Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben, Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet

Reviewer Ivanka Mavrodieva

Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the InternetThe book Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet was published in May 1997 by IEEE Computer Society Press, Los Alamitos, California (Washington, Brussel, and Tokyo). The book includes 361 pages and it was published in English and also in Japanese. The chapters of the text were published as draft text files last modified on June 12, 1996 on URL http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/. The book is now distributed by Wiley. Information about the book is presented on


pdf-155498_640The book includes 18 chapters separated into four parts named as follows: “The Present: What Has Been Created and How”, “The Past: Where Has It All Come From”, “And the Future?”, and “Contributions Towards Developing a Theoretical Framework”. The book contains a Foreword (written by Tom Truscott), a Preface “What is a Netizen?”, an Introduction “On the Development and Significance of the Participatory Global Computer Network”, a Glossary of Acronyms (pages 321-323), References (pages 325-333), an Index (pages 337-334), and Acknowledgments (pages 335-336). The book ends following page 344 with a „Proposed Declaration of the Rights of Netizens“.

It is only natural to start with short profiles of the authors.

Michael Frederick Hauben was one of the pioneers who studied the role and impact of the Internet on society. He was a theorist and researcher who focused his online research on social impact especially in the early 1990s; he introduced the term Netizen and he did detailed research which led to his conceptualization of the Netizen in relation to computers, society, democracy, democratization, the decision making process, etc. Michael Hauben established a new scientific field and he used relevant methods studying the activities of citizens of the Net, of different countries, and of the modern world.

Ronda Hauben combines media activities and research. Her journalistic career is very active, including achievements as a blogger – http://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/bio/. Ronda Hauben is the author of a long list of publications (200 articles, including/for example “The Origin and Early Development of the Internet and of the Netizen: Their Impact on Science and Society” (2005); “Online grassroots journalism and participatory democracy in South Korea” (2007); “The Vision of Computer Networking Communication and its Influence on East-West Relations and the GDR” (2004). She has done dynamic and successful research work.

Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben are co-authors of the book and authors of articles on the impact of the Internet and social networks and their collaboration was very fruitful and useful.

There are quite a number of advantages of the book.

The first group of advantages is related to the clear structure. Each of the 18 chapter bears a short, yet attractive and clear title that is easy to grasp at first glance. Each of them begins with an introduction or citation; every single chapter has a conclusion and notes; some of them have an appendix, for example chapter 7 contains an appendix concerning the Network Working Group (pages 113-114). The authors explain the terms and define the concepts, followed by explicitly developed theoretical theses, examples and essential aspects in connection with Netizens, society etc.

Another group of advantages are built into the general conceptual scheme of the book: traditional and current topics are outlined; a profound study of the history of the Internet is displayed and described systematically; definitions of the Net, Usenet, Netizens are given; each chapter is illustrated with sufficient examples precisely and carefully chosen to help the understanding of the ideas of the authors about the Net, journalism, policy decisions and discussion forums, participation of the citizens in particular debates online, communication in virtual communities in connection with the real questions of society, etc. Some of the theses are leading to a novel approach to cognitive issues, and explicitly outline how to write about cybernetics, time-sharing, human-computer symbiosis and on-line communities (chapter 6, pages 76-95). Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben focus on the significance of a scientific point of view on the topics and they try to give the answers to the question presented in the title of the Part III “And the Future? (especially pages 203-213).

A third group of advantages is related to the terms, terminology, analyses, methods and results. The authors present the term ‘online community’ and they analyze the practices. For example, chapter 15 “Exploring New Your City’s Online Community: A Snapshot of nyc.general” contains very interesting information from real practices. Chapter 18 introduces the thesis about the computer as democratizer which at the first reading sounds like an oxymoron, but is an absolutely true and substantiated claim. There are also examples from current practices which is a challenging and attractive method of leading the learners and practitioners to study the terminology about political and communication sciences and in particular journalism, civil society, democracy, policy, the decision-making process as well as online discussions, online meetings, virtual conferences and about “…the implementation of direct democracy in a country as long as necessary computer and communications infrastructure are installed” (pages 243-244).

The next advantages are related to the visual aspects of the book, where photos, schemes and maps illustrate the history of the Internet including of the ARPANET, the pioneers of the Net, professional news media and quality of the new medium; the visual elements are used in their illustrative, argumentative and educational functions.

The authors are evidently cutting deep into the matter of their studies and that gives them the advantage of applying an interesting approach to the conceptualization and reconceptualization of the ideas concerning the Netizens in a way that is beneficial and as a result the publications from the last 20 years are part of the scientific and media heritage about netizens.

To conclude, the book Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet is a contribution to modern media and social studies and it is a valuable aid for the university students of communication studies and for practitioners etc. May 2017 will mark the 20th Anniversary of the publication of the print edition of this book. Ronda Hauben is working on a follow up book documenting some of the practice and theory of netizens and netizenship in those twenty years.

Prof. Dr, DSc. Ivanka Mavrodieva