They don't know what he looked like. Most didn't know how old he was or where he was from. But a tightly knit group of Netizens known as spam fighters did know Jim Nitchals.
And today, they were mourning his death on Friday in perhaps the most fitting way: by sending each other email and posting Web tributes to the man best known on the Net for brokering a truce between the Net's most infamous spammer and the antispam community.
Nitchals died of a brain hemorrhage. He was 36.
"I never met him face to face, but Jim has to be one of the most honest and
Nitchals was on the front lines of a war--albeit one waged mainly through the written word and carried in packets over thousands of miles of wire.
But while the debate over spam often is filled with rancor and venom, Nitchals tried to be a moderating force, hoping to find common ground between some of the most vicious enemies on the Net.
When notorious bulk emailer Sanford Wallace was planning a backbone network built for spammers, Nitchals approached him in hopes of brokering a peace accord.
He came back to the antispam community to offer a treaty of sorts. In exchange for Wallace's support of antispam legislation and for his agreement not to use the network to send out unsolicited bulk email, antispammers would back off.
While many in the antispamming community backed Nitchals, others reacted viscerally.
Those attacks--common in the emotionally charged arguments about unsolicited email--hurt Nitchals, who was, himself, an ardent and vocal enemy of junk email.
"It really mattered to him when people criticized him," said John Mozena, a cofounder of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. "On Usenet and the Internet you take a lot of abuse. It seemed like Jim cared so much it was hard for him to let stuff roll off."
Still, Thompson said: "He decided what was needed to be done and he went out and did it. And he challenged the rest of us to do it. We couldn't ask for a better example in Jim."