January 09, 2006

Page 8

What defines a person? What makes one person distinct from another? In the
20th/21st centuries, in European-derived culture, many men took their
identity, their definition of self, from the work they did. When you are a
man who does this - which Scott did - when you lose your job and your career,
you also lose your identity. If you're an accountant, say, and suddenly
there's nothing to count, what are you?

One way to go is to look at what the other things are that you do. Darn few
people do nothing but work and sleep. Some raise children, others raise
flowers, some just raise heck. Scott wasn't any different. Still, by 2002 he
wasn't short just on his work identity. The identity that he had forged as a
married man, as a homeowner, was also on the dustheap. He had other
touchstone achievements, but many of those were in the past as well - his
stint as a columnist was some five years behind him, as was his last run at
being an entrepreneur.

What Scott had left by 2002 was his involvement in Internet political and
social activism. He was an anti-spammer, and one of the leading lights of the
international anti-spam movement. He had become involved in a bass-ackward
fashion back in the mid 1990s, when he had created an anti-spam mailing group
in order to clean up a group devoted to moderation of Usenet discussion
groups. Spam discussions kept coming up in the moderation group and making
other people unhappy, so to facilitate keeping the moderation group, Scott
stepped up to the plate by creating his anti-spam group.

Over time and through luck as much as anything else, his particular anti-spam
group became the place to be if you were anything other than a garden-variety
anti-spammer. The group was slightly selective, and prospective members
needed to be known by an existing member in order to join - this was started
in order to keep spammers from sneaking in, but eventually evolved to a sort
of minimal quality assurance mechanism. Because the Usenet moderators' group
was something that attracted long-time Internet users, Scott had attracted a
core group of these old-timers to his list, and they helped create a space on
the Internet that retained some of the flavor of the pre-commercial Internet.
Scott also discouraged "flaming", or getting into vicious online arguments
with each other; this helped keep the list mostly civil, even when people who
joined the list worked at companies with poor or marginal reputations.

Shortly after starting this list, Scott read a couple of articles on unrelated
topics - one on boycotts and the other on activist web sites, and he hit on
the idea of creating a website for the purpose of encouraging people to
boycott spammers. This site went through a variety of evolutions over the
intervening years, but by being there early, getting good information out, and
hanging in there for a long time, but 2000 or so Scott's site was consistently
#1 or #2 on Google for the keyword 'spam'. Scott only lost the #1 place to
Hormel, who had some sort of canned meat product called 'SPAM'.

Late in 1996, in December, Edward Cherlin approached Scott with an idea that
he had had - to petition Congress to pass a reasonable law against spam. They
brought in a third associate, Doug Muth, and started laying the groundwork for
this project. This led to the creation of another mailing group (something
Scott was quite good at at this point in time) and a 6-month round of
discussions by a group of about 50 interested parties. By the time these six
months were past, Scott was exceedingly frustrated by the delays caused by
this type of mass-consensus decision making. The petition idea had grown to
become an organization - the Internet's first political activist group, the
Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, or CAUCE. As soon as CAUCE
officially launched itself, Scott staged a coup d'etat, naming a Provisional
Board consisting of the people who, in his opinion, had distinguished
themselves as being sane and rational. Edward became the first President of
CAUCE; Dr. John Levine, an author and general Internet expert, the first Vice
President. Ray Everett-Church agreed to be the organization's Legislative
Counsel, the person who spoke to Congress on CAUCE's behalf. John Mozena was
the PR Director, and Doug Muth became a director-at-large and Membership
Coordinator. Having appointed the Provisional Board, Scott appointed himself
Chairman of CAUCE.

Posted by scott at January 9, 2006 03:34 PM