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Re: Snake-Oil FAQ

At 6:53 PM 9/22/96, Alan Olsen wrote:

>I agree that it will no change the glorified decoder ring salesmen, but it
>can have a positive effect on their customers.
>The FAQ has the ability to reach those who would not nessisarily read
>Schneier or any other large tome.

Really? You think someone thinking about buying a cryptographic product for
his company, for example, will read an obscure Snake Oil FAQ (even the name
presumes familiarity with why some products are "snake oil") while not
bothering to read the opening chapters of Denning, Schneier, Brassard, or
other such texts?

I'll address the issue of "the masses" below.

>Most of the people outside of this forum have some understanding of
>cryptography.  Most of that understanding is based on folklore and
>marketing hype.  If we do not take pains to educate them as to what real
>crypto is, then we might as well just sit here and prattle on about
>Assassination Politics and ad hominem.

My view is that people interested in buying and using crypto are either
bright enough to learn, or are not. A "Snake Oil FAQ" is largely
unnecessary, for either category. For the first, because they're bright.
For the second, because they're not.

>You seem to take a pretty negative attitude about what the general public
>can and cannot learn from.  If Cypherpunks do not help educate the masses,
>who will?  The snake oil salesmen?  The Government?  The masses themselves?
> They are not going to go out and buy a book intended for programmers.
>(And especially one that costs about $50.)  There are no "cryptography for
>dummies" books.  (At least none worth a damn.)

And just who are "the masses"? I've never cared for that term, and rarely
use it. But, for the sake of this discussion, just who might they be?

Our mothers and fathers who don't use computers? Our neighbors who maybe
have a Pentium at work but don't much use computers otherwise? The guy
buying a game machine for his kids at CompUSA? The average reader of
sci.crypt? (:-})

I believe there is no meaningful way to "reach the masses" until they first
show some interest in the subject. And once they do, there is a plethora of
ways to learn the basics of cryptography. Nearly all libraries have several
books, and nearly every bookstore I have seen has copies of Schneier.
Further, the various FAQs available already cover enough of the basics for
someone to know why, for example, a "virtual one-time pad, with keys issued
by our company" is patently bogus.

Again, if "Joe Average" hasn't encountered this sort of stuff, no "Snake
Oil FAQ" is likely to reach him.

I do think there's a potential "market" for such a Snake Oil FAQ: the
journalists who are looking for a pithy line to use in a review of "Super
Bass-O-Matic Virtual Decoder Ring."

But that's about the only market (or reader base) I see.

Have fun with it, just don't gull yourself into thinking it's something
"the masses" will read.

--Tim May

We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't allowed.
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1,257,787-1 | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."