John Johnston put me onto this via a comment on my personal blog. Spring ’83 is a protocol developed by Robin Sloan, multi-talented developer, olive farm owner, and author of novels such as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
The internet these days is much less fun and weird than it used to be, which is sad. Here’s an example of the protocol in action at the site spring83.mozz.us and you can have a play about at The Oakland Follower Sentinel by creating your own keypair (see the blue sidebar!)
For me, the recent resurgence of the email newsletter feels not much like a renaissance, and more like a massing of exhausted refugees in the last reliable shelter. I’m glad we have it; but email cannot be the end of the story, either.
I’m dissembling a bit. The truth is, I reject Twitter, RSS, and email also because … I am hyped up to invent things!
So it came to pass that I found myself dreaming about designs that might satisfy my requirements, while also supporting new interactions, new ways of relating, new aesthetics. At the same time, I read a ton about the early days of the internet. I devoured oral histories; I dug into old protocols.
The crucial spark was RFC 865, published by the great Jon Postel in May 1983. The modern TCP/IP internet had only just come online that January, can you believe it? RFC 865 describes a Quote of the Day Protocol:
A server listens for TCP connections on TCP port 17. Once a connection is established a short message is sent out the connection (and any data received is thrown away). The service closes the connection after sending the quote.
That’s it. That’s the protocol.
I read RFC 865, and I thought about May 1983. How the internet might have felt at that moment. Jon Postel maintained its simple DNS by hand. There was a time when, you wanted a computer to have a name on the internet, you emailed Jon.
There’s a way of thinking about, and with, the internet of that era that isn’t mere nostalgia, but rather a conjuring of the deep opportunities and excitements of this global machine. I’ll say it again. There are so many ways people might relate to one another online, so many ways exchange and conviviality might be organized.
Spring ‘83 isn’t over yet.