Well Known Mailing Lists – The Internet Oracle

Well Known Mailing Lists – The Internet Oracle

Internet Oracle Logo
Internet Oracle

Lars Huttar, Developer of second Internet Oracle
Lars Huttar

Steve Kinzler, Popularized Usenet and Internet Oracle
Steve Kinzler

Know thyself.

– Inscription carved above the entrance to the Oracle of Delphi.

The Internet Oracle provides entertaining answers to interesting questions, and is one of the Internet‘s most innovative mailing lists. The subsections below describe how it works and provides an overview of its history.

How it works. The Internet Oracle is one of those interesting systems that could only be invented on the Internet. You email the Oracle an inventive and sometimes meaningless question on any subject whatsoever, and the Oracle then provides a creative answer. You ask the Oracle a question by sending an email to oracle@cs.indiana.edu with a subject containing the words “tell me” or “telme” and your question in the body of the email. In a day or two you will receive an answer to your question. Hopefully it will be entertaining, and in rare instances may even be useful.

While you are waiting for the Oracle to answer your question, it may send you an email containing someone else’s question for you to answer. You should provide your best reply within a day, otherwise the Oracle may give someone else the question to answer.

You can ask the Oracle to send you a question to answer by emailing oracle@cs.indiana.edu with the words “ask me” or “askme” in the subject. Of course, answers should never be rude, although questions and answers may contain adult content. All questions and answers are anonymizedby the Oracle through removal of real email addresses.

You can review the best questions and answers in regular postings to rec.humor.oracle, or by joining the mailing list by sending email to oracle-request@cs.indiana.edu with the word “subscribe” in the subject.

You can find out more about the Internet Oracle by sending an mail to oracle@cs.indiana.edu with the word “help” in the subject line.

History. Peter Langston invented the idea of the Oracle in 1976, and wrote a program to support it on the Unix time-sharing system at the Harvard Science Center. From 1976 until 1988, Langston distributed the Oracle program on the PSL Games Tape free to Unix installations all over the world (also distributing the games Empire, Gomoku, Star_Drek, Bolo, FastFood, and others, and leading to Langston being hired to start movie director George Lucas’s games company in 1981).

In 1989, Lars Huttar heard about the Oracle from a friend at college, thought it sounded like a fun idea, and wrote his own version since he didn’t know where to get a copy. His original program was fairly simple, and available only to users logged into the same computer. In August, 1989, Huttar posted his source code to the alt.sources newsgroup.

Steve Kinzler, a systems administrator and graduate student at Indiana University, downloaded Huttar’s program and deployed it on silver.ucs.indiana.edu, where it was called the Usenet Oracle, and became quite popular. Ray Moody, a graduate student at Purdue University, then developed the basis of the modern version of the program, including an email interface, which enabled people to interact with it from anywhere on the Internet. Kinzler installed the program on iuvax.cs.indiana.edu, where it became immediately popular, and was named the Internet Oracle in March, 1996.

Kinzler has since continued to maintain the software, adding features like the Oracularities postings and the Oracle Priesthood. Even though Kinzler no longer works at Indiana University, the institution still continues to provide the computing resources to run the Oracle, which is nice.

Jon Monsarrat and Randal Schwartz also helped work on the software, and Michael Nolan helped create the rec.humor.oracle newsgroups.