Once upon a time, there was a man named Randy K., so far as I know no relation to Tonio K. or anyone in Franz Kafka's entourage, and he was a man with one particularly quaint notion — that online speech should be no less free than its printed cousin.

Then again, in the 1980s, "online speech" was something less than a buzzword; it was simply something that went on, low enough beneath the clouds to avoid detection by the radar of the national nannies and their media brethren. Randy called his discussion area "Controversial", and he wasn't kidding. When it went up on FidoNet's North American backbone, available to anyone with a link with a mail hub, the conference became almost instantly famous — or, perhaps, infamous — for the willingness of its moderator to entertain any ideas whatsoever, so long as they were, er, controversial enough.

(A technical note here: Unlike Usenet moderators, who pass judgment on all articles and permit only those which pass muster to enter their newsgroups, Fido moderators have essentially no power of prior restraint. The operator of a Fido system is responsible for all traffic that originates at his system, and should a user prove, in Fido parlance, "excessively annoying", the system operator is expected to take the appropriate steps — at least something in Fido is relatively Usenet-like.)

Some time in the middle of 1989, Randy K. took a vacation, or a powder, or whatever, and was never seen again in the conference he had founded. It is a measure of how low a profile he kept that it was literally months before anyone noticed he was gone. About this time, Fido, for some arcane internal political reason, decided that there ought to be some minimal reporting requirements for moderators of conferences carried on the backbone, and faced with the possibility that the Controversial conference might be dropped, the participants went into medium panic mode, which shifted into high dudgeon after I filed the appropriate paperwork and took over in the spring of 1990.

Dudgeon levels gradually diminished as it became apparent that I wasn't going to be substantially more of an activist than my predecessor. I published a set of rules which were notably difficult to break, and established guidelines which didn't actually guide anyone at all. For six years, I presided over the free-for-all, and when my local feed became something less than entirely reliable, I decided to follow Randy K.'s lead and disappear. My current tenure, as far as Fido is concerned, runs out at the end of May; I wonder which of the present-day participants might be ready to take on this task. I suppose, come the first of June, I'll know for sure.

The Vent

#6
11 May 1996

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 Copyright © 1996 by Charles G. Hill