Brian Reid

A former Backbone Cabal member, Brian Reid was instrumental in the creation of the alt.* hierarchy.  He received the Association for Computing Machinery's Grace Murray Hopper Award in 1982 for his doctoral thesis at Carnegie-Mellon University, in which he designed the Scribe word processing system, the forefather of html.

After earning his PhD from Carnegie-Mellon, Dr. Reid joined the faculty in the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University, where he remained until 1986. While on staff at the University, Dr. Reid and his collegues founded Adobe Systems and created an interdepartmental Ethernet network which they called SUN.

Dr. Reid began work at Digital Equipment Corporation where his laboratory developed the first Internet firewall in 1987 and later, in 1995, AltaVista, the world's first high powered search engine.

In 1999 Dr. Reid joined Bell Labs and later acted as Director of Operations at Google.  Currently, Dr. Reid is Director of Engineering and Technical Operations at Internet Systems Consortium.  Dr. Reid is a member of the Society of Archbishop Justus and is an editor of Anglicans Online.

Interview (3/19/2007) with Brian Reid:

1. Where are you currently employed?  What is your current role?  What are you currently working on?

I am Director of Engineering and Technical Operations at Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). I herd cats.

2. What benefits has Usenet provided your professional or academic life?

It was the first social network. It stopped being relevant to my life at about the time Fortune 500 CEOs learned what it was. Now I'm just grateful that I never posted to it anything that was humiliating or criminal.

3. Looking back, the Great Renaming effectively organized newsgroups and improved ease of use, especially for the growing number of new users. Do you agree with that assessment?

No. It didn't make anything better. It just changed what people argued about, and increased the number of places in which there was competition for name space.

4. Why do you think the Renaming was originally met with such resistance?

It was a stupid idea perpetrated by insomniac control freak buffoons. But it did provide months of excellent schadenfreude surrounding (for example) alt.aquaria, rec.aquaria, sci.aquaria, and comp.aquaria. It was lots of fun watching people simmer in their own righteous indignation.

5. Usenet II was an attempt to provide the old structure of Usenet, including the old newsgroup naming schemes and a cabal-like steering committee. By most accounts, it was a failure. What was your opinion of the Usenet II project? Why do you think it failed?

I've never heard of it. It probably failed because it tried to bring control, or if not control then reason, to what other people did, failing to note that the entire point of USENET was anarchy and lack of central control. Oh, wait: a search engine reminds me that this was that thing that Peter and Stephanie da Silva and Richard Sexton and such were doing. Hey, Peter is a great photographer, and Richard lives in rural Ontario in a house without any door locks. I think USENET II was based on a sweet belief in the intrinsic goodness of humanity.

6. You experimented with online publishing with your Usenet Cookbook. Today, end-user created content and online publishing (dubbed Web 2.0) are the focus of many internet services. Is the spirit of the Usenet Cookbook experiment reflected in the Web 2.0 movement?

My Usenet Cookbook involved traditional editorial control. People submitted recipes, and an editor tested them and then either published them or rejected them. I've been leery of user created content ever since Douglas Hofstadter published Goedel Escher Bach. That book served for me as a permanent reminder of the importance of editors to balance the rantings of authors. Web 2.0 could lead to an online cookbook that had a recipe telling me to put flunitrazepam into cut fruit. Of course, the alt namespace also serves as a permanent reminder of the importance of editors. Remember that alt.gourmand was the first moderated alt group.

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