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Remailer low usage is not surprising

After a period of not using them much, I just tried several of the
remailers listed in the various summaries by Karl Barrus and Xenon,
and the ad hoc "foo is up again" sorts of messages.

The results were disappointing. One remailer I used to use quite a bit
no longer seems to be working at all, and others still haven't
responded to my ping.

Couple this with other problems:

* one of the hacktic.nl remailers was announced (in a newsgroup) as
going offline because the owner of the laptop (!) it ran on was going
to Spain for a few months.

* other remailers have gone up, down, and sideways...with little
warning or "persistence."

* the "finger" command that was supposed to at one point provide a
fairly current summary, never worked for me. (Sorry, I can't find this
finger report, but the idea was that one would "finger [email protected]"
and a recent ping of the existing remailers would be returned. I tried
it several times, but the results were clearly wrong.)

* I know about both Matthew Ghio's ping program and Xenon's SuperPing
script, but these are both cumbersome to set up and use and will not
exactly make remailer use widespread.

* What I suspect many of us do is to find a remailer that works, that
we get comfortable with, and then use that. This is OK for very
low-grade, casual use, but only for that. And, as I just found out,
when that system vanishes, changes, or otherwise no longer works....

Caveat: I'm not pointing fingers (literally), and I appreciate the
work that has gone into remailers, and the not ignorable personal risk
that remailer operators have incurred. And I am not volunteering
others for more work. 

But it is certainly fair to comment on the implications of this state
of affairs, right?

* The ad hoc, "it'll be up if I remembered to plug in the modem"
nature of _some_ remailers is not conducive to wide use, especially in

* Experimentation is useful, for new features or for folks just
starting out in the remailer business, but not for stable, longterm,
widespread use. (Maybe we need to have the remailers refect their
experimental, developmental, and production status with some sort of
identifying mark. For example "[email protected]" could signify an
experimental remailer, and "[email protected]" could then signify
that the remailer is ostensibly "open for business" as a
quasi-commercial, stable remailer. Just an idea. Ultimately, I favor
external reputation raters/testers, and this idea is just intended to
encourage people who _know_ their remailers are "experimental" (read:
flaky) to label them clearly as such.)

* Some sort of "reputation" rating, with %availability, would be
useful. Something like:

[email protected]      37 successes in 41 tries over 131 days
                      11 successes in 11 tries in last 15 days
                      average delay: 3.1 min (including all overhead)
                      supports: PGP 2.3a, 2.4, delays, subject line

[email protected]    3 successes in 39 tries in 128 days
                      0 successes in 11 tries in last 15 days
                      average delay: 47 min (including all overhead)

I will be willing to pay about $10 a year, real money, for someone who will
set this up, reasonably robustly, and then mail me the results on a
daily or weekly basis. (Such a pinging service should be done, I
think, on at least a daily basis, possibly even more frequently, with
statistics compiled about delays, percentage of hits and misses, etc.)

This "Daily Remailing Form" would be an obvious thing to sell: it
represents value, is of relevance to Cypherpunks, and can be bought
with real money (or with Magic Money thingamajigs, at the discretion
of the seller).

It might be "better" for the "rest of us" if this service were free,
as with the finger ping that was to exist at one point, but this free
service fails to incentivize the creator to really make his service
reliable and robust.

* Digital postage is an even more-ideal solution, strongly
incentivizing remailers to keep their systems running. I and others
have written about this extensively, so I won't here. 

Just some comments.

--Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
[email protected]       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409           | knowledge, reputations, information markets, 
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^859433 | Public Key: PGP and MailSafe available.
"National borders are just speed bumps on the information superhighway."