This is a bit of history that I’ve realized might otherwise be lost. About 9000 people knew of it (roughly the staffing at Apple at the time IIRC but I could be off a few thousand). A quick web search turned up nothing in the top pages, so if anyone else ever documented it, it is buried deeply somewhere.
About 30 years ago, near 1987 plus or minus a couple of years, someone in the Engineering Department at Apple had a brainwave. There were all these computers on all these desktops, yet they were used in only 2 modes, really. Stand alone isolated desktop personal computer, or slave to a remote system (picking up email or displaying database query results from a mainframe for example). Their bright idea is what we now call Peer to Peer or P2P.
They wrote a little program that would run all the time in the background. What in Unix / Linux terms is a daemon, but in the world of PCs at the time was not a common thing to do. When one computer talked to another, or if idle and just asking the Appletalk wire “Anyone want to chat?” and getting an affirmative response, they would share gossip.
Yes, the program taught the Mac to gossip.
Now any user of any Mac could type a statement into their copy of the program, something like “I heard Bob is going to Ohio next week to get married.” Then that message would be shared with any other Mac whenever the 2 of them “talked”.
The program was named Rumormonger…
It was launched as an experiment, to see what this kind of technical approach would do, how it would perform, was it a benefit to build into products. Basically Engineers playing and doing R&D on a new concept in computing. This was the Advanced Technology Group after all…
Well, Rumormonger caught on like pancakes at a campground. Pretty soon all sorts of folks were enjoying the daily gossip. Log on, look at the list of topics Rumormonger had heard during the last few hours, read and respond with your own rumors… Folks had a great time for a few months.
At some point, some of the “rumors” started to take a negative turn. A few folks put up messages that were harsh toward others, done in spite. Since NO rumor was tagged with any identifiers at all, it was impossible to know who started the rumor. Furthermore, since all Rumormongers were P2P and there was no control point, you could not stop nor erase a rumor in progress. Other folks started negative rumors about some of management, clearly as an attempt to get “justice” for some perceived slight or other. Things like “Sculley is planning to fire the FOO division” or “VP Bob is hot for Director Mary”.
Needless to say, “Management” was very unfond of this.
So the order came down: Kill it.
That order landed on the V.P. of A.T.G. desk, who put it on the desk of the Director of our group, who put it on my boss’s desk, who put it on my desk. I had to send back up the reply: “We can’t. It is not controlled by us. It just works between any 2 computers.” At the time, individual desktops were NOT centrally controlled, especially at Apple. There were 2 different I.T. groups. I.S.& T (Information Services and Technology – the corporate folks) and E.C.O. (Engineering Computer Operations – my group in A.T.G. who ran Engineering and The Cray.) So nobody controlled all the network, all the desktops and all the software. In fact, most desktop stuff wasn’t controlled by anyone. It was part of the Personal Computer mantra to have power rest with the individual.
Needless to say, that reply was less than cheerfully received.
So I’m guessing here, but I’m pretty sure the V.P. of A.T.G. went to the programmer in his group who wrote the thing and “they talked”. How can this be killed?
Eventually a “secret” was sent to my boss who shared it with me. We had a strategy. Both the I.T. side and our side needed to coordinate, and NOBODY in the company outside of just a couple of us could know what was being done.
The punch line is that the strategy worked, but likely as not due to Upper Management also issuing a Fatwa that anyone using Rumormonger (after we had spiked it) would have a Very Bad Day. The technical way it was killed had a weakness, but nobody seems to have exploited it (likely due to said Management Directive…).
So how did we kill it?
First, the programmer who wrote it came out with a New Improved Version. We were directed to remove ALL copies of the old one from ALL file servers. (Most folks could just pick up any application they wanted from online file servers and install it, no I.T. folks required.) Only the New Improved Rumormonger was to be on any server. Furthermore, any copies of the old one were to be erased whenever we found one. Then we waited.
IIRC, it was a few months, maybe 4, maybe 6. But it was an interval chosen to assure that everyone was running the new version. I don’t know if there was a built in incompatibility so that you had to run the new one to talk to other new ones, but I’ve got this vague feeling that was the case. Since rumors were volatile anyway, it was easy to get folks to migrate to the new rumors on the new platform. At the end of that interval, a poison pill timer in New Rumormonger went off and it committed suicide.
One day, everyone came to work, turned on their Mac, and there were no more rumors. Management issued it’s Directive that Rumormonger was to be No More, and a chapter of tech R&D ended.
Now clearly anyone with a copy of the Old Rumormonger could have re-installed it and started the process all over again. But that is an intentional act against Management Directive. Much higher hurdle than just not removing a program that is up and running already.
But between very few folks having kept any old copies of the software anyway, both I.T. groups scrubbing the usual places to pick up software, and the Management Edict that anyone who started using it was in Deep Doo, nobody ‘went there’ and Rumormonger died on the appointed day at the appointed hour.
Were something like a modern Rumormonger being written today (like a P2P Twitter) it would use encrypted tunnels between machines so IDS / IPS (Intrusion Detection Systems / Intrusion Prevention Systems) could not sniff out the traffic and squash it. It would need to be “Open Source” so no one person could rewrite it with a poison pill in it. It would also need to have folks keeping old copies “laying around” against just such an “upgrade and die” scheme. Finally, it would also need to be outside The Management Hierarchy (or The Government Reach…) to survive a Fatwa against it.
Today we have the same Management Dynamic playing out on Twitter (and Facebook and Google and …) as Government Is Not Happy with people talking and them not being in control of it. F.B. has announced a new person being hired (required security clearance so they can talk with Secret Government…) to suppress Ad Buying by ‘the wrong people’ (nominally “Russian Interests” – so can Rosneft not suggest we buy their product anymore?…) Twitter is busy deactivating accounts at a furious rate. The Purge is on, for any wrongthink.
My prediction is pretty simple. Once the purge is strong enough, folks will just move on to another platform. Likely a P2P platform with open source and supplied from a site outside the major countries. Initially a minor country, but if pressure to suppress becomes high enough, a Dark Web archive can protect it. The end stage will be that the software itself can be shared P2P for any user wanting it. So you get a “magnet link” from a friend running it, and the software just shows up via bittorrent from a dozen random folks scattered around the globe.
Lacking any Central Authority who can issue an effective social order to quash its use, without a compliant I.T. department to scrub the archives, open source for anyone to duplicate, and hidden in plain sight via encrypted tunnels, the P2P Rumormonger would be unkillable. Similarly the P2P “microblog” (“tweets”) and similar.
That structure is already forming. It is in very early stages of adoption, but it exists. The only real question is just how much folks care to have Free And Open Communications. Unfettered by Governments, Politicians, and other Central Authorities (like Corporate Minions – Zuckerberg would be interesting as a yellow oval ;-).
So my hope is that this bit of history will help to illuminate the deep history of P2P “microblogs”, anonymous communications; and serve to warn how they can be disrupted, so as to assure they can’t be disrupted in the future. If nothing else, I hope it is an enjoyable window into a bit of Computer History and life at the Old Apple ;-)