even the government agencies who financed the initial network never intended it to be a commune. Indeed, one of the principal founding purposes of such networks was to provide people access to supercomputers; which they paid for.

The key of course was that the network was not non-commercial. It was for education and research. Commerce in the support of education and research was part of the purpose of the network. The network was built to give that community easier and better access to the information and services they need -- and it was never meant to matter whether they paid for those services or not.

A primary educational use of the network is getting access to useful information. Getting access to a newspaper or trade publication over the net for use in education or research is one of the things the net was built for, and nobody expected all these publications to be free.

As such we could sell to schools and research labs and provide them over the net. That gave us a hook to sell to other sites, both on and off the Net. We arranged to have our research and educational customers provide feeds to other local sites in exchange for the discounts we offered them. This was minimal work for them -- it's all a natural part of the USENET software.

We also fed customers via the phone lines (via UUCP) or arranged with companies like UUNET and PSI, which do that as their business, to have it done. Invoices and billing notes were sent by old-style channels until the AUPs began to vanish.

And so we grew, and the net changed. Some regional networks threw away use policies, and the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX) appeared to provide content-unrestricted network gateways. Today more and more regionals have done this, and ANS, the company which provides the NSFNet backbone (which still has an AUP) also sells the right to move commercial traffic over the same pipes. As such, the foundations of the non-commercial internet are vanishing, if they ever were there. In fact, what we really had were rules on the type of business one could conduct, not rules forbidding business.

ClariNet continued to grow. In 1994, Brad hired Roy Folk to come in and run ClariNet. Roy had extensive experience working with software companies, and a background that was covered both business and technology.

ClariNet subsequently grew for several years and eventually was acquired by NewsEdge, which was then acquired by a large media company, Thompson CSF, who felt Clarinet's business was not on interest, and therefore intended to shut it down. Both because he sawbusiness possibilities, and to preserve the jobs of the Clarinet employees , in one the stranger twists of fate , Roy arranged to spin Clarinet back out of the doubly-merged companies. Much like the pink bunny on television, the company kept going.

In 2002, faced with a declining market and increasing costs, Roy decided to move on to other opportunities. At that point Lynn Brock became involved with ClariNet.

Lynn pursued various ideas and options but did not find a path that would allow the company to continue, and ultimately opted to transition the customer base to YellowBrix.









Keywords: news service, news feeds, newsfeeds, webnews, real-time, real time, news subscription, newspaper, personalized, customized, individualized, tailored, custom, direct, web site, website, Internet, history








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