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The Emergence of the Netizens
[Speech text] Ronda Hauben addresses the opening ceremony of the OhmyNews International Forum 2005
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2005-06-28 11:54 (KST)   
"Netizens are net citizens...who are among those who populate the net and make it a resource of human being. These netizens participate to help make the Net both an intellectual and a social resource." -- Michael Hauben "Further Thoughts about Netizens"

Annyeong hasaeyo

I am happy to be here today in Seoul and to have this opportunity to share some of the details of the emergence of the netizen.

In the Spring of 1993, a college student began a research project.(*) He wondered how much of the world was online. He wondered how far the Net had spread. Even more importantly, he wondered what impact the Net was having on people's lives. Was it making a difference in their lives?

For a class assignment he decided to conduct an investigation to try to learn some answers to his questions.

He wrote out the questions, along with the results of some preliminary research he had done. He posted this online in a few Usenet newsgroups. Usenet is a worldwide discussion forum. He also posted his questions on a few Internet mailing lists.

Very soon afterwards, responses began flowing into his email account.

The responses were surprising.

They documented the important role the Net was already playing in people's life.

The student formulated some new questions.

This time he asked how far the Net reached, and how people connected to it.

Again his mailbox was soon filled with responses from around the world.(**)

This was a time when new sites like one in Poland at the Department of Physics at Krakow University were just coming online on the Internet.

The student was receiving emails describing these early connections.

Similarly, he even got a response from a cosmonaut on the MIR space station, up in space.

He got responses from users in France and Japan complaining about difficulties with their connections.

Gathering the responses and reading them over, the student recognized he had discovered something new and important.

It wasn't only that the Internet was a subject needing study.

He was discovering that, more profoundly, the people who wrote to him represented a new development as well.

They represented a new identity.

They were not only concerned for the personal benefit they got from being online. This was of great importance to them.

But more significantly, they were concerned that the Internet continue to grow and flourish.

And that more and more people would be able to join the online community.

The student had seen the word 'net.citizen' referred to online to refer to someone who acted as a citizen online. Thinking about the social concern and consciousness he had found among those online who wrote him, and about the non-geographical character of a net based form of citizenship, he contracted 'net.citizen' into the word 'netizen'. Netizen has come to reflect the online social identity the student had discovered doing his research.

Analyzing the responses he had received, the student wrote a paper he titled "Common Sense: The Net and Netizens: The Impact the Net Has on People's Lives"

He posted this paper on Usenet and a few mailing lists in 4 parts on July 6, 1993.

Once again his mailbox was soon filled with responses. This time with comments from people around the world welcoming his paper and the concept of netizen.

Also there was an online discussion and controversy over the paper on Usenet, which is what one expects to happen on Usenet newsgroups.

In January 1994 several of the articles about netizens and about the history of the Internet were collected and put online to be available via ftp to anyone online. Then in 1997, the book titled "Netizen: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet" was published in a print edition in English and soon afterwards in a Japanese translation.

The concept and consciousness of oneself as a netizen has since spread around the world.

I want to briefly mention some of the more striking examples.

A netizen from Ireland put the online book into html to help it to spread more widely.

A review of the book was done by a Romanian researcher.(***) He recognized that netizenship is an important new democratic development and acts as a catalyst for the development of ever more advanced Information Technology.

In 1995 the student was invited to speak at a conference about Netizens and Community Networks in Beppu Bay on Kyushu Island, in Japan. The conference was held by the Coara Community network.

A Japanese sociologist gathered a series of articles into a book in Japanese titled 'The Age of Netizens'. The book begins with a chapter on the birth of the netizen.

Also in the mid 1990s, a Polish researcher was doing research about what form of citizenship would be appropriate for the European Union (EU).(****)

Looking for a model that might be helpful to understand how to develop a European-wide form of citizenship, he found the work about netizens online. He recommended that EU officials would do well to view the phenomenon of netizenship with sympathy and attention as a model of a broader than national, but also a participatory form of citizenship.

By the mid 1990s, people online had begun to called themselves netizen, such as Netizen Jacques or Netizen Myung, in the fashion of how citizen was used during the French Revolution.

Some other notable events showing the impact of netizens around the world include:

A Netizen art contest seeking online art that helps to build the online community was sponsored by a gallery in Rome.

A Netizens Association to keep the price of the Net affordable was organized in Iceland.

A lexicographer in Israel wrote a dictionary definition for a Hebrew dictionary making certain that she described a netizen as one who contributes to the Net, not only as anyone online.

A Congressman in the US introduced a bill into the U.S. House of Representatives called the Netizen Protection Act to penalize anyone who sent spam on the Internet.

And in Korea I've found online posts from Korea as early as 1995 in Korean with the word netizen in English.

The identity of netizen has been embraced by the Korean online population and important democratic developments have been the result.

Just a few examples:

The Red Devils Soccer Fan Club was created online in 1997. In June 2002, through online discussion and communication, netizens organized street cheering involving millions of people in Seoul and elsewhere around the country during the World Cup soccer games.

In April 2000 Korean netizens created an online fan club for Roh Moo-hyun. At the time, he was a relatively unknown politician. The online fan club for Roh, Nosamo, helped to make it possible for Roh to win the Presidency of South Korea, the first head of state of a country put in office with the support of netizens.

©2005 R. Hauben
OhmyNews was part of the campaign for the Roh Presidency and helped to counter the influence of the conservative news media attacks on Roh. OhmyNews has gone on to become a pioneer in welcoming citizen journalists and their articles into its online newspaper, and even giving citizen reporters a small payment for their articles.

While the word 'netizen' like the word 'citizen' has come to have many meanings, the college student who discovered the emergence of netizens felt it was important to distinguished between the more general usage that the media has promoted, that anyone online is a netizen, and the usage that the student had introduced, reserving the title 'netizen' for the online user who actively participates to make the net and the world it is part of a better place.

The second is the usage of netizen that I am referring to as well. I hope this short history of the concept of netizen will help to provide a useful perspective for the rest of our conference.

Kamsa hamida
Thank you.

(*) The undergraduate student doing the research project was Michael Hauben. His paper "The Net and Netizen: The Impact the Net has on People's Lives" http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook/

(**) Cal Woods is the Irish netizen who formatted the earliest online version of Netizens into html and put it up at his web site to complement the version in text at Michael Hauben's web site.

(***) In his review of Netizens, the Romanian researcher summed up chapter 13, the chapter about the effect of the Net on the news media. He wrote:

"Chapter 13 investigates the effect of the Net on the professional news media, under the metaphor of Will this kill that?.; its conclusion is rather optimistic: the user masses becoming 'netizen reporters' will force the acknowledged news media - to avoid being increasingly marginalized - to evolve a new role, challenging the premise that authoritative professional reporters (almost always biased, consciously or not) are the only possible ones. -- From Boldur Barbat, "Book Review: Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet", Studies in Informatics and Control, Vol 7, No 4 (December 1998). www.ici.ro/ici/revista/sic1998_4/art06.html

(****) The Polish researcher's paper "The 1996 IGC: European Citizenship Reconsidered", by Leszek Jesien, Instituets fur den Donauraum und Mitteleuropa, March 1997. http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netizens/list-archive/Related-Articles/Jesien.rtf
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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