How the Internet is Like the Environmental Movement

While there is near-universal hatred of pop-ups, smart surfers should be glad to see them. They appreciate that the site is there. In some businesses, the only reason that the site is there is because it is sponsored by those who pay for the pop-ups. Pop-ups don’t work all that well, but they do work well enough at this point. Even with click-through rates as low as a half a percent, they can pay the cost of keeping a website up. Everyone visiting the website appreciates that the website is there, and if the cost of having the website is a pop-up or two, then we’re all going to have to get used to it until there is a better solution. This is an unfortunate economic truth. You can’t get coal out of the ground without disturbing the soil.

I view the Internet as an “environment,” and we who build things within this environment can choose to be “ecologically responsible” or not. Most people see pollution on the Internet as spam and pop-ups. However, there are much worse things, like malware (worms, Trojan horses, backdoors, viruses) and perhaps most insidiously, spyware. I recently informed a professor of computer science with 30 years of industry experience about spyware and the programs that combat it. When he scanned his computer with AdAware he found over 200 installed instances of spyware. I suspect many of you are also in that boat.

Even something as beautiful, successful and simple as Wikipedia, a user-created online encyclopedia ( is being threatened by automated “vandal” scripts that edit the encyclopedia automatically and randomly just for spite or put a link in to an unrelated page.

Meanwhile, many good and responsible people are wondering where the glory days of the Internet have gone. PC Magazine asked, “Can Email Survive?” Indeed.

Legislators will never be able to bring the Internet under control without a despotic world government ruled by an iron fist. That does not seem a good tradeoff, so I dismiss the legislative approach entirely. The Can Spam act merely served to advertise the importance of Spam and partially legitimize its use; spam has only increased. Opt-out lists are the work of thieves, stealing the resources of others to spread their advertising without giving anything back.

The Internet is like the Wild West, and the only law in town is the good citizens of Dodge. In the anarchistic form of government that is the Internet, the only law that will be heard is that of the lone gunman, the “make my day” vigilante and the common decency of the masses. There are also the occasional roaming “Texas Rangers” of high technology who invent things that can help, like virus scanners and content filters. I hope to count myself among this group shortly, with my current project.

The answer for now remains in the hands of grass roots support for a cleaner Internet environment. As responsible users of the wonder that is the Internet, we must each do our small part to “keep the Internet clean.” It’s a little like mining. While it is not possible to mine responsibly without tearing up the earth to some extent, we can do so without tearing the largest holes on earth for mere pennies worth of gold and we can do our part to restore those parts we have hurt. Pop-unders that come up once a day qualify as fair in my book, because they pay the bills and only after they have delivered value (the use of a wonderful web site).

The moral equivalent of “Earth Day” for the Internet has not yet happened, although there is great ground swell in support of a movement. The masses are fed up; they just don’t know what to do about it. They are ready to stick their heads out the window and shout, “I’ve had it and I’m not going to take any more!” They just don’t know what to do.

Join me, and realize that Adam Smith’s invisible hand compels us to provide the masses with the tools they need to go out in the “environment” of the Internet safely. There’s money in them thar hills!

Kelly Anderson operates, a comprehensive site for coin collectors. This is article is modified from a post to the I-Sales discussion list.