Scripting the Internet
Saturday, October 22, 1994 by Dave Winer.
A bunch of people have asked how this mailing list is implemented, so here's the story...
In early October, when my friend Marc Canter was getting ready to roll out his new MediaBand product, I wanted to help get influential and interesting people to come to his press conference in San Francisco. I had a set of scripts that I had written last year that automated the upgrade process for Frontier script writers going from version 2.0 to 3.0. The upgrade was a big success, in part because of these scripts.
I went thru my rolodex, my computerized address book, old email messages, the Agenda 95 attendee list, made some phone calls, and built a list of addresses separated into three groups -- those accessible directly thru AppleLink, MCI users, and Internet addresses. I modified the scripts to add the appropriate boilerplate to each address so it could be correctly routed by the AppleLink server.
To add a new address to the list, I just open an outline, add a new headline and type in the person's email address. The script travels over the outline, gathering groups of eight addresses, and sends an email message to each group-of-eight. There's no magic to the number 8 (except it *is* a power of 2, once nerd, always a nerd...). I hate email that has 2000 names on it, and I thought people would find it interesting to see a small slice of the database at the head of each message. It also makes the script run 8 times faster.
I've thought about mixing it up a bit, so you'd be part of a different group every time. That might make the script a bit too complex. We'll see.
This grouping creates an interesting effect. It's kind of like sitting at a table of eight people eating dinner at an industry conference. When people reply to one of these essays, seven other people usually see the reply, and of course I do too. Maybe instead of letting it be random, I should try to match interesting groups of people with each other? What do you think???
I use AppleLink to distribute these messages because it's the only scriptable Internet-onramp that I have on my hard disk. I understand that the new version of Eudora is also scriptable, I'd like to try it. Maybe someday America On-Line will support system-level scripting, and I'd gladly consider distributing my essays thru AOL if they do it. Same for Ziff's Interchange, or CompuServe, or Marvel, for that matter, if they do a scriptable Macintosh client.
I'm happy to share the script that drives this mailing list, even though you won't be able to run it, since the scriptable version of AppleLink isn't publicly available. But you may get some ideas how scripting a wide-area email system works, and maybe you can give me some ideas on how to improve it. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send a copy of the script. (This offer expires on 10/31/94 -- who knows how long these messages will live? -- I still get requests for a freeware program I wrote in 1988!).
In one of the earlier messages I said this was an experiment in electronic public relations. It's not. It's something else. I won't use this channel to promote products or people unless I think you can benefit from knowing about them. The list is not for sale or rent. At some point, it will evolve into a forum that you can access directly over the net and contribute to. Until then, I will continue to use scripts to push messages into your box.
The ground rules remain very simple. Any replies are on-the-record and for-attribution, unless you state otherwise. I will gladly add or delete names from the list, immediately. Maintenence is done by a human being. No arcane commands. Just use English to express your pleasure or displeasure. And you may forward these messages anywhere you like. And you may post them on news groups, bulletin-boards or online services.
The more the merrier!