Eric Allman: Well, you know I nev­er real­ly con­sid­ered myself a leader per se. I cer­tain­ly did­n’t set out to become that. I worked on very ear­ly ver­sions of email on the ARPANET, actu­al­ly. And the prob­lem that I was try­ing to solve was that there were a lot of networks—the ARPANET was just one of them—and peo­ple want­ed to send email between these net­works. And so I built a gate­way to shuf­fle email back and forth. So one could argue that it was sort of the first tru­ly internet—lower-case‑I internet—mailer, so far as I know. There may have been others. 

When the Internet came along, Bill Joy talked me into writ­ing the mail­er. This was at Berkeley, of course. I nev­er worked on the Berkeley Unix project, but I’d you know vol­un­teered a bunch of stuff. And so Bill Joy some­how talked me into con­vert­ing what I had writ­ten over to run on the capital‑I Internet. And that’s one of those things where if I had had any idea how much work I was going to do I nev­er would’ve agreed to do it, because it was­n’t my job. And it was­n’t my job for many many years. But it was some­thing that was absolute­ly essen­tial. People real­ly need­ed it. People used to. And it became quite suc­cess­ful. It was at one point run­ning 70, 80% of the Internet mail servers on the network. 

Intertitle: Describe one of the break­through moments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant?

Allman: Well, it would be hard to pick some­thing out entire­ly. I mean there are sto­ries both good and bad. I remem­ber at one point, I got this…I guess it was email or maybe it was even a phone call from some­body who want­ed to do some­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly unusu­al with send­mail and was try­ing to fig­ure out how to do it. And I kin­da walked him through it, and went back and forth. It was­n’t com­plete­ly clear what he was try­ing to do. And he final­ly sent me mail say­ing you know Okay, I got it.” And then called me lat­er and said I thought you might like to know what we were doing.” And this was before the Cold War was over. And they had found a way to route mail from kids in the Chicago pub­lic schools to kids in the Moscow pub­lic schools. And had set up a pen pal pro­gram between Chicago and the USSR. And so the kids loved it because they could send a mes­sage and they’d have a response the next day, because of the way the time zones worked. And it just seemed all of a sud­den like the world was a lit­tle tiny bit small­er. That was great. 

Of course then there was spam. So… You know, email has def­i­nite­ly not been some­thing that is entire­ly good. There’s been a lot of prob­lems with it. And I do think that in the ear­ly days of the Internet we were kind of col­leagues try­ing to share things amongst our­selves. When the Internet went com­mer­cial, I don’t think any­one real­ly under­stood that that required a dif­fer­ent eco­nom­ic mod­el. And spam was just a result of the fact if you can give some­body a way to poten­tial­ly make even a small amount of mon­ey for free, they will do that. And they did. 

Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weath­er anal­o­gy and explain why.

Allman: Kind of like today, I sup­pose. You know, a lit­tle over­cast, maybe patch­es of rain. But I have to say there’s gath­er­ing clouds. There’s a bunch of things that very much dis­turb me. Part of the prob­lem is the… Well, two things iron­ic. One is the appar­ent anonymi­ty of the net­work encour­ages peo­ple to real­ly act out in inap­pro­pri­ate ways. There’s noth­ing new there. But the flip­side of it is that increas­ing­ly our lives are being opened up more and more. Things that we don’t real­ize have sig­nif­i­cance do have sig­nif­i­cance in the hands of peo­ple who know how to con­sume the data. And there’s some very real con­cerns there. 

The ques­tions about net­work neu­tral­i­ty are also dis­turb­ing. On the one hand I can under­stand the argu­ment that says that peo­ple who cre­ate the most cost should pay the most, and that seems actu­al­ly fair­ly egal­i­tar­i­an. But it does cre­ate a world where it’s very dif­fi­cult for new peo­ple to come in. So it tends to con­sol­i­date the pow­er in a few large com­pa­nies. And in fact we’ve seen a lot of con­sol­i­da­tion of large com­pa­nies late­ly, not just in the Internet world but every­where. And I’m becom­ing very very con­cerned that the cor­po­rate world, which I don’t ascribe as evil per se, but what com­pa­nies want is dif­fer­ent from what the peo­ple want. And there should always be a bal­ance of pow­er. And I think we’re get­ting out of bal­ance there.